Out of all the classic movies listed in the new National Film Registry compilation of historically significant films, "A Christmas Story" stands apart. Yes, some might think this iconic film was thrown in just because the NFR's new list was compiled during the holidays. No matter what you think, you can make one statement about the film compared to the others: It's been shown considerably more times on TV than any of the others combined.
While there may be some carping over "The Matrix" being in the same company as "A Christmas Story", you don't even see the former as much as the latter on TV. The only other being close is "Breakfast at Tiffany's", even if you're fortunate of late to see that on Turner Classic Movies a couple times of year. And it's safe to say there hasn't been a TV airing set up yet for 1922's "Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests."
Thankfully, "A Christmas Story" doesn't have to face the scrutiny of being on an "all-time best" list that have hurt so many classic films rather than help. It's been abundantly clear that "Citizen Kane" and most of the other top tens from the American Film Institute's best-of lists have been diminished due to too much scrutiny. In the case of the NFR's list, being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" could be a detriment when a movie is aired so often that you can eventually recite the film backwards.
Such a thing has happened already to another holiday stalwart: "It's a Wonderful Life." That film was entered into the National Film Registry a while ago, but has the fortunate distinction of now airing only twice a year on NBC in December. "A Christmas Story" is still stuck in the place "Life" was 25 years ago when it aired 100 times in December, and sometimes on three different cable channels at once.
What truly happens to a film when you can virtually recite it in your head from watching it so many times? If being culturally significant fits the prior criteria to a tee, it can still harm a movie when being ubiquitous gives less incentive to watch. We have to wonder today how many people actually tune in to "It's a Wonderful Life" on NBC rather than just watch bits and pieces to create a holiday ambiance.
There hasn't been any record of how many people still watch "A Christmas Story" during its myriad TV airings. I've long had the feeling that most people have it on as background noise during holiday parties, much like a pianist or other musician riffing holiday tunes at similar events. Once this happens, it proves we've committed so many of our greatest films to memory that watching them becomes almost unnecessary.
Call that the "Fahrenheit 451" effect where the book-repressed people of that sci-fi tale managed to memorize every burned book in existence. Now we have the irony of overexposure creating the same effect without being an act of volition.
If the National Film Registry wants to create balance, let's see them work with Turner Classic Movies and provide airings of all their picks in moderated doses. "A Christmas Story" needs a "Life" lesson in not being force fed to a point where the historical importance of the movie becomes more about quoting favorite lines rather than watching the film straight through with your family.