(Now here's a Marx Brothers movie I would have liked to see...)

In spite of my best intentions – not to mention repeated vows that I most certainly will never let it happen again – every now and then I find myself inexorably drawn into online debates about topics that are of interest to me

The latest example occurred just after Christmas, when I became the target of ridicule hurled in my direction by  someone I could only assume is too young to remember a time when personal computers were the stuff of science fiction and one had to look up words like "inexorably" in a big red book with the name “Webster’s” embossed on the front cover.

The topic of discussion was New Year’s Eve plans, and comments ranged everywhere from those who planned to go out on the town and get inexcusably plastered to those who didn’t see what the fuss was all about and planned to go to bed at the same time they do every other night of the year. A few folks took the time to share some of their family traditions – such as preparing special meals or gathering at a particular loved one’s home to ring in the new year together – and that prompted me to share a particular family tradition of our own.

When I was a boy growing up near Chicago, one of the local independent TV stations for years devoted the late night hours of New Year’s Eve to broadcasting three or four old black and white comedy films. Typically there would be at least one movie starring W.C. Fields and/or Mae West, and more often than not an airing of the Jack Benny film The Horn Blows At Midnight. My favorite part of the night was always the showing of a Marx Brothers film – usually A Night At The Opera or A Day At The Races, though every now and then one of their other movies might air instead. 

New Year’s Eve was when I first fell in love with the Marxes’ antics as a child, and for years I had a standing date in front of the TV set every Dec. 31 to laugh at them. One of the saddest days in my life was when the local independent station became a network affiliate and did away with the annual comedy fests.

Thankfully, the advent of home video just a few years later allowed me to resurrect the tradition on my own terms; i could devote the entire night to the Marx Brothers if I wanted, or I could throw in a movie or two featuring my other favorite comedy team, Abbott and Costello. (I was never that big of a W.C. Fields fan anyway...)

In time it was a tradition I found myself sharing with both of my sons. Joshua and William are fans of the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello as I am, which pleases me no end; it’s nice to know that there are at least a couple of members of that generation who revere these kings of the Golden Age of Comedy and prefer them to the likes of such modern would-be clowns as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell or (ugh!!) Seth Rogen. (@#%! him for that lousy Green Hornet movie of his!)

Now it’s important to note that Josh and Will decided they enjoy these classic comedians without any coaxing from Dear Old Dad. Yeah, sure, I made the movies available for them to watch, first on the VCR and later on the DVD player, but they laughed all by themselves. They didn’t need me to tell them what was funny; they were smart enough to figure it out all by themselves. Despite  their lesser ages they’ve probably seen the films as many times as I have by now. (that’s the nice thing about home video; you don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to watch if you don’t want to.)

It’s a joyous thing to hear the sound of my sons’ laughter filling the house whenever we watch these movies. And I suppose that’s why I was a little surprised when one of the younger participants in the aforementioned online discussion fired off a snarky response to the sharing of our family tradition.

“What do your sons think they’re celebrating, 1940?” Mr. Snarky wrote. “Why don’t you disconnect the brainwashing machine and let your sons live in the 21st century?” I don’t mind admitting I was put off by the comment, so I quickly fired off a response of my own. 

“Actually what my sons think they’re doing in spending a little quality time with their father,” I typed. “You got a problem with that?”

Well, sir, the only thing that accomplished was to set off a new round of flaming retorts aimed in my direction from a number of respondents, all of whom seem to believe that I have somehow ruined my kids for life by introducing them to comedies that rely on something other than flatulence jokes, drug references and raunchy sex to get a laugh. After a while I got disheartened and exited the discussion, wondering if there is still a place for dinosaurs like me in this weird new world.

I told Josh about my online thrashing later, and (as usual) he managed to put it in the proper perspective for me. 

“Don’t worry about what they think, Dad,” Josh said. “They’ve got no taste.” Then we put on A Night At The Opera, and we laughed and laughed and laughed...

(Copyright © 2012, by John A. Small)