Myers-Briggs Personality Traits in Two Popular Christmas MoviesJames Dunphy
The following is an attempt to analyze two popular Christmas movies, A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, using the Myers-Briggs personality traits. One can take the test at 16personalities.com and receive a four-letter acronym which represents parts of one’s personality. For example, many Counter-Currents readers are reputed to have INTJ personalities, which means they possess Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging characteristics. The opposite of INTJ is ENFP, or Extroverted, Feeling, and Perceiving. These two are not the only possible types. In total, there are sixteen possible combinations of these traits, and thus sixteen possible personalities under the Myers-Briggs system.
To provide a bit more background, the following summary is adopted from changingminds.org.
Extroverts are energized by human interaction and Introverts by solitary reflection.
Thinkers tend to make decisions using logic, and Feelers by considering how their decisions impact other people.
Sensors experience meaning more lucidly from observing their immediate surroundings, and Intuitives through deep personal thought.
Judgers prefer life to be structured, and Perceivers want it to be open and flexible.
A Christmas Story is an INTP film. For those who don’t know it by name, it’s about a boy named Ralphie who wants “an official Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun” in spite of many of the adults he knows telling him that he’ll “’shoot [his] eye out!” This article attempts to prove that the protagonist Ralphie has an INTP personality and worldview. Later, we’ll see that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is more of an ISFJ film, with the protagonist, Cark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase), being an ISFJ.
A Christmas Story is told from a very introverted perspective. The narrator is an adult reflecting on his childhood, specifically his memories of a particular Christmas in the 1940s. He simultaneously conveys his perspective as a child and as an adult reflecting on the eccentricities of his parents and the bygone era of his youth. Certainly, dialogue plays an important role in the story (“you’ll shoot your eye out”), but the protagonist’s narration is what really gives us the meaning of what’s going on. The film’s reflective perspective highlights the analytic, or NT nature of the INTP. Finally, INTPs are constantly thinking, and their internal world trumps the external. This is the case in the film, and it isn’t a stretch to say that if it were not for the narration, it may have never become a cult classic.
Several other traits conveyed in the film scream INTP. For one, when it comes to how INTPs deal with interpersonal conflict, they either “blow it off or blow up.” When Ralphie is cornered by a neighborhood bully who taunts him to the point of crying, he “blows up” and give the bully a bloody nose. This comes after a series of events which suggest that Ralphie is blowing off conflict. For one, he is a quiet boy who endures mild mockery at the hands of his peers after he is caught in an apparent stupor while standing at his teacher’s desk in the front of the class. Little do they know that he is fantasizing (a very INTP behavior) about getting an A+ on his paper. (The paper is about what he wants for Christmas, which of course is a BB gun.) Not only does he shrug off their mockery, but he avoids confronting the threats he receives from the neighborhood bullies, that is until he finally blows up in response to one. One also gets the impression that his various trials in life, such as having to put a bar of soap in his mouth for swearing in imitation of his father, may have been simmering below the surface.
Ralphie’s overall outlook of the surrounding world, which he views as being completely alien, shouts INTP. For instance, his father is presented as a somewhat comical figure who angrily wrestles with a continuously malfunctioning furnace, delights in changing a flat tire, and rambles on about sports in a trance-like state. For an INTP, who is typically interested more in abstract theories, this sort of character would seem to be very strange.
Ralphie’s father is a Judger. According to changingminds.org:
Judgers approach life in a structured way, creating plans and organizing their world to achieve their goals and desired results in a predictable way . . . They enjoy being experts. At work, they decide quickly and clearly and work to get the job done.
This couldn’t better describe the father. He creates a plan to deal with blown fuses by keeping a ridiculous number of spare fuses. He also keeps track of how long it takes him to change a tire, delighting in becoming an expert at doing it quickly. He is presented as an expert at fixing furnaces too. This is all presented as a kind of eccentricity in the film.
Conversely, Ralphie is a Perceiver.
They [perceivers] get their sense of control by keeping their options open and making choices only when they are necessary. They are generally curious and like to expand their knowledge . . .
Unlike his father, Ralphie is not used to being decisive. He freezes up when the scary Santa at the mall asks him what he wants for Christmas. He also displays intense curiosity, and uses his Little Orphan Annie decoder with great anticipation to find the secret code.
Both of Ralphie’s parents seem to be concerned more with feeling than thinking:
Feelers make decisions based primarily on social considerations, listening to their heart and considering the feelings of others. They see . . . material things as being subservient to this. They value harmony and use tact in their interactions with others.
After making Ralphie put soap in his mouth for saying “fuck,” his mother tries putting the soap in her own mouth. This is a way of empathizing with him, putting herself in his shoes. She is also sensitive to Ralphie’s tears after his fight. To distract his father from punishing him, she mentions a football game, which induces the father to enter a trance-like state discussing sports and forget about his son’s fight. Ralphie’s father likewise spares the boy the embarrassment of wearing the oversized childish bunny pajamas from his Aunt Clara. He furthermore grants Ralphie’s wish to own a BB gun, remembering how he once had one himself as a boy. In all of these cases, the parent cares more for the child’s feelings than for mechanically doling out punishment, forcing the child to wear a pink bunny suit, or adhering to a strict level of safety mutually exclusive with a weapon that could “shoot one’s eye out.”
In a future article, I will discuss the fact that Whites average higher on the Feeling spectrum than do other races. Because the film focuses a lot on these elements, it would be reasonable to conclude that it would be difficult to find something like A Christmas Story being produced in a non-White society. The film is also incredibly heteronormative given that the mother protects her son from the father’s potentially harsh punishment, and the father in turn protects his son from the overprotectiveness of women and their taste for girly, babyish clothing. In short, the woman compensates for the weakness of the male and vice versa. Separately, their respective eccentricities would go unopposed, but together they cancel each other out.
The one trait which is somewhat in question is whether Ralphie himself is a Thinker or a Feeler. Regarding Thinkers:
Interacting with them [thinkers] tends to brief and business-like. Perhaps because people are so variable, they focus on tangible things, seeking truth and use of clear rules.
The driving plot of the film is whether or not Ralphie gets a BB gun, a tangible object, and he tells everyone he can, including Santa, about his wish in a brief, business-like manner, and believes that he deserves getting it because of the rules of Christmas, as he understands them.
Consider that Feelers “…are sociable and people-oriented.” Ralphie is not Mr. Popular at school, nor does he show signs of being terribly social. The Feeling aspects of his parents seem foreign and yet funny to his mature self as the narrator, worthy of a comedic nostalgia and a little fondness.
Clark Griswold of the Christmas Vacation movie is also introverted.
The energy of introverts is inward toward concepts and ideas. They need little external stimulation – and in fact they can easily be over-stimulated. It is possible that they focus more on their inner worlds because they suffer from sensory overload if they spend too much time outside and focusing on other people. They thus bottle up their own emotions, which can explode if pushed too far.
This is applicable in two ways. First, after disaster upon disaster piles up by the end of the film, Clark “explodes” in the same way Ralphie does when confronted by the bully. Second, at one point Clark accidentally becomes trapped alone in his attic. While there, he watches films of Christmases he enjoyed as a child, and finds an inner peace as a result, as introverts are wont to do when alone. Out of this peace, he realizes his SFJ goals and gains new resolve in his plans to have the perfect family Christmas. Of course, planning is very much a Judging activity.
Judgers approach life in a structured way, creating plans and organizing their world to achieve their goals and desired results in a predictable way. They get their sense of control by taking charge of their environment and making choices early.
The whole point of the film is to subvert the perfect holiday plan. It may be somewhat of an attempt to lampoon judgers, since many of Clark’s plans, such as having an over-exuberant Christmas display and applying oil to the skids of sleds in order to make them run so fast that they set things on fire from the friction, go horribly wrong. However, in spite of these failures, we are still asked to sympathize primarily with Clark, who is the protagonist as well as a Judger.
The quasi-antagonist of the film, Cousin Eddie, is not a planner, and shows up for Christmas unannounced. The whole point of the film is to depict a subversion of the Judging ideal, as the Judger’s plans for the holiday disintegrate. This could also be said of A Christmas Story, as demonstrated when the family’s Christmas Turkey is eaten by a pack of the neighbor’s dogs which have broken into their home. Similarly, in Christmas Vacation, the turkey is overcooked to the point of near inedibility. The important difference is that one protagonist, Griswold is a Judger, while the other protagonist, Ralphie, is a Perceiver. Ralphie’s father, a Judger, is made the butt of humor, whereas in Christmas Vacation it is Cousin Eddie’s Perceiving ways that are the subject of jest.
Griswold is also a Feeler:
Feelers decide based primarily through social considerations, listening to their heart and considering the feelings of others. They see life as a human existence and material things as being subservient to this. They value harmony and use tact in their interactions with others.
Griswold wants to please everyone in his home. Primarily, he cares about their feelings. One could say that Clark has a streak of the Thinking trait since he engages in a near-Faustian quest to set up ridiculously bright Christmas lights, which are tangible things. However, its meaning is entirely social, whereas Ralphie’s quest is for a gun, the only practical use of which is to shoot at things.
Feelers often view thinkers as “cold and heartless.” Griswold’s neighbors are presented as elitist yuppies who do not delight in pleasing anyone other than themselves. Moreover, his boss is presented as an evil figure for not caring about the feelings of his employees and not giving them a holiday bonus.
Griswold also appears to be a Sensor rather than an Intuitive. Sensors “happily dig into the fine detail of the situation.” Clark works as a food scientist whose job it is to create preservatives. This seems like a comically dismal occupation, but one which nevertheless requires parsing out a lot of fine details. Of course, it also involves Intiutives’ “focus on the future” as new preservatives must be created. However, if one looks at common careers for ISFJs on truity.com, one will see that one of them is Food Scientist.
Sensors often view Intuitives as lacking determination. This may be useful in describing the Griswolds’ male yuppie neighbor, who is not manly enough to confront them about the disturbance they are causing, and hence his wife has to do it instead. Thus, a member of an out-group in the film could be construed as an Intuitive.
If Christmas Vacation pokes fun at the NTP personality combo, it is not the first to do so. Aristophanes’ The Clouds lampooned Socrates, an ENTP according to celebritytypes.com, for being overly concerned with things great and small – in other words, the macrocosm and minute particulars of the human experience. This lack of focus on the present would seem to be “impractical” and overly “theoretical” to a Sensor, who is concerned with what is “immediate, practical, and real.” Socrates is presented as a charlatan and sophist, bereft of the sorts of values-based thinking to which Feelers are said to gravitate. Finally, in The Clouds, Socrates’ character is maligned for teaching a pupil methods for rebelling against the traditional life of discipline which the gods favor. Judgers are said to be “self-disciplined,” and probably would put more emphasis on discipline in general.
Aristophanes was a conservative. It could be said that SFJ comedies like his and Christmas Vacation lampoon deviations from the norm, and that comedies such as A Christmas Story poke fun at the norm itself, in search of higher truth.
In summary, the Myers-Briggs system is not perfect, and works in terms of gradations rather than absolutes. It has many critics, and certainly cannot be said to measure the sum total of one’s psychology. This essay is not meant to be taken with scientific seriousness, and was written more for the fun of applying Myers-Briggs to fiction than anything else. If anything can be taken from this analysis, it is that SFJ comedies like Christmas Vacation and The Clouds, and NTP comedies like A Christmas Story will always be with us so long as the White race continues to have a societal dialogue with itself.
1. Changingminds.org is authored by David Straker, who has a M.Sc. in Psychology, according to the site. I discovered the site through a search engine and have never had any interaction with him. His political sentiments, whatever they may be, should not be confused with ours.
2. All bracketed and parenthesized quotes referring to the personality types are taken from changingminds.org.