Monday, January 03, 2011

Us, everyone.

Over the holidays, Spooney and I indulged our obsession with "A Christmas Carol" by watching every version we could trap within our DVR web.  Spooney is partial to the older films, which he refers to as his family's "classics," as if they were broadcast for, and belong to, his clan alone, and I dig that.  However, I love above all others the 1984 George C. Scott version, even though he is rather well-fed for a Scrooge and also not so convincing in his character's giddier moods as others have been.  The Scott version does most succesfully pull off the darker moments, though, and for me it is the darker moments that elevate the tale above the rest of the sickening pap the holiday season is wont to produce.

Because for me, Dickens's entire message can be distilled down to the following exchange between the miser and the second spirit, wherein Scrooge inquires about the hideous, groveling, ghoulish children that hide inside the spirit's robe:
'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
I remember watching "A Christmas Carol" as a child, and I remember my ears pricking up when the ghost said "but most of all beware the boy..."

Because why beware ignorance more than want?  After all, it seemed to me that you could be ignorant and happy - in fact my hometown in rural Indiana provided many examples proving that you could indeed be thus - but it was almost impossible to feel content when you didn't have sufficient money to pay the rent or the power bill or buy enough food.  I was rather newly acquainted with the last reality, and although my instinct was to trust my own experience, still, there had to be something to what Dickens was saying, or else the tale around that message would not be so exaulted in such a beloved medium at such a spritual time of year.

I must admit that I have labored, intermittently, to understand his point ever since. 

And I think that the audience of "A Christmas Carol" is tempted to view ignorance as being embodied by the poverty-stricken characters of the story, consumed as they are with their petty needs, and deprived as they are of the education that could improve their condition, or indeed, as our last elections have shown, even identify those responsible for their condition.

But I have come to believe that the ignorance that spells our Doom is not the ignorance of the unfortunate, but the ignorance of Scrooge himself, and those like him.  It is a self-imposed ignorance, perhaps, or perhaps one into which so much is invested that it is, ultimately, a most devout stupidity.

Much is made of the smugness of the liberal.  It is said that we always behave as if we know better, as if we know what others do not.  Well, I'll let all you so-called conservatives out there in on a little secret:

We do know something you do not know. 

But we're not going to tell you what it is.

You may figure it out for yourselves, however, after you have been visited by 3 spirits.

The first, the Ghost of America Past, will show you visions of our forefathers, and you will hear them, with all their imperfections, try to craft the foundation of a government that would free us from the tyranny of state religions, and from a class structure that sentenced all but a lucky few to a lifetime of laborious misery.

The second, the Ghost of America Present, will walk you down the corridors of hospitals wherein the fate of the patients is decided not merely by the graveness of their conditions, but by the figures in their bank accounts.  He will escort you through our capitol halls and meeting rooms, so you may overhear our lawmakers conspire to allow corporations to rule over citizens, and he will lead you through the foreign battlefields where you may witness our young servicemen and women grasp for a meaning to dignify the deaths of their comrades.

The third, the Ghost of America Yet to Come, will give you a brief glimpse, for a brief glimpse will be all that you can bear, of a future where cities sink beneath oceans, green landscapes shrivel and turn to dust, and humans retreat to those smaller and smaller bands of Earth wherein life is still possible.  Then you will see what shall come to pass if these current shadows remain unaltered by the future.

The bell will soon toll one.  It is not yet too late.


Lisa said...

Not to downplay the importance of the message here, but the George C. Scott version IS the best version, almost straight across the boards (the Tiny Tim is particularly bad, but then I've yet to see a version with a compelling TT).

Mnmom said...

Excellent post! Notice Dickens said those children belong to Man. It is Man's ignorance that will kill us all. I particularly like how Scrooge's own words "have we not workhouses?" echoes again and again to drive the message home.

I like the Alistair Sim version myself.

GETkristiLOVE said...

I wish I could have seen Patrick Stewart's one-man performance of it. I'd just listen to his accent and then I wouldn't care what any line meant.

Liberality said...

Bah, humbug! We are all greedy and it is our doom. That is no secret. :O

Anonymous said...

Excellent point about self imposed ignorance. I think about that a lot when I'm being needled by my conservative in-laws. If they represent the common conservative, instead of erasing Doom, they're busy making sure it's tattooed on the boy's forehead in permanent ink.

Mauigirl said...

This is my favorite Christmas Carol too. (used to be Alistair Sim until I saw the Scott version). I agree with your interpretation of Ignorance - and your vision of the three spirits for America.