Monday, December 1, 2008

Week of 12/01/2008

The Need For A New Scrooge
– by David Matthews 2

There was a scene in the movie “The Blue Lagoon” that was somewhat sad. It involved the two teenagers that were alone on the tropical island and their attempt to remember some profound celebration. They had checked their calendar and realized what day it was. They raced out to the little display they had set up for the season and they tried to sing songs about it, but they didn’t remember the songs, and they didn’t even know why this particular day was so important anyway.

It would be the last time the two characters celebrated Christmas.

It is with that in mind that I wonder if the same thing has happened to the spirit of the holiday season.

The holiday season seems to have devolved into this dysfunctional mix of rampant consumerism along with overly religious symbolism serving as a substitute for actual faith. Obviously it didn’t get this way on its own. It had to have some help.

On one hand we have the rampant consumerism. Or perhaps a more fitting description is “rabid” consumerism. We already had three people killed on “Black Friday”, with one of them being trampled to death by hundreds of rabid shoppers just as the doors opened. They were so obsessed with getting into the store first to buy the insanely-low items for sale that they didn’t care what it took to get in. They literally ran over a man and killed him, and then when the store tried to close its doors so the police can investigate the matter, those same rabid shoppers got outraged because they believed that they were ENTITLED to be there!

As times get bleak, we have robberies and thefts and outright frauds on the rise. And not only is the economic situation bleak, it’s actually become hostile to many families. For many families, the greatest gift they can get is to not get foreclosed for the next few months. There are families that are living at or beyond the breaking point, and yet they are told that they have to consume and travel and spend even more money in order to “be in the season”.

Of course “Seasons” to them is more than just the ones in December and the start of January. Let’s not forget “Christmas Creep”, their insistence that seasonal sales start earlier and earlier into the year. First the decorations come out just before Thanksgiving. Then it’s Halloween. (That explains the “Halloween lights” I’ve been seeing of late.) Then it’s Labor Day. At this rate they’ll be racing to compete with Easter.

Then on the other side of the equation, we have the rampant religious symbolism, and no I don’t mean all of the Christian references and church hymns. I’m talking about the attitudes of certain groups that the holiday season is EXCLUSIVELY THEIRS and their extremist insistence that ANY attempt to mention or contemplate anything outside of THEIR symbols and THEIR messages is a crime against humanity itself.

Yes, I’m talking about the religious extremists and their supporters in the conservative-dominated portions of the media. I’m talking about Fox News and the talk show hosts and Focus on the Family and their annual fraud called “War on Christmas”, which is nothing more than the continuation of their WAR on the rest of society and using Christmas as their seasonal symbol.

You see… according to these extremists, the holiday season is about one thing and one thing only… CHRISTMAS. As in CHRIST’S MASS. They don’t recognize anything else. They don’t recognize Hanukkah. They don’t even recognize the New Year! They only care about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And they REFUSE to allow you to say “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays”! No, according to them, there are no “seasons” or “holidays”! There’s just ONE “season” and ONE “holiday”, and that is CHRISTMAS!

Even worse, these extremist groups have gone so far as to hassle franchise stores to get a firm promise IN WRITING that they will say “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”! They have an ongoing “Naughty” and “Nice” list of stores that accommodate their whims, and they work on that list as early as six months before the first seasonal supplies show up on the shelves.

And there is no middle ground with these extremists! You can’t just put up a picture of a snowflake or hang a wreath. No-no, it’s all-or-nothing with these extremists! You can’t make reference to Santa Claus without buying into the WHOLE package according to them! It’s a package deal as far as these extremists are concerned. Mall Santas and snowmen and “Winter Wonderland” and seasonal sales are ALL part tied into THEIR theology according to them. You support one, you HAVE to support them ALL!

Oh, and they’re not that comfortable with the commercialism. It sort of detracts from their agenda. They’ll work with Big Business… but only as long as Big Business understands that it does so with THEIR permission.

There you have it, folks. The two extremes of the holidays, and they’re doing their damndest to pull us all apart.

It makes you wonder if people forgot the true reason for the season, and, no, it’s NOT to celebrate someone’s birth or to herald a short period of discount sales.

Once upon a time there was a story that did that. You’ve probably heard of it too. It was from the British writer Charles Dickens and it was called “A Christmas Carol”. It told the story of a miserly old fart by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge and how a visit from four spirits changed his ways and his views about Christmas.

Unfortunately, like so many things, the real message itself has been diluted through time. The basic fallacy is that Scrooge was just a miserable old fart because of his greed and all he had to do was to give up some money and he would lighten up. Other people would claim that it was the fear of death that made him change his ways, as emphasized by the final spirit resembling the Grim Reaper.

Both views are wrong.

Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” as a condemnation of the changes going on in Great Britain at the time, which was at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th Century. He wanted to show how the cold and mercurial demands of the Industrial Society conflicted with basic human compassion and how someone born of that society would turn out.

To that end, Dickens created the character Scrooge to be the embodiment of the Industrial Society. A man that was ripped apart from any connection of family or friends, and someone for whom the surest thing he could ever count on is money. The man had no life outside of work. The people he counted on as friends were nothing of the sort. And all of the tragedies that befell him came on Christmas Day!

Dickens wanted to show how the human spirit along with human compassion triumphed over the demands of the Industrial Society, and to that end he succeeded.

Sadly, though, the same cannot be said for the troubles that befall us today concerning the season.

The religious extremists would tell you that Scrooge’s problem was a lack of religion, and that in the end it was both the fear of death and his visiting a church that supposedly lightened his heart. Sorry, but the story makes little reference to religion, and in fact many of the symbols of the story, including the spirits themselves, were embodiments of the original Yuletide celebrations, which had nothing to do with Christianity. Spirits that are condemned to travel the land wearing chains and lockboxes does not mesh with the Christian concepts of the afterlife.

The business world would tell you that Scrooge’s problem was the lack of spending, which they would resolve by having a blue-light sale that would “scare the Dickens” (pun intended) out of the Scrooge in all of us. Again, it wouldn’t work. A miserly person the likes of Scrooge wouldn’t be tempted by any price short of “free”, which goes against the very dogma of the business world. In fact, someone like Scrooge would probably OWN one of those businesses, and why would they want to spend money on such a sale if they knew the truth behind it?

Worse yet, charity in today’s world is done more for tax purposes than for human compassion. We may give, but we want a receipt for it so we can put it on our tax forms.

Neither group would get it right.

Indeed, neither group could GET it right.

Let’s get brutally hones here… it is clear that we need a new story that shows the embodiment of the holiday season. One that emphasizes the true meaning of the season, which is to highlight the human compassion towards their fellow man.

We need a new Scrooge.

It’s not enough to simply re-do “A Christmas Carol” with updated references. It’s been done before, and no matter if it is played by a true Shakespearian actor like Patrick Stewart or done in computer animation featuring a talking duck, all they’re really doing is going through the motions. The true meaning of the story has become lost in the imagery and the changes made in society from the past 150+ years.

Sure there are some other holiday stories, but most of them capture a slice of life instead of conveying a certain message. “A Christmas Story” spends more time dealing with the utter humiliation of a young boy than with the spirit of the season. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” spends more time magnifying the 1950’s illusion of the holidays to an absurd level than in actually conveying the spirit of the season. Indeed, these movies are more about SURVIVING the holidays rather than enjoying them.

There needs to be a balance between religious symbolism and commercial consumerism; one which puts both groups in their proper perspectives and in their proper place in society, which, by the way, is NOT at the head of it. This is a time for compassion and kindness, not for pompous posturing and mercenary attitudes. This is a time when we need to show the BEST in humanity, not the worst.

And maybe if we can find that happy medium, then the two extremes can find it as well. That is, after all, the only way that we would be able to remember the holidays for what they are supposed to be.

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