Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Top 1%, Dickens and a Fangirl Moment

I finally watched the Jim Carrey version of A Christmas Carol the other night. Considering I am a huge fan of Dickens', particularly of this story, I can't believe it took me so long to watch this movie.

It blew me away. This version is so close to the way the book reads that I actually pulled out my copy of it and followed along. The moments just after Marley's visit when Scrooge watches the masses of ghosts out the window was haunting, perfect and exactly how I imagined it. 

Let's watch it, shall we?

Jim Carrey himself plays all three of the ghosts. This screams exact interpretation as he is haunted by his own past, his own present, his own future and sees himself in the flaws and merits of the specters taking him there. If it were possible for one actor on a stage to play four characters simultaneously in 1843 I believe Dickens would have wanted to see that play.

In How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster I was a bit disturbed to find this passage as I was thinking about Dickens this morning:

"Nowadays we think of A Christmas Carol as a private morality play and a nice Christmas tale to boot, but in 1843 Dickens was actually attacking a widely held political belief… There was a theory afoot at that time, left over from the Puritanism of the previous two centuries and promulgated most forcefully by the British social thinker Thomas Malthus, that in helping the poor or in increasing food production to feed more people we would in fact encourage an increase in the number of the impoverished, who would, among other things, simply procreate faster to take advantage of all that surplus gruel."

The past tense here really bothers me. Are we deluding ourselves into believing that this is a past tense issue and isn't still incredibly common in the political atmosphere today? People across the world are under the belief that giving someone a helping hand will just encourage the poor to remain poor. There is 
dissension between the classes, being fed by those who actually have the power to solve the problems but would rather hoard their money away. Let's get back to that thought in a moment, shall we?

In the beginning of the story two jovial people approach Scrooge to collect a donation for the impoverished. After a short conversation it ends with Scrooge's line "If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." This line not only gets thrown in Scrooge's face later, it cements for the reader the kind of character he is - the cold, uncaring man he is - while making a political point right away.

(Can we reflect for a moment on Dickens' genius, here? The moments of the most profundity in his work are also the shortest scenes, packing more punch and holding the attention of the reader so that he is sure his message gets across. Brilliant. Anyway… done fan-girling. For now.)

There are people who claim to be Christian, leading men and women in politics who are perpetuating the fear of helping the poor, the disdain toward the impoverished masses. The "men of the cloth" who will have us believe that to be Christian is to be a Republican and to be a Republican is to be against helping others. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present why there are religious leaders, those who are supposed to be closest to god and the spirits, who are against helping the poor the ghost responds:

"There are some upon this earth of yours, who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

Shortly afterward two children, snarling and dirty, come out of the Ghost of Christmas Present's cloak. 

"'Spirit, are they yours?' Scrooge could say no more.

'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. Deny it!' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factitious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!'

'Have they no refuge, no resource?' cried Scrooge.
'Are there no prisons?' said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses?'"

Beware Ignorance, beware Want. 

I have obviously covered select few passages, and there is much more of a journey before Scrooge finally realizes the error of his ways. For Scrooge it is important to look at his own past, his own mistakes as well as what this may say for his future. Through these lessons he learns to enjoy life by living in the moment, spending time with family and treating his employees with respect and a fair salary.

There is a lesson in A Christmas Carol for all of us about how we treat those less-fortunate, and about not forgetting where we came from and what brought us to this point in our lives. But the greater message is really a political one. Dickens is sending a message to the Scrooge's of the financial world that carries right to Wall Street and Washington today. It is a call to those who are most fortunate among us to give more. Help more. The imbalance of wealth in this world is a centuries old problem with an easy solution, if people just learn to beware Ignorance and beware Want.

"'Man,' said the Ghost, 'if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?'"

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