“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should.”
Within my own little world, I am sort of known for being a Grinch this time of year. It’s not that I despise the holiday, yet when December rolls around I can’t help but feel a twinge of unease and grumpiness. Where I live the days are painfully short and mostly gray. Evening arrives earlier and earlier as we hurtle towards the 25th. The radio stations play nothing but the same ten Christmas songs in perpetuity, exercising the definition of insanity without a care. The roads are filled with anxious people scurrying along at a frantic pace fulfilling their last minute shopping needs. The malls and stores stuffed to the brim with the hunched over and beaten down hoards of moms and dads with their toddlers and youngins close by melding into a sort of vestigial tail.
And then there’s me, holed up in his apartment with a solitary lamp illuminating just enough space as to not live in complete darkness, ruminating on the meaninglessness of life. The only other source of light is a cell phone, from which emanates a brooding drone of melodic death metal. The only reason to move is to finally appease one’s biology and eat, only to crawl back into your fortress of solitude. “Bah” he said, “humbug.”
Okay, so it isn’t that bad but without a doubt I am a bit of a Scrooge. I do enjoy Christmas, I just despise everything that comes with it. The non-stop Christmas music and movies being the most egregious offenders and the endless reminder that “’tis the season” being the second. Though most of the movies of the Christmas variety are markedly intolerable, there exists a short few I have an affinity for, namely The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Yet, when you think about Charles Dickens original, something jumps out at you.
As is common with Dickens’ writing, he portrays a rather grim world filled with injustice and extremes like abject poverty. Most know the story of A Christmas Carol and will instantly recognize those staples of his writing within this story. But there is one thing that is often overlooked, at least from a mass cultural perspective. Ebeneezer Scrooge inhabits a world full of starvation, homelessness, extreme poverty and a disastrously unhealthy public. He is pictured walking about unaffected by all this extraordinary injustice beset upon the masses. His solution? To scoff, humbug, and blame them for their ills. But we know how this story ends—with a change of heart.
How does this hardened and calloused old miser reverse his tune? Somewhat comically being frightened, humiliated, shamed, and having his insecurities exposed by several supernatural apparitions. That’s right, some ghosts made him feel bad about dying alone and unloved. The world he occupied wasn’t enough of a nightmare to make him see things a different way. No, it took him being visited by a fit of delusion and psychosis driven by paranoia and venom. It also needs to be said, he didn’t change his ways because of some moral epiphany. Instead it was out of his own selfish desire to be loved by everyone.
A Christmas Carol was published exactly 174 years ago at the outset of Victorian era. Considering the kind of social circumstances that plagued that era of history and living within the final breaths of Feudalism, I don’t blame Dickens for not being able to envision a character who is capable of great moral change. I imagine for most, especially in such a class driven society that is England, it was hard to imagine our feudal and burgeoning capitalist overlords having some semblance of a moral conscience. Yet, here we are 174 years later with the highest income and wealth inequality the world has seen in about 100 years and most of our popular culture is still affected by the same inability to imagine a world driven by moral change.
Again, it’s hard to blame them. Since the 1980s, wages have stagnated while the rich continue to get richer. We’ve tried begging. Since the 70s, we have continually cut the tax rates for multibillion dollar corporations and top income earners. We’ve tried building a world that benefits the whims of the ruling class by deregulating the economy. And when the financial sector collapsed, we bailed them out. We attacked unions, reformed social programs, and carved out loopholes for special interests. We even sell our blood to the highest bidder so they can live forever. We have done everything we can to create a world that benefits the rich. Why? In the hopes that those with the means would be capable of great moral change. At least this is what we keep telling ourselves.
At some point we have to realize that we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The chances of anyone transcending the economic reality they were born into are slim. We like to think of opportunity as something everyone has equal amounts of. That when we are born, because we live in America, we are afforded a special opportunity to rise above. The truth of the matter is that’s never been true. No time in American history has there ever been a moment where someone who was born into extreme poverty had the same opportunity to rise out of that poverty like those who were born into affluence.
Take a look at today where the top 1% in this country own 40% of the wealth. And where the top 5% own 67% and the top 10% own 79%. These people are sitting on and hoarding more money than they need and aren’t investing in labor, the economy, or much of anything. They own record shattering amounts of wealth and hoard it. What incentive do they have to spend any of it when they can continue to make money hand over fist through passive means? Do we honestly think cutting their taxes anymore, even though they are the lowest they’ve ever been in modern history, will incentivize them to spend it on the masses? If they are hoarding record amounts of wealth and income now and aren’t spending it, what are they going to do with a few million more?
I’m done asking nicely. I’m done waiting for these people to grow a conscience. We like to hope that our capitalist rulers are capable of a moral epiphany. But maybe we should start considering they aren’t.