In which the author expresses his belief that he’s not that bad.
Two things I have to explain before I begin this time around.
The first is my love for Ernie Bushmiller’s comic strip Nancy. Nancy gets a bad rap in some circles for being moronic, but it truly is the Zen of comics. Everything in it has been boiled down to its most essential element, to the point where, as someone once said, “It takes less effort to read Nancy that it does to not read Nancy.”
The three rocks ...
The second is a review of one the Star Trek movies – Search for Spock (best of the series) or The Final Frontier (one of the worst), I believe. The reviewer for the Los Angeles Times was discussing the plot and described the entrance of the characters as being “as ritualized as Kabuki;” that is to say, each of them had assigned characteristics that the audience both knew and expected to see.
Now, with those in mind, let’s turn our attention to A Christmas Carol, which is certainly one of those stories that not only does everyone know (it may be the only story everyone knows; it’s out there in the ether, just seeping into our consciousnesses), but is also something that takes more effort to not see than to see. I’m not even sure if I’ve read it or not; I think I have; but does it really matter?
It’s certainly one of the most parodied of stories (along with the hideously overrated It’s a Wonderful Life – and I have to say on that one is to echo Gary Kamiya: “Portersville rocks!”) All the characters act in the ways we’ve come to expect and demand. For Scrooge to not say “Bah! Humbug!” or Tiny Tim to not be tooth-achingly sweet is rather like expecting Spock to act illogically to McCoy claim to not be a doctor. These are archetypes whose behavior we have learned to anticipate and predict, maybe even dread.
Scrooge is just inescapable this time of year, isn’t he? No matter how much we may want to ignore him and give him a year off, he’s always there. It doesn’t matter if the adaptation is good (there have been at least a couple of those in town in recent days) or lousy (and some of those), no matter how much we want to be rid of this turbulent priest, he’s coming back.
But one of the versions which I saw recently got me thinking that, for the most part, he’s really not all that bad. Sure, he’s greedy and parsimonious, but in spite of his character flaws, he’s still managed to be successful in his chosen line of work. I mean, how good a businessman must he be if, in spite of the way he’s portrayed, people still do business – a great deal of business – with him?
So, he’s smart, he’s relatively witty (able to pun in the face of seeing the ghost of his late partner), and successful. And, yet, everyone seems determined to “reform” him; make him live up to their expectations of proper conduct. Sure, he could treat Bob Cratchit a little better, but, even with the way Scrooge treats him, he seems happy in his state – except for his son Tim, of course, who’s dying of … something … Is that Scrooge’s fault?
George C. Scott. The best Scrooge. Don't even try to argue otherwise ...
So here’s a man minding his own business, happy in his state, being harassed by ghosts who demand that not only does he have to relive the pain of a bad breakup, he has to spend Christmas with his family, and then make the “discovery” that he’s going to die? Like he didn’t know that? Granted, the prospect of dying alone and unmourned isn’t the most pleasant, but he’s never given any indication that being friendless is a big deal for him. Do we condemn, say, Hamlet for treating his own friends so shabbily – even driving his girlfriend to suicide? Even Scrooge never went that far …
In fact, after his “reformation,” Scrooge pretty much shows signs of being bipolar, racing from grimness to mania, acting gleefully – and uncomfortably – cheerful, spending money like a drunken sailor, shouting, dancing, playing pranks. A little lithium might have done a world of good.
Parenthetical digression. Years and years ago, I was in a production of the musical Scrooge. (No, I played nephew Fred, not the title part – despite my unmerited public reputation.) Sparing no expense – except the one that involved paying the actors … – the producers emulated Act Two Scrooge and bought the largest goose they could find.
Not a prop goose. A real one. It must have weighed twenty pounds. It was the size of a small child; it may have been larger than the kid playing Tiny Tim.
Unfortunately, along with not paying the actors, the producers apparently also didn’t want to spring for refrigeration during the break between the first and second weekends of the show, so the goose carcass was left to do what unrefrigerated goose corpses do. During the second weekend, it was apparent to everyone on stage exactly where that goose was at any given moment. It made its presence known, and I’m actually kind of surprised it didn’t walk around.
End of digression.
A Christmas Carol (and its infinite number of adaptations) isn’t bad, by any means; it’s just tired. It’s like Kabuki or a Greek play; we know the myth, we know the outcome, we know the moves, we know the characters, we know how they’re going to end up. There’s no suspense. It’s like a bath – warm or cold, depending on your feelings about it. It’s just going to see how they’re going to tell it this time.
You could say that about any classic text; we know that Hamlet will die; we know that Sam I Am will eat (and like) the green eggs and ham; we know Dorothy will get home; we know the Star Wars spoilers – and we know that Scrooge’s heart will grow three sizes that night.
"Bah! Humb -- hey, wait; this is pretty good."
So, despite what is ultimately an uplifting message – don’t be an asshole; help others – I still think Scrooge himself isn’t a bad guy; he’s just misunderstood. As such, let’s give him some time off for good behavior to try to get him out of our collective heads.
Imagine. A year without A Christmas Carol. That would be the greatest gift of all.