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Sunday, 17 December 2017

Ghost Of Christmas Arse

I hate A Christmas Carol.

I mean I kind of hate Christmas carols too - my distaste with the holiday is well-documented and known to you, my dear readers - but I specifically refer to the Charles Dickens story. And almost all of the adaptations of aforementioned Charles Dickens story. The only reason I can put up with A Muppet Christmas Carol is because of the Muppets...and frankly I'd rather just watch old episodes of the Muppet Show.

A Christmas Carol In Prose, Being A Ghost Story Of Christmas - to give it its full absolutely bullshit name - should be familiar to most people. It's about a money-lender who is a miserable greedy bastard, who is visited by the ghost of his former partner in life to warn him about greed being bad, and then the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Be to show him the actual outcomes of his shitty decisions. After this supernatural guilt trip, he rushes off to fix things, by seeing his nephew, buying a turkey for his clerk, and giving him a small wage rise - and paying for his clerk's young and sickly son to, you know, not die. He also runs into a chap that approached him for a donation to help poor and destitute people, and sorts him out with some funds.

"But John," I hear you cry, waving glowsticks through the air at the world's last open-air apocalyptic silent disco. "But John, you forgot the scenes where he ran out into the street and bought everyone toys and made everyone happy!"

Ah, but that doesn't actually happen in the book, you see.

What he DOES, is he walks through the streets, and smiles and is nice to people. And they are nice to him in return. He talks to people, even stooping so low as to talk to the homeless, and is generally a pleasant human being.

So this tale of the redemption of - effectively - an extortionist loan shark isn't really quite so cut-and-dried.

The first part of the story establishes Scrooge as an asshole. A rather wealthy asshole that puts money over everything. He doesn't give a damn about his nephew. He doesn't care much for his clerk. He cares even less for the poor in general, whom he suggests should be in prison, the workhouse, or literally die to decrease the surplus population. Aside from sounding like several members of parliament (Jacob Rees-Mogg I am looking at you), this chap sounds thoroughly unpleasant, no?

A man without quibble or conscience is now visited by several ghosts.

The first is his previous business partner, Marley, who is essentially like: "Dude. We fucked up. Like we chased money forever, and greed is apparently one of the seven deadly sins or something, so I get to be a spook now, don't let this happen to you, I'm gonna have like three other spookdudes show up and show you how to not be an asshole."

Alright, sure. But he didn't give a fuck about the afterlife before, I don't doubt - so why is he gonna care now? Surely not because of the threat of ending up as a spook himself? Already knows that greed is bad - literally a deadly sin. No, he's not gonna care until there's a personal twist. Nobody with money gives a shit until something affects them in a way they can't shrug off.

Enter pastspook.

Turns out that, in his past - or the selective bits of it pastspook shows old Ebenezer - he had human emotions, which all outpour as he witnesses his youth and his prior employment. Suddenly confronted with the reality that he, too, is a person - he is filled with regrets, as to how he's dealt with various people. Oh, now he sees that his behaviour was shitty. As if by a miracle.

Though having become upset by the fact that he's seeing all this stuff - and the positivity in the life of the woman that didn't marry him because he was a greedy asshole - he tries to murder pastspook by snuffing out his light, but that's another matter.

Enter presentspook.

Presentspook shows Scrooge around some of the more pleasant bits of Christmas as it stands in 1843. A joyful market, some people celebrating here and there, generally having a grand time of it. Even Tiny Tim is having a fun time, even if he's got the sword of Damocles dangling over his head. Old Ebenezer once more remembers that he's a human being and not some vile lich from beyond the grave, so he gets quite enthused about the whole thing - despite having, scarce hours previously, pretty much told his nephew Fred to go swing when invited to dinner. Full of joy and gaiety, this one.

Then just before leaving him be for the night, presentspook demonstrates that he's been hiding two kids in his robes this entire time. Now, ignoring how weird that is - here's where we get some heavy-handed Dante-style symbolism bullshit. You see, the children are savage horrible wasted creatures. The girl's called Want, the boy's called Ignorance, and he has Doom written on his forehead. They're apparently all mankind's children - and Scrooge, who previously wanted poor people to go die or go to prison or go to the workhouse, has a change of heart. Presentspook of course takes a sarcastic pop at him for it.

You may be seeing the pattern here.

Enter futurespook.

Futurespook pretty much just shows old Scrooge his own funeral, how much people hate him, how some of the people he loan sharked money to are happy he died because it's given them some financial leeway. He gets to see that Tiny Tim died, as predicted. The last thing futurespook shows Ebenezer is his own grave. This is all taken with the kind of shock and terror and despair that you would imagine.

It is only now - only truly now, when literally faced with his own mortality, shortly after having witnessed the personal cost of being a complete asshole, both his own and the lives or others - that he's down with the idea of Christmas. He's a changed man. He'll be Christmassy as fuck from now on.

So there it is. He wakes up. It's Christmas morning. Shouts out of his window at a passing urchin, buys turkey, takes to street, talks to people,, everyone's happy, goes to see Fred, falalalala.

For one thing - Scrooge's redemption is a capitalist one. The problems are caused by people not having any money, by little or zero provision being made for people with a lack of money, and by people like Scrooge himself profiting from that poverty. Oh yeah - the Cratchit turkey and Tiny Tim's medical treatment and the money for the destitute all comes out of the pockets of a guy who has made all that money by leeching off of poor people for most of his life. Does he stop being a money-lender? No. So on Boxing Day he's still going to be expecting repayments. He's still going to be harvesting ursury-money from all over London. Those chains that Marley was hoping to spare him from? Still there.

Can we really believe, also, that he just wasn't aware of the stuff the spooks showed him? Did he really forget his entire past? Did he really think that people wouldn't think badly of him if he was a complete asshole? Can someone be that naive, that...plain stupid? No - but then, Dickens isn't writing this guy as being reasonable or believable. Dickens is writing him as a moral lesson, right?

Except he's not a lesson. He's an excuse - in the same way as a deathbed repentance is enough to get you into heaven, suddenly remembering the poor exist is a great cover if you ever get called on it. Plead ignorance of the social situation you create on a daily basis - then when you have your one day of not being a shithead, you can claim you're a changed man. The beauty of it is, you don't really have to change at all.

The biggest change in Scrooge is a social one. He starts to act nicely to people. He starts to be sociable. He changes...very few lives, with his sudden outpouring of funds - but people notice that he's a changed man. He's changed his fate. No more awful funeral with staff picking his pockets and people celebrating his death because he was extorting them. Now, old Scrooge is a man about town. Cheerful and warm and generally nice.

And isn't that the true meaning of Christmas? Help very few people just a little and make out like you saved the world, put a big smile on your face and play along, because it's what everybody else expects you to do?

In fairness, I think part of the reason the story irks me so much is that so little has changed. In fact in this day and age it is even harder to legitimately claim ignorance over poverty and one's part in creating it. It's a bald-faced lie. More likely is that those who create the scenarios that make others suffer know, they just don't care. Much like Scrooge, they witness and display appropriate shock - but remain the same joyless austerity-driven assholes the moment they step away.

It's why you always need to check out people's actions, rather than their words. Always check the actual stuff and substance of an action or story, rather than the rhetoric or the story that gets told around it.

And if you require the intervention of four ghosts to make you even vaguely change your ways - you're still an asshole.

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