Posts tagged ‘Dickens’

MY GOD! Charles Dickens’ Scrooge Was a Modern Day Republican

Last night we were looking for anything to watch on TV and came across A Christmas Carol or called these days, Scrooge. After watching the Saturday Morning Massacre, the Tax Bill Vote in the Senate, how wealth was being transferred to the wealthy, and the add-ons just made it worse for the poor working slob, I was in a mood for some holiday distraction. So this seemed like the perfect distraction.  It was the Patrick Stewart Version (1999).  Just as an aside, I think my favorites are George C. Scott in 1984 and Albert Finney in 1970 (Musical), but I get distracted.

Here we have Ebenezer Scrooge who has turned his back on everything except wealth accumulation. Sound familiar?  Remember in the story where the two portly gentlemen are trying to get a donation from Scrooge?

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

…“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.” “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

Now think about it.  Republican ideology is that if you are poor you only have yourself to blame because you are either undisciplined or lazy and helping the poor and desperate just encourages them (hammocks anyone?).  The Saturday Morning Massacre was about just that, taking money and benefits the poor need desperately so the rich can get richer.  And now they want to go after Medicare and Social Security (See yesterday’s blog). Screw the poor and those who are in need.  It is Scrooge at his worst.

But Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner said it best and it was how we should hold Republicans accountable:

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

  “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

So let’s build a wall to keep people who want a better life out.  Let’s cut their healthcare and old age pensions because the wealthy have worked hard for theirs.  Let’s kill the inheritance tax so wealthy children get even wealthier. Let’s sow hate and division throughout the nation so we can hold on to power and increase economic inequality. Let’s ignore evil in the white house for our agenda of making the wealthy wealthier.   Let’s kill democracy by attacking the free press and our judicial system.  Let’s cast doubt about our institutions so that only what we tell the rabble can be believed.  And all in the interest of business and wealth accumulation.  Bah Humbug. Scrooge at his worst.

So who is Bob Cratchit in this tale?  He is the American middle class, at the mercy of flow down and since the aim of Scrooge (and corporations) is to maximize profits, how do you think he fairs?  Without healthcare for Tim, he is going to die.  What do you think is going to happen to the 14 million or so that are going to get pushed off their healthcare as unaffordable after the Saturday Morning Massacre?  “And the Union workhouses!” demanded Scrooge, “Are they still in operation?”

The three ghosts that come to visit Scrooge are reality.  They take Scrooge out of his bubble to see the world as it really is.  Oh, but we would have three ghosts for Republicans, but they stay in their bubble of flow down, undeserving poor, denying climate change, or the reality that as Marley said so well, ““Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.”  But their business is business and what is good for business, not humans, and they actually believe all the rest will take care of itself.  Do not notice the bodies in the doorway, the people dying of opioids, starving children in America, or our kids burden by the debt of loans for higher education.

The two portly gentlemen who were asking for a contribution to try to help the poor are the Democrats.  They are still begging from Republicans instead of challenging them as the ghosts did.  At the end of this tale, Dickens gives us a happy ending where Scrooge re-recognizes his humanity and connection to the rest of humanity around him.  Not so with the Republicans.

Who knew Dickens’ politics of the 19th century would be the politics of the 21st Century?  You cannot watch this tale and not notice the parallels.  And we have learned nothing. Right now ”Bah Humbug” is winning out over, “and God bless every one”.  Maybe the Three Ghosts will show in 2018.

Nicholas Nickleby

One of our Christmas traditions is to watch Nicholas Nickleby (The life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby), Charles Dickens wonderful story of poverty, greed, and goodness, kind of like today.  The production that I love was filmed in 1982 at the Old Nick Theater in London and performed by the  Royal Shakespeare Company.  It is almost nine hours long and was a sold out production when they performed it over four nights.  The cast, lead by Roger Reeves as Nicholas, Emily Richard as Kate, David Threlfall as Smike, John Woodvine as Ralph Nickleby, Edward Petherbridge as Newman Noggs, and who could forget Ben Kingsley as Squeers, is superb.  If you want to see great acting and theater, this is it at its absolute best.

I first saw it around 1983 when we were living in New Orleans.  I was working days for the Army Corps of Engineers and my wife was working nights (so we could pay our bills) in a local hospital.  At that time my son was about two and I would have the evening chores that would include dinner, a bath, and then watch PBS before bed.  When Nicholas Nickleby came on I was hooked and one of my fondest memories is of my son shouting “Nickleby! Nickleby!” as he heard the overture played before each segment. He also used to shout “K-9!” when he saw a dog which would confuse my wife as she had never seen Doctor Who (another PBS standard) and was wondering just what I was doing to this poor child at night.

This time of the season is more known, of course, for Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, but Nicholas Nickleby is by far a more in depth and complex story with the same basic theme.   Dickens lived in a time when England was experiencing the industrial revolution and for some there was great wealth.  But for most of the population it was day to day existence and for some great poverty and suffering.   Dickens was trying to awaken his fellow citizen’s empathy to those left behind and asking basic questions about the inequality of life.  One of the great things about watching or reading Dickens is that the moral argument he was making is echoing our own struggles today with competing political arguments on what should be our social safety net.  Needless to say Republicans have structured their economic theories more around Scourge and Ralph Nickleby (Get a job, let poor children clean the toilets in their schools, we can’t afford Medicare and Social Security), than Nicholas who sees the injustice.

But what makes this production so wonderful are the actors themselves.  This is a stage production and I can not imagine it produced any other way.  Their use of the stage, lighting, and minimalist props is stunning.  Creativity abounds in this production.  There are 39 actors who play over 100 parts and unless you pay close attention, you think there are 100 different actors.  The focus is on the character and all else just seems to fade away.  There was even an art in selecting the multiple roles for each character as one would be the polar opposite of the other.  It is just fun trying to identify the different actors in their different roles.  Their range is just amazing.  Ralph Nickleby (played by Robert Woodvine) is the antagonist and you love to hate him, but in one scene the actor plays a performer in an opera and his voice is just amazing.  There are so many role reversals from people you hate to people you love played by the same actor that you are just stunned by their talent.  But more important, it lends the feeling of complexity to the human experience Dickens is laying out for us.

I have watched it many times and I cannot help smiling, laughing out loud, and crying every time I see it.  It is not just the magnificent story, but it is the play within a play, the over the top characters, the sutble jibes at society and its vanity that still rings true today.  Dickens’ word play with each character’s name is hilarious.  But what always sticks with me is Smike.   Gentle Smike is the metaphor for all the helpless and needy in the world and getting past his deformities to his heart of gold is a journey worth making.  In the very end of the play, as in all Dickens’ stories, there is a happy ending.  But in the main character’s celebration of their hard won wealth and happiness is the image of a poor child, downtrodden and broken.  When Nicholas sweeps him up in his arms he symbolizes the best in all of us in caring for our fellow man. Nichols is my Christmas gift to you if you have never had the pleasure, and even if you have. Actually Dickens’ and these wonderful actor’s gifts to all of us. Happy Holidays.