|Every year it
repeats over and over again. Like a bad re-run in prime time television, its the
yearly Christmas media blitz. Just about the time we give thanks for butchered turkeys,
were served a whole new meat of cannibalistic CON-sumerism. My favorite seasonal
symbolism at this time of year is the man and the myth of Sir Ebenezer SCROOGE. In
response to my own nomination, I have knighted him as an un-sung hero of our time.
History plays a cruel joke on the conquered peoples of the past. The punch-line is that
the victorious always seem to write history. The same is true with our constant
reiteration of various tales from antiquity. Stories loose something in the translation of
time. In the case of SCROOGE from A Christmas Carol our CON-sumer society has
translated him from a hero into a villain. Scrooge, however, was always supposed to be the
everyman hero. The story was always of religious conversion.
Instead of reading, watching and listening to the re-treads of an old story, let me lead
you to the source. Below is my favorite passage from the original story. This scene
describes two door-to-door salesmen who are speaking with Scrooge.
..."Many thousands are
in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts,
"Are there no
prisons?" asked Scrooge.
prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
Still," returned the gentleman, I wish I could say they were not."
and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
"Oh! I was
afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their
useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the
multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a
fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time,
because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.
What shall I put you down for?"
"You wish to
"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. Besides - excuse me - I don't know that."
"But you might
know it," observed the gentleman.
"It's not my
business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own
business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good
passage, at the beginning of the story, portrays Scrooge as not very understanding. Or is
he? He certainly speaks his mind. Yet, if there was ever a man who was ahead of his time,
it has to be Scrooge.
This passage shows what a masterful expert at repartee,
Scrooge really is. Today, repartee is almost a virtue, in the movies, on stage, and while
testifying. To have the right answer, at the right time, and in the right way is what we
all strive for. Perhaps this is why we have a surplus of attorneys today. Isnt it
true that we all want to have the right answer in the most embarrassing situations.
Scrooges reply is spirited and incisive. What was your answer the last time a
"religious witnesses" knocked on your door or the local charity intruded on your
Most people today dont really want to be hassled with anything. They dont want
to take a stand or make a stand. Some time ago there was an election in California
regarding a proposition to eliminate services for those who are illegal aliens. The
proposition passed with a large margin, but when I asked people if they voted for the
proposition, I could only find one person who voted for it. Now either people lied to me
or there was horrible voter fraud in California. My bet is that most people said,
"Forget about the illegal aliens, just let me pay less in taxes". And the truth
is there is nothing wrong with having an informed opinion. It even makes sense for you to
say youre not going to pay for freeloaders! But its not a politically caring
or correct thing to openly say. The feeling today is that youre expected to be a
hypocrite, but youre stupid if you admit it. I happen to admire the
truthfulness of Scrooge. He admits his frank opinion and explains it without
Tell me. How would you reply to the apparently "ignorant and
foolish" gentlemen that are practically begging at his doorstep, groaning on and on,
with the usual endless emotional plea to help save the homeless? Dont you get just a
little bit tired of the endless streams of bums that beg you for coins but would never
give an ounce to help themselves? Of course you know that the people who really need your
help arent outside begging. The proliferation of parasitism is everywhere. On the 24
hour cable network, knocking door to door, shaking a bell in front of Macys's. I mean,
really. Are we supposed to feel warm & fuzzy about dropping a quarter in a can? Or do
we just do that as a sideshow in the event someone is watching.
Scrooge has business flair and "power-talk" discipline. Scrooge is the kind of
guy that's read One Minute Manager. The comment about excess population is great!
Here's a decisive guy, whose made up his mind about "pro-choice" and the
"right-to-die" issue... And hes not afraid to admit it! Scrooge is
actually ahead of his time. In deed, when I read Ebenezers comments, I just have to
agree. I know I cant afford to make idle people merry. I work for a
living. And I help to support the Federal, State, County, City, Special Districts and
all the wonderful programs that they support. Those programs cost enough, and if people
need help, they can go there. If they dont want to go there, then they can get the
he## out of Dodge City. Besides, its not up to me to interfere with other
peoples business, anyway. I voted in the last election. I did my civic
duty. I say live and let live. Im a nice person, Im a good guy. Thats
the essence of Scrooge. I really think he is not unlike most people. And
thats the point.
The news media always paints him as some tyrant, but I don't think so. Personally, I can
see Clint Eastwood playing him in the next Dirty Harry movie; Instead of, "Go
ahead & make my day!", we'll be walking out of the theaters, saying
"Bah-hum-bug", with just the whisper of a voice, the way Clint does it. Ebenezer
Scrooge is really a modern English folk hero, that we should celebrate as a Saint. We
could even celebrate his birthday, like, say, Scrooge Day. Think of his heroic, TV movie
of the week qualities: TONIGHT ON CBS: SCROOGE. Hes concise, direct, honest,
courageous, tough, and self contained. He has a strong work ethic. Hes a small
business owner, a taxpayer, and a determined, icy leader. YES, Its SCROOGE, A man
whose time has come. That is the essence of Scrooge, and I think its a good plot
that works in todays hectic world. Its time. SCROOGE: THE SERIES. (starring 9
to 5 movie fame Dabney Coleman)
Todays adaptations, screen plays, re-writes, and translations of Scrooge have
created a monster, and stripped the entire meaning from this tale by Charles Dickens. No
longer are we to understand or relate to Scrooge or his society in any way. In truth,
Scrooge has now ceased to be a member of the human condition. He is not a neighbor, he is
not a friend, he is not a brother, he is nothing like you. The memory of his
characterization doesnt even need to affect your life, just so long as you
arent stingy. Dont worry. youre nothing like Scrooge if you buy gifts at
Christmas and give them to your own friends and family. And thats exactly the way
todays advertisers want you to think about Scrooge, because Scrooge is now the Anti-Claus.
He is the exact opposite of the warm and fuzzy Santa Claus created by the media.
Scrooge has become the advertisers Miracle on 34th Street. Years ago, when Harpers
Bazaar and the Coca-Cola Company developed what we now know as the western version of
Santa Claus, they forgot one thing. While they were successful in increasing sales, they
forgot that a large portion of people are more successfully motivated by fear. Love, joy,
fear, and pain are all universal languages. These are the languages that motivate people,
a dialect of our advertisers, marketers, and media manipulators.
Santa Claus was
developed to represent love and joy. The image that most of us all remember of Santa Claus
was actually the true likeness of an illustrator who sketched himself while looking into a
mirror. His advertisement was created for Coca-Cola and was published by Harpers
Bazaar magazine. The illustration was so successful, that it became a template for
advertisers from that day on. As advertisers and media manipulators have become giants of
expertise, characters such as Scrooge have been warped and adapted to relieve social fear
and pain. Scrooge has become a convenient clown; An Archie Bunker Icon; The
guilt-by-association cartoon character we all love to hate. If Santa is the carrot, then
Scrooge has become the stick.
Im not wrong. Advertisers manipulate various human emotions to develop sales for a
specific market or product. But not everyone responds the same way to every sales pitch.
Different emotions manipulate different people. Advertisers vary their sales strategies to
increase a products market share. Market share is why Scrooge is vital to our
I learned the lesson of market share over twenty years ago as a sales clerk in a grocery
store. Our store sold three brands of sugar, one was an expensive and leading brand name,
one was the store brand name and one was a generic bargain brand. After watching various
people consistently choose the various different brands, I later learned that the same
sugar manufacturer, packager, and distributor produced all the sugar sold at my store. I
stupidly asked the manager why we sold three brands. The explanation was simple. The sole
manufacturer was able to capture three different markets that would not have been
available to him as one brand. By doing that he got the entire market for sugar. Why?
Because some people would only buy the trustworthy, well advertised, fancy name brand,
while others might take a chance at the lower priced store-backed brand, while the
remaining consumers would only buy the lowest priced, no frills brand. This was my first
lesson in the conditioning of people. The sugar was the same stuff, packaged in the same
place, it was just that some people felt better paying more money if they believed they
would get a perceived value, even if that value was only really the colorful packaging of
Market share is the story of Scrooge. A convenient way to motivate the fearful. Scrooge is
oldie and moldy. He is unattractive. Some people claim his name was even supposed to sound
racially Jewish. Scrooge is supposed to be utterly stingy and unattractive. Of course no
one wants to be associated with Scrooge, no one wants to be Scrooge, and no
one is Scrooge. And unless you want to be compared with him, you had better
become a generous spendthrift. Thats the advertisers lesson forced on the
consumer year, after year, after year. Its no surprise the modern over-the-top
Scrooge character is replayed every Christmas season.
Death is also a great motivator. There is no greater fear, than to face
death. Yet you never face an atheist in a foxhole. In the classic modern versions of
the Scrooge story, death is always used to its greatest advantage. At the end of the
story and the beginning of Scrooges conversion, Scrooge is shown the various
possibilities of his life by various ghosts, the last of which always bears a resemblance
to the grim reaper. In a classic "Turn or Burn" plot, Scrooge repents of his
evil ways and then usually goes on a spending spree to absolve him of his crimes of
stinginess. But does that make sense? Is that really the lesson of this story? Read for
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed
down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but
he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
"Before I draw nearer to that stone to which
you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the
things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?"
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by
which it stood.
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends,
to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses
be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went;
and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name,
"Am I that man who lay upon the bed?"
he cried, upon his knees.
The figure pointed from the grave to him, and
"No Spirit! Oh no, no!"
The finger still was there.
"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at
it's robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been
but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!"
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon
the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure
me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!"
The kind hand trembled.
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and
try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The
spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they
teach. Oh tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"
In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It
sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit,
stronger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in one last prayer to have his fate
reversed, he saw an altercation in the Phantom's hood and dress., It shrank, collapsed,
and swindled down into a bedpost.
The real secret of this story is a two
sentence lesson: "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the
year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future." Somewhere among the
years, the message has become garbled. Ebenezer doesnt suffer some kind of a brain
hemorrhage and go on a spending spree, like so often seems to be portrayed. He becomes
saintly, thoughtful and reflective of others. He becomes generous of heart. He takes care
of Tiny Tim. He goes back to his neighborhood and family. Yes, he does become warm and
elated, but not because of a spending spree, but because of his new found priorities. The
truth of Scrooge is that an ugly man, who looks a whole lot like us, becomes beautiful
because of his new priorities. He chooses life & love.
Todays Scrooge is a good marketing study. Dont let marketers manipulate you
into becoming a spendthrift, simply out of fear of being smeared as a tightwad, a
cheapskate, or a frugal nut. That should be your badge of courage. Instead, honor
Christmas in your heart and try to keep it all the year, not on one seasonal spending
frenzy. When was the last time you gave a gift for no reason? When was the last time you
made a gift? When was the last time you gave a gift to celebrate your conversion to
Christ? This Christmas season, remember to live in the past, present, and the future.
Because eternity is the absence time, and when that happens, only love will remain.
Commentary by Richard James, Copyright Imagex Associates
Illustrations by Gilbert Wilkinson, in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Odhams
Press Limited, London W.C.2 Published 19??