What Would Dickens Say?


The season of commercial excess is upon us, unfettered, in all it’s foul glory. Like a juggernaut, the exhortations to ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ come fast and furious now, and no matter how much we may bemoan the crass commercialization of this season, most of us will dutifully heed the call, in some measure. Stores opened on Thanksgiving Day this year to begin the buying frenzy, an unprecedented move that horrified and outraged many.

Scrooge would be so proud.

I caught part of “A Christmas Carol” on tv this afternoon and thought how little things have changed since Dickens’ time. Employers demanding people work on Thanksgiving… can working on Christmas Day be far behind? Sure, there have always been those who had to work regardless of holiday – emergency services like police, firemen, nurses, doctors, military. When I was in the Navy I stood watch on Christmas Eve, although I admit I don’t recall if I ever worked Christmas Day itself. If I had to, I did. We were very flexible with our festivities. I remember a large gathering at the house I rented off-base with three others while in Okinawa. Our whole group of friends gathered at our place to exchange gifts and share a meal. It was one of the loveliest Christmases I ever spent. I don’t remember what day it was, likely not Christmas Day itself.

Since that time I’ve never worked on a major holiday, but my current boss would probably like for us all to. The child labor that Dickens campaigned against and the atrocious working conditions of his time may be (mostly) gone in the First World, but they are alive and well and being exploited on a daily basis around the world: Mumbai, Shenzhen, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan…

Scrooge learned his lesson on putting money above all else, but that attitude is encouraged and expected at all US businesses. It’s all about the bottom line, profit, keeping the shareholders and Board of Directors happy. My boss allows no mention of “Christmas” or any specifically Christmas-themed decorations (when I left last Tuesday I noticed a large tree in front of one of the buildings on campus strung with holiday lights, and thought “that’s gonna chap her ass…”) so we are having a ‘Winter Celebration’ in lieu of a ‘Christmas’ or even ‘Holiday’ party this week. I wonder how she’d feel if she knew she had a pagan in the office. I want a Yule tree, and a Yule log, and lots of holly and ivy and mistletoe, and lots of wassailing…

I have to think Dickens would be none too pleased. We’ve learned nothing, we haven’t evolved one bit since his book was published in 1843. Cash (or credit) is still king. The rich get richer.

In the meantime, enjoy what I consider the definitive version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “Scrooge” from 1951, starring Alastair Sim. Just wonderful. And whatever you’re celebrating, have a happy.

 

Wæs Hæl! (Be you healthy!)

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8 thoughts on “What Would Dickens Say?

  1. Well said, DD – I couldn’t agree more. Out here on the east coast the evening news was cluttered with reports of people swamping the stores on Thanksgiving, getting into ugly fights over crap merchandise. Fang and I laughed for a minute, and then we were appalled.

    So many people AND corporations seem to be too stupid to see the irony in celebrating the holiday season – a time traditionally set aside for family, no matter what your religious leanings – by forcing people to leave their families and go work at stores, which are open so shoppers won’t have to stay home with their families.

    And I do mean “force” – I know a number of young people who work in retail and they all say that these holiday hours, on Thanksgiving, “black Friday” (both of which fell during the festival of Chanukah this year) and Christmas week are absolutely not voluntary: that employees are told that if they don’t show up, they won’t keep their jobs. Those conservative jackasses who carried on a few years back about “the war on Christmas” in response to people falling back on non-denominational greetings such as “Happy Holidays” should stand up to Big Retail, and have something to say about the real war on Christmas, and Chanukah, and the Solstice – this growing ugly trend to exploit workers who can’t afford to say to stay home.

    • I would bet real money the so-called ‘conservatives’ are the main employers who force their employees to work on holidays. They protest the imaginary ‘war on Christmas’ because it cuts into their revenue if they can’t advertise using the word “Christmas.” I have been guilty of having to run to the store for forgotten ingredients for a holiday feast (like milk or butter) but other than that I refuse to shop on a holiday. Corporations don’t care, the CEOs and their ilk are in the Bahamas anyway, it’s not like they work those days. We’re all just drones for them to exploit, it’s not like we matter.

      The sad thing is the people who go along with it and shop like crazed Tasmanian devils for the junk. I saw a woman on Twitter, a proud, self-proclaimed Tea Party conservative urging people to “Buy! Buy! Buy” and how she was practicing her “patented shove and grab technique.” Saw no irony in the commercialism at all. Just sickening.

  2. The final insult is, the sales are not all that great – it’s just a sham created to whip people into a frenzy so they’ll feel some kind of urgent need to spend $$.

    I refused to set foot out of the house on Friday (you’re right about the occasional emergency trip to the grocery store for that one forgotten ingredient – a “tradition” immortalized by the ’80’s New-Wave band The Waitresses* – although sometimes I’ll still stay home and improvise,) but I bought a number of gifts online between Wednesday and yesterday for 25- & 30-and 50% off just by remaining calm, saving gas, and shopping judiciously. (OK, I’ll admit it: a couple of those “gifts” were for me. But the stuff from TheBodyShop was half price!) My proudest moment: scoring a pair of Land’s End hiking boots for the English Department’s holiday gift drive, originally priced at $129.99, for thirty dollars. Last year I found a Keurig coffeemaker, which Target was hawking on Black Friday, for a LOWER price on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon as I was shopping for groceries in a distinctly un-crowded ShopRite. The whole thing’s an ugly stupid fraud, and if we can’t change labor relations overnight, we can at least refuse to participate. Let’s start a War on Retail Horseshit, and spend the money and time we save on the folks we love. Peace on earth, beloveds – it starts with us.

    * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARq6uYSsUq0

  3. Great post, DD. Also loved reading a bit about your time in the Navy.

    And this from Bunny: “Those conservative jackasses who carried on a few years back about “the war on Christmas” in response to people falling back on non-denominational greetings such as “Happy Holidays” should stand up to Big Retail, and have something to say about the real war on Christmas, and Chanukah, and the Solstice – this growing ugly trend to exploit workers who can’t afford to say to stay home.”

    So…so true.

    I also believe it is up to individuals. Instead of getting stressed over insane overspending and complaining about it each year, a person does have to take responsibility for their own actions. Put their foot down, say they’re not getting into all that again, and celebrate their holiday as they wish with their family.

    • It takes a lot of inner strength to go against the societal pressure, especially in families with children. People like ‘stuff’, as a marker of success and because they don’t know how else to exist. I used to work with a young woman whose husband gave her a new BMW for Christmas. Naturally the first day back at work she had to trot everyone out to see it. It’s not enough to live a life of excess, they are also compelled to brag about it. It’s an innate desire to compete and show off to everyone. My office administrator where I am now comes to work in an expensive new coat at least once a week. This mentality to ‘buy-buy-buy’ is deeply ingrained.

      • DD, your accounts of show-offy co-workers reminds me of a story my husband told me. Some colleague came in one day, bragging and being totally obnoxious about some rolex watch he’d gotten for 20,000 dollars or something.

        2nd colleague: “Twenty thousand dollars…what does it DO?”
        ist colleague: “it tells time!”
        2nd: “So does mine. And I only paid fifty bucks. I think you got gipped!”
        :)

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