Comment Of The Day: “The 2022 Ethics Alarms Companion To ‘Miracle On 34th Street'”

Of the three Ethics Alarms ethics companions to classic Christmas movies, the “Miracle on 34th St.” edition has attracted the most criticism. That’s strange, because 1) it is my favorite of the three and 2) I am more critical of the ethics features of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and even “Miracle’s” biggest fans ( I’me one of them) have to concede that IAWL is a great work of art, while the tale of Kris Kringle is “just” excellent entertainment. P.M. Lawrence is the only Ethics Alarms reader who attempted to jot down substantive objections to the post, and that alone made his comment COTD-worthy. He also did a good job, as usual, and his critique did not include a hint of “How dare you?”

I addressed those critics in a coda last year that I omitted in the 2022 version, beginning with one commenter’s  I suspect we could poke holes in any film with respect to morality and ethics if we wanted to,” a commenter wrote last year”.

My retort:

  • I want to, because it’s my job
  • Movies are excellent for tuning up ethics alarms
  • Christmas movies, which are seen by children, have a special obligation to teach the right lessons, both prominently and subliminally, and
  • No, in fact you can’t poke holes in any film, at least not fairly.

I agree that this film is a classic. It is also clear that the story was constructed to reach the climactic trial gimmick, and scant attention was given to consistency or playing fair. I am a legal ethics specialist, after all. You can’t expect me not to analyze a crazy trial like that.

I will never try to “poke holes” in the greatest of all Christmas stories or its film adaptations,  arguably the greatest ethics story of them all, “A Christmas Carol.” That is because it is pretty close to perfect. There are other holiday films and ethics films that are written superbly, and have few if any ethics holes to find. Among these are “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” “Babe,” and even “Groundhog Day.”

I’m not the Grinch, as even a perfunctory perusal of this blog’s endorsement of the Christmas holiday over the years will show. If you set out to make an ethics movie, though, you had better pay attention to ethics.

Here is P.M. Lawrence’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The 2022 Ethics Alarms Companion To ‘Miracle On 34th Street'”:


I shortened it from last year!

You could have shortened it to just the Marx brothers’ joke.

“… “Miracle on 34th Street” stands for the idealistic proposition that wonderful things can happen even when they seem impossible, and that life is better when we believe that every day of our lives.”

And I am Marie of Rumania (apologies to Dorothy Parker).

“No Christmas display has ever distinguished between Santa’s reindeer (except for Rudolph), because the individual reindeer have never had any identifying characteristics in reality or myth…”

There was always Bruno the brown nosed reindeer, the one behind the other reindeer at the back, who got that way because of Father Christmas’s habit of making frequent stops. You also forgot that Olive the other reindeer is famous (as in “Olive the other reindeer playing their reindeer games”).

“… (But why does he speak in a British accent?)”

That’s obvious. It’s the same reason I do, despite being of Scottish and Irish ancestry and not English at all (a fact of which my mother was proud): it reflects where I went to school (that had some quirks, like a faulty early pronunciation of the alphabet imparted by an American teacher in Iraq when I was about five; I told my parents, quite logically I thought, that she ought to know her job).

Santa Clause, aka Sinterklaas,wouldn’t be confused: he named the beasts. He’s correcting the shop-keeper while passing along a misnomer?

A Czarist secret police chief used to keep a card on him to remind himself of his own name, as he often forgot it. And why do you think that Father Christmas had latitude in the naming? Race horse owners haven’t.

.. ” We should be realistic and completely truthful with our children and not have them growing up believing in a lot of legends and myths like Santa Claus, for example,” she says. And your authority for this proposition is what, Doris? Generations of children have grown to healthy, happy maturity being raised on myths, legends and fairy tales, and you, with your invaluable perspective as a department store employee, are confident in your certitude that their parents were wrong, and you are right. Wow.

Er… Skipping over the argument from (lack of) authority in there, you have completely failed to demonstrate the premise on which you rest your argument. Indeed, it is entirely plausible that it is just such a fantastical approach to reality that has led to fantastically based stuff going on today. Si testamentum requiris, circumpsice, e.g. consider the woke – as your very next sentence does, though you do not register it as an observation of just such fantasy at work.

“… What he cannot do, and must not do, and has a clear ethical obligation not to do, is to accept a job when he has no intention of doing what the job requires…”

This is the same po faced reasoning that condemned nineteenth century Irish M.P.s at Westminster for hamstringing its operations, when their only alternative to a strategy of join and sabotage was complicity in persona propria or in absentia. The accusations presented a fork: you have no right to complain if you don’t vote for M.P.s who do their job; and, M.P.s ought to do their jobs once elected, it was why they were elected (no, it wasn’t). And that fork has echoes in the politics of many other times and places, from the Aventine Secession against Mussolini to the election denialists of the U.S.A. in recent times. But when a game is rigged, there is no ethical obligation to follow its rules unless you committed to that with informed consent.

“… I have never worked anywhere that wouldn’t immediately fire an employee at any level who hit another employee on the head with a solid object. It wouldn’t make any difference what the reason was, what the object was, or whether the victim was injured. I’ve run (lets see now…) at least 15 staffs and organizations, and that doesn’t count theater productions. Engage in physical violence on my watch, and you were out.”

Unless it was the head of the Human Resources department who did it (though it was throttling, not striking with a solid object). When that happened in a place where I worked, management did a lot of King’s Pass stuff instead.

“And From Ethics Alarms, Have A Wonderful Christmas, Everybody!

Did you notice my comment elsewhere, about the difficulty I had distinguishing text highlighted in yellow as opposed to white, on a dark blue ground? This gave me the same issues: I could see at a glance that there was red and green lettering, but not which was which, though I could look at each word and see what it was.

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “The 2022 Ethics Alarms Companion To ‘Miracle On 34th Street'”

  1. … his critique did not include a hint of “How dare you?”

    I’ll have to fix that.

    Can readers spot my typo(s)? it wasn’t deliberate, it was just finger trouble.

    And, of course, if the original post had been shortened it to just the Marx brothers’ joke, it would have needed a copious, two volume commentary (was it Rabbi Hillel who said that the Torah could be reduced to just the two great commandments, with the rest just being commentary? Shammai was more of a black letter man). But that’s what the commenters are for.

      • I spotted them, and usually I’ll fix those, but you enjoy typo-tweaking so much I felt it was only fair to keep your text authentic.

        Then why didn’t you indicate your editorial elision of some of that very “typo-tweaking”? And “enjoy” is the wrong word, just as it would be the wrong word to use of self defence. I do not enjoy lesser evils.

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