Once again, I am re-posting the first Ethics Alarms Christmas post from way back in 2010, its first full year. (The last time I revived this post was in 2016.) I’m not inclined to change it, though I did fix some typos.
In the 2016 introduction, I wrote, “The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical.” That is still true. In my extended neighborhood, there are giant penguins, snowmen, Santas, dragons, unicorns, the Grinch and Christmas Storm Troopers on lawns, and exactly one manger or reference to Jesus. There is no mention of peace, good will or love. My wishes of “Merry Christmas!” are returned, I’d estimate, about 20% of the time. Often I get glares, because saying “Merry Christmas!” must mean that I have a MAGA cap in my closet.
Those who might be otherwise tempted to show some signs of faith may be intimidated by the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:
Yes, many people–they call themselves “progressives”— believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful. The culture seems to be capitulating to the bullying without a fight. The two most prominent Christmas movies on cable this year are the mildly cynical “A Christmas Story” and the wretched “Christmas Vacation,” which isn’t even a good Griswald movie, much less a decent Christmas movie. I have been searching for the original “Miracle on 34th Street”—yes, I know I haven’t finished the ethics review–and keep finding arguably the worst version, the one with Richard Attenborough playing Kris Kringle. “Four Christmases,” another bitter comedy, has appeared many times. “A Christmas Carol” is now rare fare, but we get many showings of “Scrooged,” with Tiny Tim played by MaryLou Retton.
Some of the Hallmark Christmas stations have been playing a Whitney Houston version of “A Christmas Song” that interjects “Happy Kwanza” in the lyrics. Thanks to John Legend, we now have a Christmastime ditty that endorses abortion.
Think about that a minute.
I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try.
The Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,”perhaps the greatest ethics movies of all time, has become this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season. Once again, I have reviewed the post after another viewing of the film. It is a mark of the movie’s vitality that I always find something else of interest from an ethics perspective.
The movie is an important shared cultural touch-point,and exemplifies the reasons why I harp on cultural literacy as so vital to maintaining our nation’s connective tissue. The film teaches about values, family, sacrifice and human failings unlike any other. I hope its power and uniqueness disproves the assertion, made in one online debate here this year, that new cultural creations inevitably and effectively supersede older ones, which, like copies of copies, eventually the cultural values conveyed get fainter and less influential.
Last year I wrote with confidence, “No, they really don’t,” but now I am not so sure. In , I learned that my druggist, about 35, married and with children, had never seen the movie. I gave him a DVD over the summer, and suggested that he watch it with his whole family, which he said he would: he moved on to another CVS branch, so I have no idea if he did or will. I used to be amazed at how many people haven’t seen the movie; now I am not. Last year I wrote that my son’s girlfriend admitted that she hadn’t; this year he has a new girlfriend, and she hasn’t either.
The movie is in black and white, and many Gen Xers and Millennials disdain uncolored films the way I once avoided silent movies. Will anyone be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” 20 years from now? I wonder. The movie begins in heaven, and has a strong religious undercurrent. Religion is increasingly mocked and marginalized today, and I see no signs that the trend is reversing. Aside from the nauseating Hallmark Christmas movies, most of this century’s holiday fair is openly cynical about Christmas and everything connected to it.
Here’s an example of how rapidly cultural touchpoints vanish: I’m going to poll how many readers remember this:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley, Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!
Don’t we know archaic barrel Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold, Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly, Polly wolly cracker ‘n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol, Antelope Cantaloupe, ‘lope with you!
Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly, Gaggin’ on the wagon, Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow, Harum scarum five alarm bung-a-loo!
Dunk us all in bowls of barley, Hinky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie, Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!
Bark us all bow-wows of folly, Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie! Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof!
Now just answer the poll, don’t go giving away the answer. Nobody knows all the lyrics that I just posted, nobody but the author ever did. The first verse, however, was once familiar.
Maybe there is hope: it was recently announced that a new musical adaptation of the movie may be coming to Broadway as early as next year. The songs will be written by Sir Paul McCartney, and interest in The Beatles is surging.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.
What is this message? In an earlier posting of The Guide I described it like this:
Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you
Finally, I hope you all have a terrific Thanksgiving, and that the holiday season is joyous for all.
There are at least two more Comment of the Day candidates in the comment threads following the Bazelon post, which makes five out of 25 total comments, highest percentage ever. Here is #3, by doctormoreau, perhaps my favorite Comment of the Day on “Ethics Dunce: Professor Lara Bazelon”:
The Ethics Dunce post highlighting prominent lawyer and legal commentator Lara Bazelon’s op-ed celebrating her decision to place her career and the welfare of clients over the best interests of her own children didn’t attract a lot of commentary, but the comments that arrived were excellent and often moving, and readers related her dilemma to their own lives. There have been three Comments of the Day so far. I’m going to post them in the order in which they arrived.
About 8 ½ years ago, I became a father. As I looked down at my newborn son, I couldn’t help but note was how small he was. How beautiful he looked. How unprepared I was to be in this situation. It’s funny the way life teaches us lessons. For example, did you know an 18-month-old could lock you out of your house? Or that a 2-year-old could operate an elevator? How about a 3-year-old using deception to win a game of hide and seek? Maybe that a 4-year-old could teach himself to swim?
It hasn’t been easy taking care of my oldest. From the beginning of his life, he has always been too interested in what was going on to care about being held or even staying in one place. His confidence has given him a unique perspective on the world where everything is a new adventure. It seems that he always must be in the thick of things. But here I am, trying to keep up, increasingly more aware that I am falling further behind and time is running out. Continue reading →
For the first time since my son was about to turn 9 almost 16 years ago, our home is without the extraordinary sweetness and aggressive unconditional love of Rugby, my son’s (but really the whole neighborhood’s) extraordinary Jack Russell Terrier.
He peacefully expired after an injection, as he was held tightly by my son Grant, whom he loved beyond explaining, wrapped in the tattered baby blanket that a toddling Grant himself once held for comfort, and that had lined Rugby’s dog bed in my son’s apartment.
In the end, these decisions always come down to ethical values. We received from our vet the not entirely unexpected news that our dog’s sudden lack of energy and stability as well as labored breathing was almost certainly caused by progressive heart failure. Dickens, his more flamboyant and occasionally diabolical predecessor of the same breed, had perished of the identical malady just short of 15 years of mischief. The first question— Is there anything you can do?— was met by an answer we have heard before in earlier animal companion tragedies: “Maybe, but even under the best circumstances, the time will be short.” Continue reading →
No way around it: today we are taking down the Christmas tree. It took over eight hours to decorate it, but that’s not why I always hate this annual task. Taking down the tree has always seemed to me like a symbolic rejection of all the ethical instincts and interactions of the season that the tree symbolizes. It is easier, somehow, to keep those ethics alarms tuned when this big, garish, lighted thing is dominating the living room, and shining out through the window into the street. One year, I managed to delay the Great Un-Christmasing until mid-February. There is something especially wrong and disrespectful about leaving this symbol of love, family, peace, generosity, continuity, community, kindness and more lying on its side, by the outgoing trash. This years Frasier Fir was a good tree that did it’s job well, and deserves better. Another year, I hated the idea of leaving our tree by the curb so much that I threw it down the bamboo-covered hill behind our home.
I wish I had the courage and resolve of the woman profiled in the Charlotte Observer on December 26, 1999. I adapted it in 2008 for the original script of “An American Century Christmas,” a musical revue recalling old-style TV Christmas specials as well as songs Christmas literature and movies. Continue reading →