The Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster, England intended to send out a jolly seasonal text to all of its patients wishing them a “very merry Christmas.” Instead, and don’t ask me how this could happen, the mass text told patients they had “aggressive lung cancer” that had metastasized and asked them to fill out form DS1500 for people those have a terminal illness to apply for benefits.
After freaking out many of its patients, the Center texted its “sincere apologies” saying, “This has been sent in error. Our message to you should have read We wish you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
I don’t think “Oops! Sorry!” quite makes up for something like this.
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”.
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'”:
In his Christmas speech on December 23, President Biden said, referring to Christmas’s religious significance,
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is given. There is a certain stillness at the center of the Christmas story. A silent night when all the world goes quiet and all the glamour, all the noise, everything that divides us, everything that pits us against one another, everything — everything that seems so important but really isn’t, this all fades away in stillness of the winter’s evening. And we look to the sky, to a lone star, shining brighter than all the rest, guiding us to the birth of a child—a child Christians believe to be the son of God; miraculously now, here among us on Earth, bringing hope, love and peace and joy to the world.”
Many conservative blogs, pundits and celebrities “pounced,” attacking the President for not mentioning Jesus by name.
The headline at The Daily Wire was “Biden Delivers Christmas Address Without Mentioning Jesus By Name: ‘A Child Christians Believe To Be The Son Of God’” Father Gerald Murray of the Archdiocese of New York told Newsmax that it made “no sense” for Biden to omit the name of Jesus from his annual Christmas address to the country. “President Biden is always talking about his Catholicism and how it inspired him,” Murray said. “If you’re going to honor the birth of Jesus, you should mention his name. I was very sad to see that. That’s not anything that should be imitated in the future.” Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican and former member of the House,said, “Not saying the name of Jesus—look, there are other holidays to celebrate, but Christmas is the birth of Christ. When we celebrate the birth of Christ who came and gave us the gift of life. That’s what we celebrate and to take that out is just sad.” The Heritage Foundation’s Kara Frederick, complained, “America’s lost its sense of God, it’s Judeo-Christian values, and I think this is just a manifestation. This speech not mentioning Christ, talking about how divided this nation’s been for so long, it’s all part and parcel of the secularization of America and we need to return to our faith.”
The United States is not supposed to have a stated “sense of God,” and for the President of the United States to officially espouse the beliefs of any particular religion is, according the the line of judicial interpretations of the Establishment Clause and the First Amendment, a violation of the Constitution.
For some reason I’ve been getting accounts of a lot of overseas ethics controversies of late, like the German hospital patient who shut off her roommate’s oxygen machine because it was “too noisy.” The source of this ethics quiz is the UK, where a frustrated mother argues on a parenting site that it was selfish for a childless colleague to compete with her for a day off on Christmas, because she was a mother.
“Ok I feel terrible about this,” the indignant mom wrote in a thread on UK-based parenting site Mumsnet, as she explained that their manager told the two women to work out their conflict themselves, and let him know their solution. Continue reading →
So the board of library trustees and the library director responded to an undisclosed number of complaints by banning the tree, so nobody can enjoy it.
Ever since uber-athiest Madeleine Murray O’Hair’s lawsuit got the Supreme Court to rededicate itself to ensuring that national, state and local governments did not endorse a particular religion in defiance of the Constitution’s establishment cause, there has been a tug of war over how America should celebrate Christmas. Are office Christmas parties “insensitive”? Should elevators play “Joy to the World?” Is the greeting “Merry Christmas!” offensive to someone who isn’t a Christian?
Prior to Mrs. O’Hair’s attack, the balance between religious and secular elements at Christmas time was solid. Schools included traditional Christmas carols in their annual programs without anyone seriously regarding it as pro-Christian propaganda; Bing Crosby was as likely to sing “O Holy Night” as “White Christmas” on his TV Christmas specials. Then the lawsuits started flying over public crèche displays, and otherwise rational people began causing trouble. I remember a smart and generally sensible female executive at an association I worked for in the ’80s making a huge issue out of a “Christmas elves” staff gift exchange mandated by the executive director. She was Jewish, and felt “excluded” by “Christmas elves.” So the gimmick was renamed the “holiday pixies” program. What the heck are “holiday pixies?” Unless she was one, which I doubt, how did that make her feel more “included”? Her successful Christmas protest only managed to put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and divide the staff, just as the current Christmas nonsense divides the country.
No. 1: The public prefers the old classics, and isn’t too interested in new songs.
No. 2: Singers shouldn’t wander too far from the melody.
No. 3: “You can’t be too corny at Christmas. You totally get a free pass.”
Corny is fine, but what about creepy?
D. Dark Christmas Songs
1. Traditional Carols
The problem with “The Carol of the Bells” isn’t the lyrics, it’s the music. The thing is affirmatively creepy; my mother hated it, and compared the tune to “The Hall of the Mountain King.” No other Christmas music has been so frequently used darkly. It came, then, as no surprise when the TV horror mini-series “Nos4A2,” based on a novel by Stephen King’s son, used the carol as its theme music. The show is the tale of a damned man who kidnaps children and takes them to “Christmasland” where they are kids forever, and also become little vampires. The music, which is by a Ukrainian composer, is unquestionably ominous. Why it has remained in the Christmas canon is a mystery to me.
Another carol in a minor key is “We Three Kings,” which contains this cheerful lyric in Verse 4, sung by Balthazar:
Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom;— Sorrowing, sighing, Bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb
And why would you give that stuff to a baby?
I’m going to call “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” a traditional carol since its lyrics are more than a century old. It’s not creepy, but it is a sad song, and sadder still when one knows its origins.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem titled “Christmas Bells” on Christmas Day, December 25, 1863. He was in despair: his son had been wounded fighting for the Union the month before, and the poet feared he would die. The author of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Evangeline” and other famous poems also was still mourning his second wife, who had died horribly in a fire two years earlier. He was not in a good state of mind when he wrote,
[Part I, consisting of the introduction to today’s random collection and a related selection from the EA archives,is here…]
1. This marks the official beginning of the yearly holiday runaway emotions train wreck for me, with which I have permanent love-hate relationship that grows more intense each year. I inherited from my mother an immediate nostalgia, regret and sense of loss with this season, typically kicking in with the first Christmas song, which Sirius was cruel enough to offer weeks ago. I think that’s why I gravitate to the Karen Carpenter version of “Home for the Holidays,” because her early loss was so tragic, and her unique voice was so emotionally expressive. This coming week is our 42nd anniversary, of which I am proud from a perseverance and integrity standpoint, since almost nobody among our contemporaries are still on their first marriage, Thanksgiving, which will have fewer people around the table than ever before, then the anniversary of my finding my father dead in his easy chair on my birthday, followed by the annual hell of getting 2000 lights on a live 8 foot tree, a task that falls entirely on me now, and then Christmas madness. What fun. And yet I love the memories, the lights, the music, the spirit and the values the season represents.
[The previous post reminded me of this one, from 2015. Here it is again, slightly updated and edited. It’s as accurate now as it was then, unfortunately.]
At the rate things are going, I am certain that before long no pop vocal interpretations of traditional Christmas music will be easily accessible on the radio. This is a cultural loss—it’s a large body of beautiful and evocative music—and someone should have, one would think, the obligation of preventing it. But I have no idea who.
I realized this when I felt myself getting nostalgic and sad as I listened to a series of “Christmas classics.” For one thing, they all reminded me of my parents, whose absence beginning in 2011 permanently kicked my enjoyment of the season in the groin. For another, all the artists were dead. Bing: dead. Frank: dead. Elvis: probably dead. Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, The Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, Elvis, Karen Carpenter, John Denver–dead. Long dead, in most cases. Christmas has become a serenade of dead artists. Except for the narrow range of country music stars for those who enjoy “O Holy Night” with a twang, living pop artists don’t sing these songs. OK, Mariah Carey, Josh Groban and Michael Bublé. Not many others. A few years ago, Sirius-XM was so desperate to find living artists that it was playing the Seth McFarland Christmas album. Seth can sing, but I’m sorry, but it’s hard to enjoy “Silent Night” while picturing “The Family Guy.”