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”:
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is making baseball history, and not in a good way. Once a fearsome slugger—Davis led the American League with 53 home runs in 2013, and hit 38 as recently as 2016—he has lost whatever it is that allows a baseball player to hit a ball thrown at him at up to 100 mph. Last season, at the advanced baseball age of 32 when most players, not all, but most, begin to decline, Davis fell off the metaphorical cliff.
His batting average was .168, the worst in major league history for a regular, with a horrible .539 OPS (On base percentage plus slugging percentage), and a -2.5 WAR, meaning that the Orioles would have won 2.5 more games with a borderline major leaguer from the minors playing in his place. There were no injuries or other explanations for Davis’s sudden morph into an automatic out, and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, players bounce back a little bit after such a so-called “collapse” season.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that this won’t happen in Davis’s case. So far in 2019, Davis is 0-for-23 with 13 strikeouts this season and is hitless in 44 at-bats since last September 14. That’s within two outs of the record for consecutive hitless at-bats by a non-pitcher.
Want to know why baseball’s free agents over the age of 30 didn’t get the big long term contracts they expected this off-season? Look no further than the Orioles’ predicament with Davis. They had to pay him 23 million dollars to be the worst player in baseball last season, when Baltimore lost 118 games. They are on the hook for the same amount this year, and three more seasons after that.Continue reading →
While the Alamo was under siege, the provisional Texas government organized at Washington-on-the-Brazos. On March 2, the convention declared independence and the Republic of Texas was born, at least on paper. The Alamo’s garrison showed its support for independence from Mexico by sending its own delegates to the convention.While they were unaware that Texas had declared independence, the roughly 200 Alamo defenders stayed at their post waiting on help from the settlements. Among them were lawyers, doctors, farmers and a former congressman and famous frontiersman from Tennessee named David Crockett. While the youngest was 16 and the oldest defender was Gordon C. Jennings, age 56, most defenders were in their twenties. Most were Anglo, but there were a handful of native Tejano defenders as well. Legendary knife fighter and land speculator James Bowie was in command before falling ill and sharing duties with Travis. Several women and children were inside the Alamo, including 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson. Just before the final battle, Travis placed his ring around her neck, knowing she would likely be spared. One of the last messages from the Alamo was a note from Travis asking friends to take care of his young son Charles.
The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness. Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed. Bowie was most likely killed in his bed, while reports differ as to Crockett’s death. Many believe Crockett survived the initial attack but was put to death by Mexican soldiers soon afterward.
Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound. The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand.
[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]
I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.” Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves. Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]
Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.
I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.” Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.
Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?
I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading →