Now comes the mulling, and prayers for a piece of art that will be small contribution to the current dialogue on race relations – if only the dialogue I have with myself.
Month: July 2020
Below is a Quora exploration of Ebenezer Scrooge’s MBTI classification. I highlighted phrases that point out that Scrooge is an extreme social, political and economic conservative who needs to be reminded that others suffer. This would be an odd position for an older black man of 1843, because 40 or 50 years earlier in Great Britain, he very likely would have been enslaved. Not to mention the fact that he would have been aware that his counterparts in the United States and other country still were slaves.
Introverted Sensing (Si): Scrooge is a man of facts and figures (his ledgers, his banker’s-book, etc.) and of traditional business practices. Part of what makes him so effective as a figure of social commentary is that he’s never unscrupulous or cruel in unusual ways. He’s just the ultimate conservative. He pays taxes to support the workhouses and considers that sufficient to provide for the poor; he pays Bob Cratchit just enough for his family to live on and gives him one day off a year. Until his adventure with the ghosts, it never crosses his mind that this bare minimum of society-ordered decency isn’t nearly enough. Yet even after his adventure, he remains essentially a man of tradition. He doesn’t give up his business, or protest the existence of workhouses, or anything radical, he just becomes kind and generous within the same framework he’s always lived. Nor does his ghostly journey itself deal too much in abstract concepts. They show him straightforward, literal facts: concrete visions of his past, his present, and what his future will be if he fails to change. He responds well because this is just the type of lesson best suited to his character.
Extraverted Thinking (Te): At the beginning, Scrooge is driven by hard, cold and decisive pragmatism. He cares only about making money, keeping it, and avoiding anything that contradicts or distracts from those two goals. He doesn’t understand why others “condemn the pursuit of wealth” when poverty is such a hard thing; ethical objections to his greed and stinginess mean nothing to him next to their practical benefits. When he was engaged to Belle, he presumably saw himself as doing what was best for both her and himself by focusing on making money and staving off poverty, but Belle (an INFJ or INFP, from what little we see of her) could only see him throwing away his “nobler aspirations” for gain. Nor does he ever stop being a Thinker. The ghosts don’t just teach him ethics and values, but show him the pragmatically harmful effects of his behavior: it cost him Belle’s love, it’s reduced his quality of life compared even to those who have less money, and unless he changes, it will kill Tiny Tim, lead him to a bleak, lonely death himself, and doom his soul like Marley’s. Even in the end, while he’s learned to embrace his emotions, he remains a man of pragmatism: he reaches out to others by helping them in practical ways, buying the Cratchits a gift of food, raising Bob’s salary, and giving money to charity. The Scrooge of the end gives lie to the stereotype that warmth and kindness are only Feeling traits.
Introverted Feeling (Fi): At first this aspect of Scrooge is deeply buried and much of his journey with the ghosts is devoted to rediscovering and embracing it. Once the ghosts appear, it quickly becomes clear that he feels deeply underneath his cold, self-contained facade; that he’s capable of great sadness, fear, love, compassion, and ultimately joy. At the same time, he rediscovers values within himself, based on his own experiences. Being reminded of his own unhappy childhood gives him new sympathy for all children and helps lead to his concern for Tiny Tim; the reminder of his happiness working for Fezziwig inspires him to be a kind, generous employer like Fezziwig was; he learns to give love to others by realizing that unless he does, he’ll die lonely and unloved himself. In short, he learns to embrace the Golden Rule, treating others the way he wants to be treated. Instead of just preaching at him, the ghosts tend to use reverse psychology (e.g. “A small matter to make these silly folk so full of gratitude,” “If he be like to die, he had better do it”), or else say nothing at all, and let him find the moral lesson within himself, which he does.
Extraverted Intuition (Ne): As Scrooge embraces his Fi, he also discovers his Ne. When he sees the future, he’s able to realize that it’s only a vision of what “may be,” not what “will be,” and that if he changes, his future will change too. He realizes that there are other possibilities for his life than he once believed there were and he makes those possibilities come true, leaving his old rigidity and pessimism behind.
It’s interesting that Charles Dickens’ biographers so often point out the ways that Scrooge’s character mirrors aspects of Dickens himself. Dickens was an ENFP: the exact inversion of an ISTJ, with all the same cognitive functions, but in the opposite order. Whether consciously or subconsciously, Dickens really did bring his own shadow to life in this character.
A post about flying Black Lives Matter flags beside the American flag – and the opposition to this – made a phrase pop into mind: We didn’t do this for you.
A phrase that could be said by many who are behind many types of efforts, about many types of “Others.”
We didn’t create this country for you. We didn’t build this building for you. We didn’t pay these taxes for you. We didn’t put this water fountain here for you. We didn’t build this school for you. We didn’t pave these streets for you to walk on them. We didn’t put this flag pole for you to fly your flag anywhere near it.
And (to bring this back to the theatrical realm that I am mulling): This book wasn’t written for you. This theatrical adaptation wasn’t written for you. This character was not created for you. This theater was not built to house this portrayal by you. We didn’t buy this tickets to see you. We didn’t think about any of this beforehand, but now we realize if we had, we would have been against it. We retroactively apply pre-judgment (prejudice) and rule against you.
It makes be think about creating something designed to be used for and by anyone, for any means, even if they are means that I would abhor. I suppose that is what freedom of speech is about. The philosophy (or proven finding) that it is best to create the forum, the venue, the setting so that it can be used for anything. Because in the end, consensus will reign. And values.
Here’s a phrase I keep coming back to related to this work and will discuss more tomorrow: We didn’t do this for you
Excerpts from Wikipedia’s article about Charles Dickens’ mixed attitudes toward people of color
Many scholars have commented on the paradox between Dickens’ support for liberal causes and his racism, nationalist chauvinism and imperialist mentality. For instance, in a private letter to Emily de la Rue, Dickens comments on Indians thus: “You know faces, when they are not brown; you know common experiences when they are not under turbans; Look at the dogs – low, treacherous, merderous, tigerous villians”. Dickens also called for the “extermination” of the Indian race and applauded the “mutilation” of the wretched Hindoo who were punished by being “blown from…English guns[s]” [“The Speeches of Charles Dickens”, K.J. Fielding, Ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1960, p. 284]. Biographer Peter Ackroyd in his 1990 biography of Dickens (the 2nd of four books on Dickens) duly writes about Dickens’ sympathy for the poor, opposition to child labour, campaigns for sanitation reform, and opposition to capital punishment. He also asserts that “In modern terminology Dickens was a “racist” of the most egregious kind, a fact that ought to give pause to those who persist in believing that he was necessarily the epitome of all that was decent and benign in the previous century.” Ackroyd also writes that Dickens did not believe that the North in the American Civil War was genuinely interested in the abolition of slavery, and he nearly publicly supported the South for that reason. Ackroyd twice notes that Dickens’ major objection to missionaries was that they were more concerned with natives abroad than with the poor at home. For example, in his novel Bleak House Dickens mocks Mrs. Jellyby, who neglects her children for the natives of a fictional African country. The disjunction between Dickens’ criticism of slavery and his crude caricatures of other races has also been a topic considered by Patrick Brantlinger in his A Companion to the Victorian Novel. He cites Dickens’ description of an Irish colony in America’s Catskill mountains a mess of pigs, pots, and dunghills. Dickens views them as a “racially repellent” group. Jane Smiley writing in the Penguin Lives biography of Dickens writes “we should not interpret him as the kind of left-liberal we know today-he was racist, imperialist, sometimes antisemitic, a believer in harsh prison conditions, and distrustful of trade unions. An anthology of Dickens’ essays from Household Words warns the reader in its introduction that in these essays “Women, the Irish, Chinese and Aborigines are described in biased, racist, stereotypical or otherwise less than flattering terms….We..encourage you to work towards a more positive understanding of the different groups that make up our community” The Historical Encyclopedia of Anti-Semitism notes the paradox of Dickens both being a “champion of causes of the oppressed” who abhorred slavery and supported the European liberal revolutions of the 1840s, and his creation of the antisemitic caricature of the character of Fagin.
Authors Sally Ledger and Holly Furneaux, in their book Dickens in Context examine this puzzle as to how one can square away Dickens’ racialism with concern with the poor and the downcast. They argue this can be explained by saying that Dickens was a nativist and “cultural chauvinist” in the sense of being highly ethnocentric and ready to justify British imperialism, but not a racist in the sense of being a “biological determinist” as was the anthropologist Robert Knox. That is, Dickens did not regard the behaviour of races to be “fixed”; rather his appeal to “civilization” suggests not biological fixity but the possibility of alteration. However, “Dickens views of racial others, most fully developed in his short fiction, indicate that for him ‘savages’ functioned as a handy foil against which British national identity could emerge.”
The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature similarly notes that while Dickens praised middle-class values,
Dickens militancy about this catalog of virtues had nationalistic implications, since he praised these middle-class moral ideals as English national values. Conversely, he often stigmatized foreign cultures as lacking in these middle-class ideas, representing French, Italian, and American characters, in particular, as slothful and deceitful. His attitudes toward colonized peoples sometimes took these moral aspersions to genocidal extremes. In the wake of the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857, he wrote…”I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested..” To be fair, Dickens did support the antislavery movement…and excoriated what he saw as English national vices
William Oddie argues that Dickens’s racism “grew progressively more illiberal over the course of his career” particularly after the Indian rebellion. Grace Moore, on the other hand, argues that Dickens, a staunch abolitionist and opponent of imperialism, had views on racial matters that were a good deal more complex than previous critics have suggested in her work Dickens and Empire:  She suggests that overemphasising Dickens’ racism obscures his continued commitment to the abolition of slavery. Laurence Mazzeno has characterised Moore’s approach as depicting Dickens’ attitude to race as highly complex, “struggling to differentiate between ideas of race and class in his fiction…sometimes in step with his age, sometimes its fiercest critic.” Others have observed that Dickens also denied suffrage to black people, writing in a letter “Free of course he must be; but the stupendous absurdity of making him a voter glares out of every roll of his eye”. Bernard Porter suggests that Dickens’ race prejudice caused him to actually oppose imperialism rather than promote it citing the character of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House and the essay The Noble Savage as evidence. However, Dickens did not join other liberals in condemning Jamaica’s Governor Eyre’s declaration of martial law after an attack on the capital’s courthouse. In speaking on the controversy, Dickens’ attacked “that platform sympathy with the black- or the native or the Devil..”:971
In an essay on George Eliot, K.M. Newton writes:
Most of the major writers in the Victorian period can be seen as racist to a greater or lesser degree. According to Edward Said, even Marx and Mill are not immune: ‘both of them seemed to have believed that such ideas as liberty, representative government, and individual happiness must not be applied to the Orient for reasons that today we would call racist’. In many of these writers antisemitism was the most obvious form of racism, and this continued beyond the Victorian period, as is evident in such figures as T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.nbsp;
Dickens’s attitudes towards African Americans were also complex. In American Notes he fiercely opposed the inhumanity of slavery in the United States, and expressed a desire for African American emancipation. However, Grace Moore has commented that in the same work, Dickens includes a comic episode with a black coach driver, presenting a grotesque description focused on the man’s dark complexion and way of movement, which to Dickens amounts to an “insane imitation of an English coachman”. In 1868, in a letter alluding to the then-uneducated condition of the black population in America, Dickens railed against “the melancholy absurdity of giving these people votes”, which “at any rate at present, would glare out of every roll of their eyes, chuckle in their mouths, and bump in their heads.”
Below is a link to a review of a Broadway production of A Christmas Carol. What stands out to me is the mentions of little touches that involve the audience – as contrasted with a sideways, purposeless or glancingly-purposeful move such a colorblind casting might be.
‘A Christmas Carol’ Review: God Rest Ye Merry, Plutocrats
This lively reimagining of Dickens’s yuletide perennial, written by Jack Thorne, returns the story’s social conscience to center stage.
Campbell Scott’s Ebenezer Scrooge is a busy man who never stops working and despises unnecessary distractions. He’s probably like many New Yorkers you know.
By Ben Brantley
Nov. 20, 2019
Have any of the progressive presidential hopefuls still duking it out thought about working “A Christmas Carol” into their campaigns? If so, they would surely benefit from visiting the new, charmingly instructive adaptation of Charles Dickens’s evergreen of Yuletide redemption, which opened Wednesday at the Lyceum Theater.
As reconceived by the playwright Jack Thorne and the director Matthew Warchus, this sprightly version of Dickens’s deathless portrait of a miser makes a pointed case for the personal benefits of redistributing wealth. God rest ye merry, fat cats: Shedding some of that cumbersome, excess cash is a surefire route to feeling good about yourself.
Such polemical ends were always among Dickens’s chief aims in writing “A Christmas Carol.” First published in 1843, this novella was directly inspired by its author’s indignation at child labor conditions in newly industrialized England.
He had thought of channeling his rage into a tract to be called “An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.” Instead, he wrote a seasonal ghost story that has become a template for the celebration of Christmas as we know it today, the most commercialized holiday of the year.
While retaining the jolliness and sentimentality associated with some 170 years’ worth of stage versions (including a competitive flock that opened the year after its publication), Thorne and Warchus have polished the story’s social conscience to a restored brightness. Be assured, though, that their “Carol,” which stars Campbell Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, never sings shrilly.
Instead, this production — which originated with a British cast at London’s Old Vic Theater, where Warchus is the artistic director — ingeniously deploys tools unique to live performance to create an interactive relationship of give-and-take with the audience. The emphasis, of course, is on giving.
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The Lyceum has been reconfigured so the stage thrusts into the orchestra section. A constellation of Victorian lanterns twinkles above not only the playing area, but also the audience. (Rob Howell, late of “The Ferryman,” did the poetic set and costumes, and Hugh Vanstone the lighting.)
No sooner have you taken your seat than you are greeted by bustling, basket-bearing figures who rove the aisles bundled in 19th-century outerwear, distributing free cookies and clementines. “We want you to be happy,” one of them said to me, with peremptory cheer.
She turned out to be LaChanze, the Tony Award-winning actress who later showed up onstage as a Caribbean-accented Ghost of Christmas Present. (Her character’s comic disgruntled manner lessens the didactic baldness of lines like, “You have spurned all responsibility for the wider world and simply tried to profit from it.”) The woman who patted me on the shoulder was another Tony winner, Andrea Martin (soon to be reincarnated as a no-nonsense Ghost of Christmas Past).
The suggestion is that we are all one at this event. That includes the uber-skinflint Scrooge. As portrayed by Scott (whose father, George C. Scott, played the same role in a 1984 TV movie), he arrives onstage with a self-involved briskness that discourages entrance applause.
This Scrooge has little of the customary Dickensian gargoyle. When he says, “Bah, humbug!,” he’s cursing under his breath, not grandstanding. He is, above all, a busy man who never stops working and despises unnecessary distractions.
In this regard, he’s probably a lot like many New Yorkers you know. And those of you who have already had your fill of premature Christmas music may find yourself rooting for Scrooge as he dismisses the carolers who gather outside his house. “I need those singing creatures kept away from my door,” he complains, rather winningly, to his clerk, Bob Cratchit (the amiable Dashiell Eaves).
Not a chance, old boy. The actors and musicians who inhabit this show can’t be stopped from breaking into song, or fiddling a familiar festive melody or, quite enchantingly, shaking out a tune via hand-held bells. Music — affectingly arranged and orchestrated here by Christopher Nightingale — is, appropriately enough, the oxygen of this “Christmas Carol.” And we understand that Scrooge’s redemption is complete when he picks up a bell himself.
You probably already know the stations of this journey. Once again, the Christmas-hating Scrooge is visited by a procession of admonitory ghosts, who in this version push increasingly large carriages, starting with a pram and ending with a funeral coach, perhaps to invoke the baggage we bear through life.
The specter of the first of the spirits, Scrooge’s dead partner Jacob Marley, is played with the requisite clanking chains by Chris Hoch. The same actor doubles in the role of Scrooge’s abusive father, who provides a new and explicit Freudian back story for our main character. (Thorne, it’s worth noting, made father-son relationships central to his Tony-winning script for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”)
Other contemporary accents include having the sweetheart of Scrooge’s youth, Belle (Sarah Hunt), deliver a little lesson in economic altruism, when he applies for a job as an undertaker. Two young actors with cerebral palsy, Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srinivasan, play Tiny Tim, Cratchit’s sickly son. (I saw Ortiz, who was touchingly direct in a part associated with treacly excess.)
The pervasive spirit of social collaboration reaches a delightful climax with a celebratory feast of many foodstuffs, in which all the audience participates. I won’t spoil the giddy means by which this is achieved. (Is it O.K. to mention the tiny parachutes, though?)
It’s the ideal culmination for a production that insists that Scrooge’s story has always been — and remains — our own. After the show, you will find cast members with buckets for donations to charities for children. Ignore them at the peril of your now thoroughly awakened conscience.
I discovered a delightful new adaptation of A Christmas Carol here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN6IMZFwY50
It left me with a strong impression of being an outsider. It was the scenes when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Ebenezer to celebrations of Christmas in far-flung spots: A mining village, a lighthouse, a ship at sea. The date creates union: Everyone is singing a Christmas song. Scrooge stands (floats) outside of this, having isolated himself with his bitter stinginess. It’s a sad situation of his own making. He’s made himself a minority.
Since I’m musing about an actor of a minority portraying Scrooge, this conjures a situation in which that minority status relates to the character’s minority status. That’s because I lean toward color-conscious casting’s being an integral part of the experience and meaning of a work of art.
A man who makes himself a minority. Hmmm.
Today I came upon a de
Stricken by conscience
Compassion for Tiny Tim
Legs shaking before ghost of Christmas future
Jaw dropping Marley
Not using energy on anger – couldn’t maintain it
Scenes of miners
The union of all – I’ve made myself an outsider without compassion
Today’s musing is only on Christmas Carol plays themselves, which I often find boring. After I searched along that line, I saw this comment on A Christmas Carol in an anonymous Quora answer:
When I was first reading it in 3rd grade, it was presented to me as a Christmas story, and all that I got from it was some old dude who learns to celebrate Christmas, nothing more. However, when I watched the movie. I saw a man constantly being dealt the wrong side of life and that causing him to become bitter and cold, then the same man who then changed for the better, finally finding peace and happiness.
… and notably I don’t know that I ever thought of Scrooge’s story this way. I’m not sure I do now, completely, because Scrooge’s wealth means that not every hand went against him. And there were other bright spots in his life: his sister, his time at Fezziwig’s. But I do see how Scrooge might have let bitterness overwhelm any gratitude that he felt.
This one thought has given me new insight.
A friend posted the thought that, by and large, black people descended from slaves brought to America lead more comfortable lives than they otherwise would have.
That led me to this hypothetical: Would I let myself be sold into slavery if it would ultimately benefit my descendants? This hypothetical allows that I would truly understand the various scenarios and chances of my descendants realizing them. Such a hypothetical circles me back to “A Christmas Carol” overall. A person is granted a glimpse of an alternate reality. Scrooge’s hypothetical also has a financial component, assuming that he will surrender some of his fortune to the needy. But the confrontation is ultimately moral: Am I my neighbor’s keeper?
The hypothetical exchange for slavery: Is that a philosophical consideration? Meaning is total subjugation ever acceptable, even if one (theoretically) brings it upon himself? That has shades of the voluntary bondage depicted in the Bible–Jacob served seven years for Rachel–no, make that fourteen, with a bonus wife.
But of course that was not the same. It had a relative benevolence and dignity. And there was no choice.
That’s what I will be pondering. A Christmas Carol is about choice. An actor of color represents the active LACK of choice.
The point I’m pondering today: There ain’t a white man in this room who would change places with me, and I’m rich! Chris Rock (find it on YouTube)