Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ignorance and Want for the New Millenium

There is a scene from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol that haunts my nightmares. You have probably never seen it because it is so very disturbing that despite the possibly hundred versions of the story out there, there is only one film version I have ever seen portray the scene, although it is in the original book. In fact, every Christmas my parents would watch this version starring George C. Scott, and one year I wandered downstairs during this scene (I was probably about 9 or 10) and it scared me so badly I flatly refused to try and watch it again until I was 16 or 17 years old. Pathetic, maybe, but it is what it is. Still, when we watch this as a family, my 13-year-old sister will leave the room or cover her eyes for this part. I still have nightmares about it from time to time, but as an adult, I have come to appreciate the necessity of the scene and it's importance. It may not be the stuff of Mickey's Christmas Carol or the Muppets, but it gives us all something to think about.
At the end of the Scrooge's visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is generally a jolly fellow, the scene takes place. Since I am unable to do the creepiness of it all justice, I will allow Mr. Dickens to state the way he intended from the original text:

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

"Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit, are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"

Seriously, there is nothing scarier to me than emaciated children (except children with British accents, which frighten me beyond reason for no good reason), but the point Dickens was trying to make while admittedly going for the jugular is undeniable.
Man's children are Ignorance and Want, no matter the generation. However, with all due respect to the Great Mr. Dickens, I think that the form that Ignorance and Want took in Dickens's world is not the version our world needs to see. I have spent today coming up with a new look for Ignorance and Want--a scene to take this still valuable lesson into the new millennium if you will. I guess that makes me the Ignorance and Want stylista.
In Dickens's day, children were beaten, starved to death, and worked in factories. Ignorance referred to the lack of education they were able to receive, and therefore an inability to rise above their subservient lot in life. Want was truly a desperate need for the basic necessities of life--food, clothing, shelter, even a family to care for them. The people of the time looked the other way from the urchins in the street or employed them in deplorable conditions. Thank heaven we do not live that way anymore! Unfortunately, instead of stopping at a reasonable place, the pendulum has swung completely in the other direction, as pendulums tend to do.

Ignorance of 2009 is not an illiterate emaciated waif. Instead of "academic" ignorance, he possesses a complete ignorance of his own shortcomings and weaknesses. He is ignorant of the need for humility, kindness, or service. He is ignorant of his own ignorance, for he knows all. He has been told from birth that he is special--more special than anyone else, just by being himself. He is well dressed and awesome. He is perfect. He does not have any real friends, but only because, as his mother says, "the other kids are too jealous or stupid to recognize how special he is." His teachers can not teach him, because they are all morons. He is an American Idol contestant who sounds like a cat being beaten to death, but knows he is a good singer because the judges are "just *@! morons." He is the kid in second grade that failed math and nonchalantly declared "Hey, it's not what you know, it's who you know!" When attention is called to his overarching jerkiness, he is defended as having "a healthy confidence level." When he gets to High School, this kid will be driving the car while his mom walks to do her errands because his needs always come first. He will never fill it up with gas. He is oblivious to any human beings on this planet besides himself and those that meet his needs.

Want of 2009 is no slouch herself. She might be renamed "I Want" instead of just want. Truly the Veruca Salt of her generation, she the poster child for overindulged. A cell phone of her own at age 3, enough Powerwheels to host her own car show by age 4. The candy diet she started in toddlerhood may not have done her any favors, but it kept her from screaming, but she now fills her emotional emptiness with things instead of food, so it worked out. She will be able to get plastic surgery someday anyhow. She looks down on those with less, and calls out the "cheapies" while opening her pile of birthday gifts. She dresses like a prostitot in expensive clothes. When she is a teenager, she will still throw tantrums. Her list is endless and her anger merciless. If you do not give into what she wants, she will make you so very sorry. She is not the queen bee--she stole the queen bee's boyfriend, stung her with a vicious rumor and took her crown by force. No one will stop her because her parents are so desperate to recapture their own glory days and are dying to be considered cool. Want is not ignorant to her own shortcomings, but doesn't care because "it's better to be pretty and rich." Her car will someday cost more than my house, and she too, will never fill it with gas. She could be making your daughter's life miserable right this very minute.

So there you have it. If we allow Ignorance and Want to continue as the unheeded children of society the word "Doom" still very much applies, though their appearance has drastically changed. Plus, none of our cars will have gas. That's the lesson for today. It may not be as scary looking as starving children, but it still makes me shudder. And to Charles Dickens: I apologize for this. Truly I do. I love your work.

3 comments:

Natalie said...

WOW! Your best post yet, in my opinion. I mean, really, really fantastic!!! Seriously, the whole queen bee part...so great!

Kym said...

I agree. Top notch stuff. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Ignorance and Want are keeping me up at night...

Vance & Amanda Williams said...

That was AWESOME!! You should send it into OPRAH!!! I was amazed and absolutley agree!!