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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Progressive Christmas tales

Christmas may often get clouded by commercialism, but the holiday’s most popular works of fiction clearly extol the opposite virtue.

The most obvious and popular example isCharles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” It not only gave birth to Christmas fiction genre, it also gave birth to the sub-genre of anti-corporate-greed-themed Christmas fiction.

Ebenezer Scrooge starts the story as the definitive miser – he considers giving his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, a paid day off for Christmas “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December.” Later on, the ghost of Christmas present takes Scrooge to Cratchit’s home, where he learns that his employee is so poor he can’t even afford medical attention for his sickly son Tiny Tim. When Scrooge learns that he dies lonely and Tim dies young, he sees the err of his ways and gives the Cratchit a giant turkey as a bonus.

The theme couldn’t be clearer: treat your employees well and you won’t die lonely.

Only slightly less popular but far more economically complex is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This is my all-time favorite movie, by the way. When you watch it, you will rush to take your money out of Bank of America and put it into Pawtucket Credit Union.

It’s the story of community-minded George Bailey’s epic struggle against Mr. Potter, the profit-minded bankster who sees the community only as a way to make more money.

Bailey builds affordable housing that anyone in town can own; Potter prefers people pay him rent to live in his slums. Potter tries to give people 50 cents on the dollar when the banks crash, and Bailey gives everyone unsecured loans with his life savings.

Potter eventually swindles Bailey out of enough money to put him out of business and Bailey wishes he was never born. He then sees what his town of Bedford Falls would be like if he was never there to take care of it – it’s called Pottersville and it looks, and acts, like Times Square in the ’70′s.

In the climatic ending, the entire town chips in to bail Bailey out of debt with Mr. Potter and his war hero brother declares him the “richest man in town.”

“Trading Places” might be Hollywood’s next best examination of class warfare, and it’s also a holiday movie. Randolph and Mortimer Duke, who own a Wall Street futures trading firm, make a wager that they can make a homeless man into a successful stock broker just as easily as they can make a successful stock broker a homeless man, simply by changing their lots in life. They were right, of course.

The coup de grace comes when Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthrop learn of the Duke brothers’ bet and pull off the greatest stock trading scam in movie history!

“The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” might not be about anti-corporate greed, but it is certainly a story with an anti-greed theme. The Grinch makes the mistake so many of us make – whether we realize it or not – and thinks Christmas is all about the stuff that goes with it … But who can forget when the good people of Whoville decide to celebrate Christmas despite have all their material possessions stolen from them?

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.