The one advantage of living in a consumerist, throw-away society is the amount of rich and strange pickings you can acquire from what has been discarded. Only last week I was skulking in our local public library among the other tramps and scoundrels when I discovered a ‘for sale’ shelf of DVDs at £1 each. Having exactly £2 in my pocket I came home with The Passion of Ayn Rand and Scrooge. I consumed both of them by eye in quick succession and, as with the way of certain potent images, they have been re-playing in my mind ever since.
I knew almost nothing of Ayn Rand and had bought the DVD because the estimable Helen Mirren was playing the title role. Now, of course, I know more than enough and have relegated her to my mental Bluebeard’s closet of ne’er-do-wells and weirdos, along with Aleister Crowley, Baron Corvo and others. If Joan Bakewell , the controversial journalist who has been appointed a voice for older people by the UK Government, was once described as “the thinking man’s crumpet”, I would describe Ms Rand (she couldn’t be anything but ‘Ms’) as the thinking man’s dominatrix. Russian-born, influenced -– naturally -– by Nietzsche and living in the United States, she once dominated certain sections of that rampantly individualist, capitalist world with her black leather-booted ideas about society and the whiplash of her contempt for the poor and weak.
Apparently she invented a philosophical system called “Objectivism”. I won’t try to explain this, even if I could understand it, so will leave readers to make what they will of her most famous sayings, such as “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue” and “Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” Helen Mirren, of course, played all this up to the hilt. It made Margaret Thatcher looks positively cuddly.
What has Ayn Rand to do with Scrooge, apart from being placed beside him on the bargain shelf at my local library? Well, Scrooge started out as a selfish capitalist, whose heart was hardened against the poor and the weak. “Are there no prisons? Are there no work-houses?” he would expostulate as he made his daily way to and from his counting-house to his home. Any plea for help or mercy was met with “Bah! Humbug!” which is undoubtedly what Ms Rand would have said if she hadn’t invented her own more pompous idiom. In fact, someone once asked her about the poor and the weak. Her reply was pure Scrooge; “too bad. If other people want to take care of them privately, fine, but don’t ask me to do it.”
But Scrooge changed, which is why the film — with the incomparable Alastair Sim in the title role -– is rolled out every Christmas, to delight and warm the hearts of all who watch it. Dickens’ genius, a mixture of high drama, vivid characterisation, linguistic magic and whatever else he could throw into this rich Christmas pudding of a sublime story for comical and sentimental effect, sees to that. Scrooge changed; from a shrivelled-up skinflint of a lonely Rand-capitalist to a human being capable of loving others and not just himself. Scrooge changed -– and thus was capable of receiving the warmth and kindness that lay all around him, notably from his nephew and the Cratchit family.
Ms Rand’s thoughts on the hereafter are tossed off with acid terseness: “When I die, I hope to go to Heaven, wherever the Hell that is.” That Hell lay within, as it had with Scrooge, building himself a gold coffin with his bare hands. But Scrooge changed.
And I am left wondering on the providential, yet also random purchase of two discarded films from the throw-away society. It is time to stagger round to the Cratchit household bearing the weight of a large turkey. As Tiny Tim would have said: “God bless Us, Every One!”
Charlie Hegarty is a columnist in the UK