Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Calling Out the Real Humbug of the Season

Whatever Charles Dickens may have written about the matter, December is definitely the month of the humbug. Sadly, in writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens may have unknowingly contributed to the proliferation of that humbug. Thus, while the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge may have made for a comforting moral tale, in the context of a society in which the value of currency was rising above the less monetary “social” values (such as peace on earth and good will towards men), the tale itself was, itself, a humbug that never really confronted the social priorities beginning to prevail during the middle of the nineteenth century. One wonders what Dickens would have felt had he been around to see that, by the time of the middle of the twentieth century, A Christmas Carol had become a “media cash cow,” providing no end of ways in which different commercial interests were able to cash in on not only the narrative itself but the characters at play in that narrative. Indeed, the commercialization of Christmas was such a successful enterprise that it had little trouble spinning off into other faiths, not only in the United States but also in any number of other countries around the world.

Over half a century ago, Stan Freberg used his radio broadcasts to call out commercialization at its most venal in “Green Chri$tma$,” a sketch in which Scrooge was reborn as the head of an advertising agency. The sketch included parodies including “Deck the Halls with Advertising,” and, my personal preference, “We wish you a Merry Christmas/and please buy our beer!” Freberg died on April 7, 2015; and, for my money, his message is as relevant as ever. Indeed, the devaluation of anything other than currency just keeps getting worse.

Indeed, every year at this time, marketing bombards as many people as it can to promote the proposition that the “holiday spirit” is about spending money and little else. Naturally, the music business plays a major role in milking this cash cow, resulting in an annual flood of “holiday spirit” music. These are products that are less interested in listening and more interesting in promoting the spirit of spending; and no end of seriously talented musicians find themselves recruited in the manufacture of those products.

This raises the question of whether or not the Libera choral group should be examined as a product of exploitation. The ensemble consists of children from South London between the ages of 7 and 16, and they have already become a significant presence in the recording industry. Indeed, by my count, the recently released Christmas Carols with Libera is the group’s third Christmas album; so, as they say in marketing, we are dealing with “serious product.”

from the Amazon.com Web page for the recording begin discussed

To be clear, the members of Libera are more than competent in their musical practices; and I certainly do not want to be called out for suggesting that making music at a young age is a bad thing. Quite the contrary, I am sure that every member of Libera will come away with an impressive skill set for choral singing if not for vocal solos as well. Nevertheless, it is hard to find anything nice to say about Christmas Carols with Libera because the chorus itself is reduced to a “sideshow” in what might be called a Carnival of Commercialization. My guess is that the guiding forces behind this album (including the design for the front cover shown above) are more interested in how many buttons can be pushed by feel-good arrangements, whose only message is, “How much money are you spending on loved ones this month?” In other words, what is merely drivel when albums like these are released during the other eleven months becomes positively venal during the month of December.

It would be nice to mount a just-say-no-campaign that simply switches off media offerings that have nothing other than marketing in mind. However, I am afraid that a recording like Christmas Carols with Libera would have to be included in that mass rejection, not for the selections of the music but for the disturbingly manipulative techniques behind the presentation of that music. These practices probably do not descend to anything as serious as abuse; but it would be naive to deny that some level of exploitation, however mild, lies behind the production of this album.

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