“#OCCUPY CHRISTMAS” explores politics, holiday season

On Thursday Dec. 1, professor Paul Schacht addressed students in a politically and seasonably-themed lecture entitled "#OCCUPY CHRISTMAS: Dickens and his Carol, Then and Now." 

The lecture was offered to the student body as part of Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society's Celebrate Literature lecture series.

As the chair of the English Department and Geneseo's resident Dickens scholar, Schacht has analyzed Dickens and other Victorian literature extensively. He began his lecture by highlighting some politically salient issues of this holiday season. 

Schacht projected an image of a 1994 Time Magazine cover featuring a depiction of Newt Gingrich in patriotic garb as Uncle Sam with the caption "Uncle Scrooge."

Though he is now running as a potential Republican Party candidate for the 2012 election, Gingrich is a familiar face in Washington politics. During the congressional election of 1994, Gingrich co-authored his Contract with America.

"Within this document, Gingrich stated his wish to reduce government dependency, require welfare recipients to enter work programs, and cap welfare spending," Schacht said. 

Schacht asserted that Gingrich has similar ideas in mind for his current presidential campaign. 

"The message of this cover image is that what Newt stood for in 1994 and now is everything that Dickens stood against," Schacht said. 

Schacht then contrasted the ideology of Gingrich with the Occupy Movement, which has rapidly spread throughout the disenchanted 99 percent within the United States and around the world. 

"One reason that we go to literature of the past is to get some clarity on the present," Schacht said. "A Christmas Carol is a moral fable about an individual's transformation from being greedy and covetous to being selfless and [charitable]. It is also a political tale of social liberation from a way of thinking that is false, blinding and imprisoning." 

Floods of literature critiquing social conditions created by early 19th century industrial capitalism marked the time surrounding the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843. 

Dickens meant his work to be a call to arms against economic individualism and laissez-faire economics that left fellow humans starving and neglected. Schacht explained that Dickens seized the cultural symbol of Christmas and occupied it to use as a political outlet. 

Identifying Scrooge as the living embodiment of economic individualism and self-reliance, Schacht connected his initial "bah, humbug" ideology to that of Gingrich.

After undergoing the ordeal of a night filled with profound visions of Christmas past, present and yet to come, the more generous and socially conscious Scrooge is what Schacht compared to the Occupy movement. According to Schacht, Dickens and the Occupiers share the idea that a free, inclusive society is a society of shared abundance. 

Student response to the lecture was overwhelmingly positive.

"I liked how Schacht provided historical and literary background for his claims," freshman Danielle Robbins said. 

"I thought it was very insightful. I never thought of Dickens in that way," junior Tim Moriarty said.  "If you think about it, this really does apply to the Occupy debate."