Charles Dickens introduced the young Tim Cratchit to the world generations ago. Ever since, the character has been an emblem of A Christmas Carol.
Whether humans, cartoons, Muppets or a single puppet in a cast of non-disabled actors, they all have one tie that binds them — they are the sickly but sanguine child whose plight helps convert miserly, seemingly non-disabled Ebenezer Scrooge.
There is a dimension of perceived honesty and truth to that description that disabled people are still wrangling with so many years later — the plight that helped to improve Scrooge.
Dickens was the author of a disabled character whose sole purpose was to be an object of pity and to beg for goodwill.
A character that, in his time, would have been an honest representation of the place, so many disabled people held. But we can’t claim there has been a radical revision in attitudes or ideals across the eras — they simply lie underneath an increasingly worn veneer of respectability.
Tiny Tim doesn’t develop from a sickly young boy to a frail young man to a middle-aged destitute beggar. Rather, little Tim exists at one point in his life.
He is the idealised Dickensian child — a staple of the Victorian era. But his modern twin hasn’t altered in the collective public consciousness. So, in whichever period, in whichever form, we see Tiny Tim. We know that we, as disabled people, are tied to him, our throwback twin — but we grew up.
His presence is still felt in every report, every charitable piece edited just so – sickly but sanguine – to warm the hearts of the non-disabled.
His father, Bob Cratchit, recounts Tim’s words. “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cr*pple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made l*me beggars walk, and blind men see.”
No significant change or development has occurred since these words were committed to the page. Disabled children are still being used as props and mined mercilessly for their weight in inspiration porn.
As a commonplace Victorian character, Bob continuously moralises his son’s death and disability.
Yet, the sentiment expressed in this passage feels thoroughly modern — this is still how disabled children are represented — until age transforms them into parasites.
“I know my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child, we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”
In the modern world, Tiny Tim would be excellent fodder for a festive charity advert as a voice-over narrated his tale. His trauma would be reworked neatly with melancholic though stirring music.
Or he might materialise on breakfast television to be dubbed inspiring — and patted on the head dismissively. Of course, there would also be a place for him, wrapped in a Christmas jumper at the end of any bland national news bulletin.
He doesn’t develop from a sickly young man to a middle-aged destitute beggar. But he walks with a crutch and looks frail in both productions and illustrations.
However, know from bitter experience that Tiny Tim would transform into an adult who might be labelled a scrounger — a liar, a fraudster for daring to be both disabled and an adult.
Those images are seemingly independent yet entangled, most disabled people have experienced a shift when they are no longer perceived as worthy of protection.
Before his intervention takes effect, Scrooge quips that government-funded institutions should be sufficient to help impoverished and disabled people.
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the reality: they are grave places and nowhere near enough — not funded well enough or given the proper support.
The reality is that Tiny Tim would age out of societal sympathy. The divide between who we are and who they want us to be is never more evident than at Christmas. He would be a victim of the benefit scrounger rhetoric, which affects all disabled people’s lives.
Suppose the adult Tiny Tim lived in modern times. In that circumstance, he might receive the Christmas bonus from the DWP but not in line with inflation.
Not without having to endure some non-disabled pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge-style rants, which speak longingly of ripping us back to some form of an idealised Victorian era.
He might have to beg for help to fund equipment once he outgrew his crutch and be told he was lying about his disability across the media.
In column inches, tweets and on the street – language is chosen more carefully and insidiously now than Charles Dickens’ work conveys. Still, it’s no less ableist and regressive.
Positively Dickensian? Positively modern. It reflects the phrasing and sentiment seeping into some newspapers, mangled tweets, and the warped observations of media commentators.
It might be pleasant for them to remember on Christmas Day that we are not here to be puppets or Muppets in Scrooge’s redemption arc — or their warped Dickensian fantasies.
Disabled people deserve to exist outside of how non-disabled wish us to appear at Christmas and all year round – god bless us everyone!
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