24 December 2012

Miracle on 34th Street

After surviving more than half a century without watching Miracle on 34th Street, I was coerced by the family into viewing it last evening. I can no longer brag that this movie belongs to my "Refuse to Watch List" along with Oklahoma, Sound of Music, and Gone with the Wind. As we have now reached a level of inoffensive speech such that we can now refer to Kris Kringle's mental health as opposed to his lunacy, we can analyse the situation in terms more susceptible to the understanding of the general public. The mental health hearing as portrayed in the movie went from whether Kris had such bad mental health based upon his belief he was Santa Claus and should be therefore committed and treated to the issue of whether Santa Claus is real. These seem to be two entirely different issues. People believe all kinds of stuff including things that do not exit nor having ever existed. Do we consider a person deranged, having serious mental health issues, because of what he believes? Historically, and currently, what people have believed has got them killed. Religion has been adept at this as has a myriad of ideologues. Ergo we must consider belief as something that is taken quite seriously by a vast number of humans. Now most people believe something, usually quite incorrectly; so we must decide if all beliefs are committable or just some of them. Or, is there a continuum whereby the local psychiatrist will suggest commitment, medication, or therapy. Psychiatrists, as all of us, must have something to do. Consequently, some sort of diagnosis and treatment is normally prescribed for beliefs that are patently false or not held by the majority of the community. Now it is clear from the movie that it was considered by some to be committable to believe yourself to be Kris Kringle, but perfectly acceptable to believe that Kris Kringle is real, crawls down chimneys, and visits every house on the planet in one night. It is also perfectly acceptable to convince your eleven year old that Kris is real and will deliver unto her her dearest wish. The judge did the right thing, of course, but it was a tortuous path to dismissal. I do love the prosecutor, it perfectly encapsulates some of the prosecutors that I have personally known; quite happy to prosecute some harmless old man for not behaving in a socially acceptable manner. It must be admitted that mental commitment is preferable to burning at the stake or the gulag which have been some of the past practices; but we're not quite over the idea that we should do something to and with people who do not believe as we do. Beliefs can result in actions corresponding to those beliefs. Possibly this is the concern of those who do not hold those beliefs. It is possible to believe in something with no basis in fact or logic, but an issue if the person holding such beliefs either expresses them or acts upon them. Kris Kringle not only believed, but expressed his beliefs and acted upon them, hence the problem. The moral of Miracle on 34th Street is that it is ok to believe your Santa Claus, just don't tell anyone.