Yesterday, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and wow, that movie is so disappointing.
Hold on, before you track me down and throw tomatoes at me, hear me out. I want so much to love It’s a Wonderful Life but I just can’t. I like it; it’s heart warming, very human, and the screenwriting is witty, but I just can’t love it. I can’t love it because it’s a symptom and a cause of the demonization of capitalism.
Let’s face it, the Bailey Building & Loan was not a good business and should have gone away. On the other hand, the movie wants you to think that if George Bailey didn’t keep the Building and Loan running, then evil ol’ Potter would hold a monopoly- on all things. Hmmm, sounds more like cronyism or totalitarianism,not capitalism.
Mr. Potter is “…the richest and meanest man in the county!” He is the antagonist, the villain, the evil that holds his foot upon the throats of Bedford Falls; he is…the businessman (screams of terror). Our culture demonizes businessmen as selfish fat cats, but what they don’t realize is that without businessmen, we would have very little. In this case, without financiers Bedford Falls would have no one to borrow money from, no one to build houses, and no one to help them make money!
The entire movie is based upon a premise of self-sacrifice, aimed at the businessman. George Bailey gives loans from his personal money stash, he takes losses on almost every loan, and barely makes enough money to support his family. If he continued on that path, especially with his forgetful and whimsical uncle as his right-hand-man, the business would fail and everyone would be worse off. No one would get any loans. How is that noble?
The nobility of George Bailey shows itself in his desire to create competition for evil Mr. Potter! How much better could he have helped his community had he been a bit stricter with his requirements or actually held people to their contracts? The more money he makes, the more money he can loan out, and the better off they all are. Isn’t that just peachy?
Yes, Mr. Potter is an evil man; he stole money from George and Uncle Billy. Stealing is illegal and he should be put in prison. Why didn’t anyone call the cops? It seems plausible that the police could’ve retraced Billy’s steps, talked to some witnesses, figured out Potter was at the bank and had talked to Billy and then go to question him! The point is, capitalism does not exempt businessmen from laws, so do not be confused.
Despite the whole heartwarming end- which, I admit, I cry every time I watch it- I think the whole movie is actually quite a tragedy. A smart, ambitious, witty man sacrifices his hopes and dreams to live a life of mediocrity and discontent- to the point of suicide? Yeah, definitely not something that screams “hero” to me.
I want to create a sequel called It’s a Wonderful Life: I Wish I’d Never Stayed in Bedford Falls where George travels the world, gets a good education and designs the cities and buildings he dreamed of designing; the cities and buildings that enhanced the lives of millions of people. There won’t be any angels, because living your dreams doesn’t require any.
The tale will be told of the jobs he created, the money he made for himself and for others, and the living quarters, office buildings, and businesses he created. It will show the bridges he designed that created the opportunity for lower income people to buy homes outside of the city and commute to work every day, the sewer systems he designed that increased sanitation standards and saved thousands of urban lives. Now, this is the kind of movie I would like to see.
But, you know what, I also can’t hate the movie. Because paralleled with my belief in capitalism, I also value community, and there is nothing wrong with members of a community helping one another and ensuring the survival and happiness of one another. Furthermore I believe in love, family, and friends- and if there’s one thing this movie does right, it’s showcasing the potential of human relationships.
And that’s why I continue to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year aroundChristmas time. Not for the misguided philosophical underpinnings, but for its warmth. I just hope that you can differentiate between the real nature of capitalism and that which is portrayed in Bedford Falls between evil Potter and George Bailey.
That being said, merry Christmas and a happy new year!