Sure, It’s a Wonderful Life is a heavy dose of Christian propaganda, but it also deals a heavy helping of what Fox News Fanatics would call Socialism. This, methinks, is a good thing.
It’s a testament to the film making and propaganda skills of Frank Capra, the director of the Holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, that even a grown male atheist like me weeps like a school girl receiving the news of her puppy being run over by a mac truck when watching, for the 900th time, the final scene in the film. George’s older brother Harry has just come home from the war to join the throng of well wishers in the Bailey home after George, in the process of helping a bumbling Angel get his wings, realizes that he really does want to “live again”. Harry Bailey, raising a glass and silencing the crowd says, “A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town.”
Cue “Auld Lang Syne” and let the waterworks commence.
For those of you living in a cave and don’t know the plot of the movie like the back of your hand, George Bailey is driven to brink of suicide after a life where he’s self-asphyxiated. He martyred himself for his family, for his town and for his GOD. After his bastard dumb uncle Billy loses a wad of the Building and Loan’s cash that will put George (the chief of the Building & Loan) in jail, George thinks about suicide.
Enter the plot device that owes much to the ghosts in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carroll, the Angel sent from Heaven: Clarence. In the early Victorian era, Dickens shows us the redemption of a rich old miser. In Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life our hero needs redemption not because he is evil; rather, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is so good that the whole town might just crumble under the thumb of hyper capitalist Scrooge-esq figure of Henry Potter if he were to end the heart ache and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. So Clarence, as you well know, shows George what life would be like if he were never born.
In the classic alternate reality sequence, Bedford Falls is no longer Bedford Falls but “Pottersville”. Mary is not married to George with a large family doing community service, but she’s an old maid librarian wearing glasses and scared to look anyone in the eye. Bert the cop opens fire in the middle of the streets on unarmed men, and Ernie the cab driver– well, he’s just sad.
Pottersville is no Christian place. George Bailey, like the mythological Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself to make the world a better place. Pottersville’s got hot women, it’s got jazz for Christ’s sake. Gambling and commerce, commerce, commerce.
Frank Capra, who cut his teeth making propaganda films for the U.S. government during World War Two, seems to be taking his marching orders from the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost while making It’s a Wonderful Life, and that is the main reason that I’ve always been a bit conflicted by my emotional reaction and attachment to this film. It occurs to me now, however, that given the current political climate the film can be viewed the Glenn Beck crowd as a piece of Socialist propaganda. It is for this reason that I am happy to recommend it.
The institution that saves the town, The Bailey Building and Loan, was made possible by post Depression legislation that limited the power of the types of Monopolies Mr. Potter’s bank sought. I can just see Sarah Palin and her Tea Party compatriots getting all tangled in their rosary beads: George Bailey was a socialist commie bastard?
It is not just Sarah Palin. The FBI had their worries. A 1947 FBI memo considered the anti-consumerist message of the film a piece of Communist propaganda:
“With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a “scrooge-type” so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.
In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [redacted] related that if he made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans. Further, [redacted] stated that the scene wouldn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way.”
Real life does not have the neat three-act structure of Hollywood films. Is there any way to know for sure if Bedford Falls will actually be better off in the future because of the life of a single person?
Well, according to Wendell Jamiesson, writing in the New York Times, economically speaking, it is Pottersville, not Bedford Falls, that has a better future in the unfolding American Century.
“Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.
On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving. I checked my theory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, and he agreed, pointing out that, of all the upstate counties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.
“The reason is that it is a resort, and it has built an economy around that,” he said. “Meanwhile the great industrial cities have declined terrifically. Look at Connecticut: where is the growth? It’s in casinos; they are constantly expanding.”
“We ease up on our lot of cultural behaviors in a depression,” he said.
What a grim thought: Had George Bailey never been born, the people in his town might very well be better off today.”
The manufacturing lifestyle that George Bailey fights for and ushers into Bedford Falls in upstate New York has suffered since the making of the film. The only community actually to see growth: Saratoga, a town built around tourism not manufacturing. In other words, according to this article in The New York Times, the thesis of It’s a Wonderful Life as we look at the world through the prism of the current economic crisis is incorrect. Bedford Falls would have been better off if George Bailey had never been born.
Maybe I’m getting old and maybe I’m getting soft, but here’s where this atheist finds himself sticking up for the Christian propaganda love fest that is the film It’s a Wonderful Life, because defining success as growth dooms us to a life on the rat wheel. Therefore we can’t grow in perpetuity. It’s true for the economy, the population, for everything.
Science shows us that we weren’t created in the Garden of Eden; we were created from the Big Bang, and from that incredible heat, we know in our bones all things turn to cold.
Love fades, youth wrinkles, stars extinguish.
If this Christmas holiday means anything to me (and it does), it’s the celebration of the human will to carry on despite this knowledge, to bring in the Pagan tradition of light and warmth into the darkness and cold of winter.
Now I can add to the list of things making me enjoy that light and warmth the hope that many of you will view America’s favorite holiday movie is as a piece of socialist propaganda. That George Bailey, a banker, may have evolved less along the lines of Gordon Gecko and more along the lines of Bernie Sanders.
-Dennis Trainor, Jr.
Jonathan Hari, writing in the Independent shortly after the arrest of Julian Assange, sums up rather succinctly why we need to be thankful for the gargantuan testicles of the WikiLeaks founder:
“Every one of us owes a debt to Julian Assange. Thanks to him, we now know that our governments are pursuing policies that place you and your family in considerably greater danger. WikiLeaks has informed us they have secretly launched war on yet another Muslim country, sanctioned torture, kidnapped innocent people from the streets of free countries and intimidated the police into hushing it up, and covered up the killing of 15,000 civilians – five times the number killed on 9/11. Each one of these acts has increased the number of jihadis. We can only change these policies if we know about them – and Assange has given us the black-and-white proof.”
Of course, it is those testicles, or parts rather close to them, that may have gotten him arrested. There certainly exists many a precedent in history of men who have done great and noble things who have turned out to be sexual predators and/or rapists. Also worth considering, however, is the laundry list of people whom the CIA has smeared for boldly crossing a line such as WikiLeaks clearly has crossed.
What the WikiLeaks releases show, and will continue to show, is that Governments lie to their people, not in extraordinary circumstances, but that governments lie to us on such a regular basis that the entire narrative of how we view the world must be called into question.
I’ll repeat that: The entire narrative of how we view the world must be called into question.
And yet, for those of us lucky enough to have won the birth lottery and were born in a rich and powerful country, it can be more comfortable to occupy- in the metaphoric real estate of our mind- waterfront property near that famous river in Egypt. From this comfortable position the truth, like a shock of cleansing cold water on the unwashed bodies of the masses, is not only refreshing but a much needed jolt to wake us from the collective slumber that makes is easier for the ruling class to manipulate us.
Truth is not treason.
-Dennis Trainor, Jr
Barack Obama was pissed.
Did you see him, yesterday afternoon? There he was: finger waging, lectern thumping, with grim, angry looks all around defending his decision to strike a deal with the GOP that would grant a tax break to the richest of the Richie Rich Regressive Randian Rascals out there and extend the Bush tax cuts.
Obama lashed out at Republicans for worshipping at the altar of Trickle Down Economics and liberals for being “sanctimonious” to a fault.
This is a decision so unpopular with the American people who it may very well mean the end of his relevancy as a President (as Rachel Maddow suggested), or that it may guarantee that he sees a Primary challenge from the left in 2012 (as Robert Kuttner recently reported).
And while the lone socialist talking head, Larry O’donnel, took the position that Obama struck the best possible deal he could get, the debate amongst Politician, analyzed by professional pundits has little or nothing to do with how the majority of Americans feel about this issue.
Consider a few statistics from a recent CBS news poll:
Only 26 percent of Americans support the GOP’s proposal to extend the cuts for all Americans. 70% of Democrats want to extend the cuts only on incomes below $250,000.
Even among Republicans, support for extending all the cuts is less than half at 46 percent.
What is in play here is so obvious and only bears mentioning to reframe this debate: elected officials do not even pretend to be accountable to their constituents. They are accountable to the interests of the richest 1% or less in this country. This may have always been true, but the recent Citizen United Supreme Court ruling created a new monster this past election cycle, the Super PAC: granting the super wealthy even more influence and an even greater voice in the political process than ever before.
When lobbying for a more just and equitable world, your letter to your Congresswoman or man or Senator will likely have about the same effect as a sandcastle trying to stop a Tsunami.
What the overwhelming majority of American need is some leverage. Think of it another way. When the United States of America negotiates secretly with – Iran for example, do you think the USA takes the nuclear option off the table? No. That is the leverage we have. My question then is, how far off is the day when the American people, negotiating openly with the super wealthy class via their proxy pawns in Congress and the White House say something like: do we, the unwashed masses want to kill and eat the rich? Well, lets just say that all options are on the table. The negotiating table, and the dinning room table. And yes, pun intended you hyper capitalist trickle down bastard.
As I watch Obama play at negotiating with this lame duck Congress the words that more often than not dancing in my head in reference to that duck are the immortal words of Arlo Guthrie from his protest song Alice’s Restaurant:
“I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL.”
If one of does that well they might think we was crazy and just ignore it. If two people, can you imagine, two people ranting and raving like that –well they might think they was faggots and file us under Don’t ask Don’t Tell.
But if three, can you imagine if three, or fifty or hundreds of people a day getting so visibly angry, well they might think it was a movement the Kill and Eat the Rich Movement.
And then maybe we would get more Politicians sounding like Bernie Sanders and less sounding like Barack Obama.
It is easy to forget as we argue over tax cuts for billionaires, or NAFTA-esque labor agreements with North Korea – or any of the additional Obama sell outs to the Right Wing Billionaire lunatic fringe that, in all likelihood, we are simply re-arraigning furniture on the titanic.
Alfred McCoy’s thorough article on Tom Dispatch offers a few sobering perspectives on the possible how’s and when’s of the statistical inevitability of America’s decline as a Global superpower when he writes:
“The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, will be tattered and fading by 2025, its eighth decade, and could be history by 2030 (….) Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.”
McCoy’s thesis is not so much buttressed by any nihilistic ideology or conspiracy based paranoia, but by a US National Intelligence report titled Global Trends 2025, that cites:
“the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East” and “without precedent in modern history,” as the primary factor in the decline of the “United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm.”
In my view, we all to often fail to see the forest in the politically polarized trees of our daily discourse to consider the consequences of the inevitable demise of the United States of America as a Global superpower.
Consider that “The American Century” came into being at the end of World War Two. Making the US the first post-nuclear Global Super Power. Old world cartographers changed maps as the result of wars fought with pickaxes. Today, there are enough nukes at the ready in the world to turn the earth into something resembling the regurgitated contents of frat boy’s stomach after a night being hazed by Kappa Sigma.
Speaking of the Greeks, they may have taken down the Roman Empire with a Trojan Horse, but by 2020, according to McCoy, the Chinese will have a the Trojan Horse 2.0 in the form of a “global network of communications satellites, backed by the world’s most powerful supercomputers, (that will) also be fully operational, providing Beijing with an independent platform for the weaponization of space and a powerful communications system for missile- or cyber-strikes into every quadrant of the globe.
As the Chinese economy is on pace to overtake the US as the worlds largest by 2026, it is time for us to imagine ourselves as the little guy on the global stage.
David Swanson, author of War is Lie, asked today by way of a facebook status update: “Why don’t China and Saudi Arabia just fight each other instead of funding the US and al Qaeda?” To which I responded: Interesting, to think that we are just fighting proxy wars for China. Makes you think that the “American Empire” is just a little guy in the next cold war. Karma is a boomerang that way. I hope that, in the next chapter in history (if there is one) I can at least have a radio show. Can you say GOOOOOOD Mornin ViETNAMNMNMNNM!!!!!! ?
BIO: A freelance writer and performer, Dennis Trainor, Jr has worked as a writer/ media consultant for Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential campaign and served as a contributing editorial commentator for The Uptake and Veracifier. His documentary on U.S. foreign policy, MANIFEST DESTINY’S CHILD, is due out on DVD this January. He is the host of NoCureForThat.wordpress.com. Contact @ DennisTrainorJr (at) gmail.com