This year, as you get all bundled up in front of the TV to watch your favorite Christmas movie, it is well to remember that, if your favorite movie is Miracle on 34th Street, you are actually celebrating Christmas in the best way possible, by watching a film in which a miracle happens not only in spite of, but because of, the self-interest of every single character except Kris Kringle. And if your favorite movie is It’s A Wonderful Life, you are actually celebrating not Christmas but the triumph of Communism over capitalism. That’s right, all you Bedford-Falls-loving Mister-Potter-hating fans out there—if you worship the message behind this thinly-disguised piece of propaganda, then you’re nothing but a bunch of left-wing commie-symp pinkos. And I can prove it.
Don't let the Xmas decorations fool ya.
Bedford Falls is Moscow. Make no mistake--you know exactly what country you’re really in right from the opening. Because it’s not just one person praying, it’s the collective town, and that’s why The Powers That Be actually step in to take action. The voice of the individual never gets the same response as the combined voice of the people. Only the voice of the people as a whole has weight--unlike in a democracy, where each individual voice has exactly the same weight as every other, and their combined voices are a Babel of special interest requests, rather than a unified demand for a redress of grievances. Individual prayers are never answered, not even George Bailey’s. Only when a lot of people make a lot of noise--or make the same noise--is there a response.
Smiling faces . . . sometimes . . .
The root of all evil.
CLARENCE'S VOICE: Who's that -- a king?
JOSEPH'S VOICE: That's Henry F. Potter, the richest and meanest man in the County.
The first time we see Potter, he's compared to the hated enemy of all good Socialists,
George Bailey, Perfect Socialist. And who better to oppose The Evils Of Capitalism than The Perfect Socialist, as embodied by
“It sure comes in handy down here, Bub.” In the socialist community, the temptation to make money is relentless, it's everywhere you look, and giving in even for a second has drastic consequences for you and the world around you. "I wish I had a million dollars," young George says, and the next thing you know, his depressed boss is asking him to deliver poison to an old woman. "Maybe I could sell tickets," George idly remarks to Mary as she hides her nakedness behind a bush. Thirty seconds later his father is dead. The only time in the movie when George despairs? When a bunch of money is lost. It makes perfect sense that the answer to this despair is Clarence, someone who doesn't have a dime on him, someone who doesn't even see the need for it. Clarence is who George was before Uncle Billy lost that bank deposit. Clarence is George's inner socialist angel.
"Fresh Air." "Times Square!" If Bedford Falls is the socialist paradise, thanks to everything George is and does, then Pottersville is that haven of capitalism run amok, New York City. Without George to embody them, the community values and shared morals that protected the comrades of Bedford Falls from rampant consumerism have vanished, and in their place we see a perfect representation of what 8th Avenue and 42nd Street looked like in 1947: bars, liquor stores, houses of ill repute, and theatres that once ran The Belles of St Mary’s now advertising “Girls Girls Girls.” One of whom is probably poor Vi. If she isn’t walking the streets somewhere. Or all dolled up and drinking herself to death as Potter's mistress.
Ever wonder why she's the only one besides Potter whom we don't see in Pottersville?
Christmas miracle, my ass. Like The Wizard Of Oz, there's a crafty sleight-of-hand to the conclusion of this film. In Oz, we think that, because the Wicked Witch of the West is dead, that means Miss Gulch is dead too. But she's not. She's out there waiting for Toto to dig up her garden one more time, at which point she'll probably feed the little mutt a steak dipped in strychnine. It's the same here -- just because George wakes up from the nightmare of Pottersville, we think that means Potter has been defeated. But he hasn't. He's out there waiting. And the next time Uncle Billy has one drink too many and misses a deposit, George will be on the firing line yet again. It's a fairy tale to think that the struggle for socialist victory over the evils of capitalism will actually result in a winner-take-all victory. The struggle never ends. Whenever you win a battle, you have to remember that the war goes on. Victory is always temporary. The Potters of this world are single-minded, powerful, and eternal. They keep coming back, and they have have to be confronted and beaten again and again, like Sauron in Middle Earth.
Socialism now! The reason this movie was a failure when it came out? Nobody in 1947 wanted to be told that money is bad, sacrifice is good, and the needs of the community come first. Which is as much to say that nobody in post-war America wanted a neo-socialist parable shoved down their throats. But their children, on the other hand, wanted nothing more—which is why the movie has grown in popularity since the 60’s. The country itself has moved far enough to the left so that the message is not a hard-to-swallow horse pill, but an embodiment of current social(ist) values: bankers are evil, health care needs to be universally available, and everyone no matter how poor has the right to own a house. Yeah -- I know -- that last one is the belief that got us into the current depression, the one that the bankers are surviving very well, thanks to corporate welfare. Which is nowhere near as taboo as welfare for the poor. Or, at the moment, housing for the poor, which is effectively dead in the water as a political issue. Chalk up one more victory for the Potters of the world.
Putting the red in Santa's red suit. I could go on, but I think it's obvious by now that people who think It's A Wonderful Life is about Christmas are like children who still believe in Santa Claus: the only way they won't go through life avoiding reality is when an adult breaks the truth to them. And the truth is that the George Baileys of this world will always be anti-capitalist, and though they might win a fight here and there, in the long run they will always lose to the Mr. Potters of this world. Or, to be totally honest (I'm breaking it to you gently here), the Potters of this country. Why do our home-grown robber barons always seem to win in the end? Simple. Because the socialist goal in America is something that always has been, and always will be, attempted through capitalist means. Which is why it will always fail. And why even the best of us will always wake up to find ourselves in Pottersville.
Put that under your Christmas tree.