Monday, January 5, 2009

Why the Right is Right and the Left is Not

Comparisons of Its A Wonderful Life

Recently I had the misfortune to read a rather negative review of Its A Wonderful Life from New York Times Columnist Wendell Jamieson. I wondered how anyone could find these faults in this timeless masterpiece. I struggled how I could answer the charges made against the stories hero George Bailey and against Americana in general. Well now that struggle is over thanks to the people at The Art of Manliness

I present to you a side by side comparison.



Be a hero where you stand - This is the thread that weaves through George Bailey’s life. Saving his brother in the icy water. Keeping Mr. Gower from poisoning a child. Saving the Building & Loan multiple times. But it is the small things that make the hero; Bailey’s dedication to help others who are down on their luck is the true mark of his manliness.

It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

Treat women well - At a key moment of their relationship, George visits Mary (Donna Reed) at her home and acts like a boor. Luckily, this leads to a final acknowledgement of their love, and for the most part, George is an example of how to treat women well (despite some cultural changes). Despite human, stressful outbursts, he loves his wife, and remains true to her in temptation. He takes care of his mother and even treats Violet (a woman with a dulled reputation) like gold, as a real man should - without taking advantage.

Disappointments pile up. George can’t go to college because of his obligation to run the Bailey Building and Loan, and instead sends Harry. But Harry returns a slick, self-obsessed jerk, cannily getting out of his responsibility to help with the family business, by marrying a woman whose dad gives him a job. George again treats Mary cruelly, this time by chewing her out and bringing her to tears before kissing her. It is hard to understand precisely what she sees in him. George is further emasculated when his bad hearing keeps him out of World War II, and then it’s Christmas Eve 1945

Love your family/family fidelity - In spite of his frustration and dreams, George honors his father’s work and keeps the Savings & Loan running. With a drafty house, sick kids, low wages, work stresses, and a normal man’s frustrations, he loves and supports his family. Is it easy? Heck no. But he comes through.

Now as for that famous alternate-reality sequence: This is supposedly what the town would turn out to be if not for George. I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbie’s blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement.

  • Stand up for what is right - Bailey’s morals may be simple common sense, but he lives them and fights for them. This is perhaps seen best when George strongly turns down Mr. Potter’s lucrative offer for everything he ever wanted: success, travel, luxury and security for his family, just to maintain the honor of his name. “I don’t need 24 hours!” he tells the man.
  • George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. It’s been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter,


    Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.

    Facilitate others’ success - Helping people move out of the slums. Investing in the little people. Sacrificing for his brother Harry’s success. George’s dedication to his brother’s success is truly touching. The richness of George’s legacy lies in how he touched others’ lives and made them better for it, quietly sacrificing to improve the lot of those around him.

    And what about that banking issue? When he returns to the “real” Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George’s idiot uncle, Billy

    Know your faults and correct them - Of course our protagonist is not perfect. When facing personal failure, he is particularly prone to outbursts towards those with whom he is closest. And it takes a strong woman to keep him straight. He also has a knowable weakness for luxury and a misplaced view of himself and life. But George tries to lift himself above it, and in the end - with a little help from a different point of view and an angel named Clarence - he finds in himself what is beautiful in life.

    After Potter takes the deposit, George flies into a rage and finally lets Uncle Billy know what he thinks of him, calling him a “silly, stupid old fool.” Then he explodes at his family.

    If you watch the film this year, keep a close eye on Stewart during this sequence. First he smashes a model bridge he has built. Then, like any parent who loses his temper with his children, he seems genuinely embarrassed. He’s ashamed. He apologizes. And then ... slowly ... he starts getting angry all over again.

    To me Stewart’s rage, building throughout the film, is perfectly calibrated

    And lastly the conclusions of these two very different life outlooks.

    Live your life with gratitude - Life is not measured in salaries, homes, trips, cars or Facebook friends. But it is truly measured in those moments when we love and touch others’ lives. Family and friends. Time and love. It may be sappy, but on your deathbed you won’t be looking to hold the hand of your Porsche.

    That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up.

    The left find fault in all that a man strives for, he find praise in the free exercise of his vices. The right understands the need to keep ones vices under control and finds praise for those who find a way to overcome the little disasters that afflict us all. The left see no hope in the struggle to overcome, the right see the struggle has a victory in itself.

    I know the left will talk of the civil rights movement yet where have they gone with it after they took control. They've place the government over the people and it has only served to weaken those they promised to help. They did this because they feel that the individual is unable to overcome, the right work to lift the restrictions of government on the individual and to provide opportunity for all. The left see one persons failure as the failure of all and therefore opportunity should be denied until all are given equal standing.

    Late Thought: In June of 1963 John F. Kennedy gave his speech at the Berlin Wall where he proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner). The wall remained for almost 3 decades. In June 1987 Ronald Reagan said "Tear down this wall" and it fell in 29 months. I can't think of any better example.

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