What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
Here’s your official Dubsism welcome to the holiday season. I thought there would be no better time to introduce this new series than by exposing a beloved holiday “classic” for what it is.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a gigantic, damnable lie.
Seriously, for the majority of my adult life, I’ve been completely flummoxed as to why this film found it’s way to being such a time-honored tradition for this time of year. You have to understand, I’m old enough to remember “Christmas” movies before “Christmas Vacation” and a “A Christmas Story.” There was a time when this celluloid shit-pile ran almost constantly somewhere on cable in America for the entirety of the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now when Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m thankful somebody bought the rights to this warped chunk of holiday propaganda, and it’s only gets shown once.
Having grown up in a period when “It’s A Wonderful Life” was the haute couture of holiday flicks plays a large role in explaining why I have such a hatred of all things Christmas. Nobody remembers “It’s a Wonderful Life” was an atomic box-office bomb when it was released in 1946 largely because this was one year after the biggest war in human history. That meant in 1946, people had their world views vulcanized by the fires of a world war; they weren’t a bunch of soft-cheese brained pussies who rejected the idea they were a bunch of simps in the hands of a pablum-dishing God and sure as hell weren’t seeking spiritual guidance from a platitudinous, second-string angel.
That’s were the soul-torching, reality-destroying lies about this movie start. Nobody bothered to pony up to see this box-office turd, and yet we as Americans have woven it into our culture. In other words, this movie is seen as a celebration of all things supposedly great in life to be reveled in during the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, and yet “It’s a Wonderful Life” is 100% pure, uncut, USDA prime nihilism.
Think about it. Once you get past the shoddy veneer that “It’s A Wonderful Life” is supposed to be an uplifting tale of the true wealth in life coming from being surrounded with loving friends and family, you start to notice that everybody in George Bailey’s (played by Jimmy Stewart) life are little more than corks in the asshole of progress towards his dreams.
From the jump, the only thing George Bailey has in his heart is to get the fuck out of Bedford Falls. The problem is he runs into a gigantic example of “crab in the bucket” syndrome. This is because George’s departure is the last thing in the world wanted by the two people who have the most influence on his life. It starts with his father taking “morning after Thanksgiving” sized shits all over George’s dreams. Rather, George’s father would see him stuck in their shitty little town running their even-shittier savings and loan.
Then there’s his girlfriend Mary (played by Donna Reed). Granted, she loves George unconditionally and she is improbably gorgeous in a town where most of the women look like Ernest Borgnine before electrolysis. But she also wants to be a millstone around his neck; there are times you swear she’s actively conspiring with George’s father to strangle his dream of doing “something big, something important.”
It doesn’t stop there. Look at the people who actually are the “achievers” in the film, Sam Wainwright and Harry Bailey are not inherently bad people, but the movie makes it clear they aren’t as “good” as George. , but they’re not as good as George. Sam is generous, but he’s also a pig. Harry is a hero, but he’s also just one more person who screwed George over by not staying in Bedford Falls so that George could go to college. Not mention, Harry gets shoved even further up George’s ass by Clarence the asshole angel.
I would love to be able to discuss this movie without ever bringing up Clarence, but he is the embodiment of the lie that is this movie. There’s so many examples, but the one that sticks out like the sorest of thumbs is when George sees his brother Harry’s tombstone. Clarence tells George that in the world without George that Harry died from breaking through the ice and drowning. at the age of nine. George vehemently objects, telling Clarence that Harry Bailey went to war and got Congressional Medal of Honor for saving the lives of the men on a sinking transport ship. Clarence corrects George by telling him that every man on that transport died because Harry wasn’t there to save them because George wan’t there to save the drowning Harry.
Even if you can get your brain around that much extrapolation, you likely would have burned so much mental energy you would miss the idea that somehow George Bailey’s suicide as an adult would erase him from the time-space continuum entirely. Yeah, I know that’s how Clarence framed it, but that’s why Clarence is an asshole. He’s misrepresenting reality (even if it was George’s wish) in order to make an exceptionally nihilistic point. Sam the self-made albeit flawed man and Harry the Hero should really be the inspirational figures in this movie, but thanks to Clarence the nihilist asshole angel, our hero is George Bailey; he’s our “gold” standard of who we are supposed to want to be, even though all he does in Bedford Falls is perpetuate system in which no one can actually get ahead and everyone lives in “company store” type debt. That’s a bit of foreshadowing, I’m coming back to what a piece of shit George Bailey is with that shady-ass savings and loan business in a bit.
From the nihilistic perspective, it is when George Bailey has finally been beaten down by a town full of ass-pumps who can’t achieve a dream of their own and do nothing but crush his…that’s when he decides to jump off the bridge. That brings us to the over-arching lie that wrecks this whole film. What people want to believe is the aforementioned “uplifting tale of the true wealth in life coming from being surrounded with loving friends and family” gets exposed for telling us that we are all surrounded by a cavalcade of fucking jerks who will crush our dreams for no other reason so they can suck the life out of us. It also goes to show that if you are somebody who wants to better their lot in life, you’re the asshole, not the people who would be the corks in your progress.
If you doubt that, consider this. Don’t forget George wants to kill himself precisely because his dreams are dead…and because he belongs in a federal prison (more foreshadowing). Not even the people closest to him want George to be happy on his own terms. The longer George stays in Bedford Falls, the more stops his suicide train passes while high-balling toward the end of the line. Not even the unfailing devotion of the improbably gorgeous Mary can cover George’s increasing despondency because even he can see the family she’s borne him is the biggest package of wieners this side of Oscar Meyer.
The fact that Clarence uses George’s suicidal nadir on the bridge as the moment to sell him on such a fucked-up vision suggests Clarence might have honed his predatory skills in his previous life as a pedophile priest. You may think that seems a bit much, but look at how Clarence twists reality to the incredibly vulnerable George. I’ve already mentioned the “Harry Bailey” scene, but look at the bullshit Clarence weaves for the “Ghost of Christmas Future” vision of the “George Bailey-free” world. Naturally, this is all done to advance the phony narrative that George Bailey is a sympathetic character (still more foreshadowing).
Again, Clarence boils a stew with a stock boiled from the bones of misrepresentation because he showing George the world as it might be if he’d never been born, despite the fact by this point George has already married Mary, made the aforementioned wiener-babies, and loaded their savings and loan with all the local capital. Clarence the asshole angel shows George a vision of the world had George never existed, which we already know is total horseshit.
On top of that, the vision Clarence presents to George is also completely cherry-picked. The George Bailey-less version of Bedford Falls is predictably called “Pottersville” after the guy whose only real crime is just being a shrewd businessman, which by the usual Hollywood bent means Potter must be nothing but some sort of evil, money-grubbing tyrant. Don’t get we wrong, Potter is an asshole of the first order, but he’s no criminal…if anybody is a criminal in this movie, it’s George Fucking Bailey. But I’m still getting to that.
Clarence’s “Pottersville” is so obviously meant to show us the seamy underbelly of the modern city with it’s dystopian visages of neon-lit, vice-driven desperation. As expected, George is horrified at what he sees, and he’s supposed to be. So are you. That’s the trap Clarence sets for George and the viewer. The decadence and depravity are put so in your face that we are all supposed to miss something horribly important. Granted, Pottersville is deliberately made out to be an Obi-Wan Kenobi-ish den of scum and villainy; in contrast to Bedford Falls, which is supposed look as if it came straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
What you aren’t supposed to notice is Pottersville is a bustling metropolis with a burgeoning economy with jobs for all, as opposed to Bedford Falls, which is a financially moribund shit-hole populated by a bunch of mouth-breathers who can’t figure out how banks work. Good, bad, or indifferent, prosperity and decadence are the two sides of the same coin. In other words, there’s no bad things happening in Bedford Falls because there’s NOTHING happening in Bedford Falls.
Ernie the Cabbie is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for this. The economy of Bedford Falls is so shitty this guy has literally nothing to do, but he might be the hardest-working man in Pottersville. Like I said, there’s really no doubting that Potter is the quintessential American capitalist, which like it or not means he knows how to build things. For all his assholery, Potter envisions Bedford Falls with the potential to grow into a modern, major city…which is pretty much what Pottersville is in a world where George Bailey does not exist to build his “Ponzi Scheme” estates.
Forget about Uncle Billy and his supreme act of dip-shittery handing Mr. Potter $8,000 in cash. Forget that missing money makes George look like an embezzler complete with the “dog ate my homework” flavor of the “Uncle Billy lost it” story. Let’s talk about the real reason George Bailey belonged behind bars.
Even before we saw the real-world version of Bailey-ism in the 2000s, I never understood why people never saw George Bailey for what he really was, a predatory lender who for all the “unicorn and lollipop” bullshit about his “good intentions” did things far worse than Potter ever did.
As mentioned, “Bailey Estates” is a real-estate version of a “Ponzi scheme” if ever there was one. He’s selling the dream of home ownership to people who have no money and are already living on credit in the economically-stagnant Bedford Falls. Offered against living in the “slums” owned by Potter, this is how this movie drapes George Bailey in some sort of cheap, populist heroism. But what he is actually doing is economically enslaving a large part of the town’s population by saddling them with debt they can never pay.
If you doubt that, consider the following. To start with, Bailey’s savings and loan is completely insolvent; we know that from when there’s a run on it and he can’t actually pay out anyone’s account. That’s because he’s selling homes at far below market value to people who can’t afford them and financing all these exceptionally risky ventures by using other people’s savings. With every below-market value home sale, Bailey’s savings and loan edges closer to completely cratering, and once it does, part of Bedford Falls loses their life savings, and another part loses their homes. If that weren’t enough, for those who decide they want to pull the rip-cord and sell before the whole thing tanks, all they are going to find out is that the debt they owe is more than their homes are worth, and any cash they may have squirreled away has been sunk into somebody else’s underwater mortgage.
Ten years ago, that was called “sub-prime” or “predatory” lending, it is EXACTLY how the housing market crashed in 2008, and a boatload of people went to jail for doing EXACTLY the same shit George Bailey did.
That’s why this movie is such a gigantic lie. It’s sends a message of complete nihilism. Whatever you do, don’t go the big, mean city where people are happy because they can earn the money to do the depraved things we all want to do, like eat, drink, and fuck. No, instead stay in your shit-pile of a little town waiting for a George Bailey-type to lock you into a world of financial ruin.
In reality “It’s a Wonderful Life” doesn’t ever purport any of the values people think it does because they can’t see it once they buy George Bailey as a sympathetic character. That’s when they miss that George Bailey ends up where he is because he dared to have a dream, and when they get taken from him, he becomes a crook who will butt-fuck anybody dumb enough to hand him their life savings while facing the other way.
Funny how Clarence the asshole angel never mentions any of that.
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