A friend told me: "Show me a list of a person's favorite movies and
I'll tell you what he believes including his politics." Another
said he could pretty much tell how someone felt about America by his
reaction to John Wayne movies.
I'm inclined to think that cinema shapes reality far more than
reflects it. But the type of movies we are drawn to reveals our
worldview provides a map of our inner selves.
The left adores films that are anti-American, anti-faith,
politically correct, paranoid, cynical and nihilistic. In the past
few years, the critics have salivated over trash like, "No Country
for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood," "Million Dollar Baby," "The
Departed," "Atonement," and - most recently - "Batman: the Dark
Movies that reflect middle-class norms and Judeo-Christian values are derided as dull, clichéd, unrealistic, simplistic and saccharine,
An over-the-top example of the left's disdain for normalcy is the
piece by City Editor Wendell Jamieson in the December 19 New York
Times ("Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful, Dreadful Life") in
which the writer takes a sledge hammer, a chainsaw and a
flame-thrower to "It's a Wonderful Life."
The Capra classic is #11 on the American Film Institute's list of
the 100 best American movies -- just behind "Singin' in the Rain" and
ahead of "Sunset Boulevard." It was Frank Capra's favorite film and
Jimmy Stewart's favorite role.
Movie maven Roger Ebert observes: "What is remarkable about 'It's a
Wonderful Life' is how well it holds up over the years. It's one of
those ageless movies, like 'Casablanca' or 'The Third Man' that
improves with age. Some movies, even good ones, should be seen only
once. When we know how they turn out, they've surrendered their
mystery and appeal. Other movies can be viewed an indefinite number
of times. Like great music, they improve with familiarity. 'It's a
Wonderful Life' falls in the second category."
Until exclusive broadcast rights were acquired by NBC in 1994, it
was shown dozens of times during the holiday season each year. As a
Christmas movie (that wasn't intended to be a Christmas movie), it
was more popular than "Miracle on 34th Street and "A Christmas
Generations of fans have been charmed and inspired by its gentle
humor, pathos, humanity and life-affirming story.
The storyline, for those who haven't seen it: A sense of duty
compels small-town George Bailey (Stewart's character) to give up
his dreams of greatness in the wide world, to save the Bailey
Building and Loan and help residents of Bedford Falls achieve their
modest dreams of home ownership.
In the process, he marries the woman he's always loved, has four
adorable (if at times irascible) children, makes a crucial
contribution to the community and builds a wonderful life for
A crisis and the prospect of disgrace and imprisonment drive him to
despair and the verge of suicide. Enter his befuddled guardian
angel, who brings him to a true understanding of his worth, by
showing him what the world around him would have been like if he'd
never been born (his wish while standing on a bridge contemplating a
plunge in the icy water below).
Jamieson -- and, presumably, The Times finds "It's a Wonderful
Life," "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
In other words -- follow your dream, even if it leads you to a life
filled with material success that's spiritually impoverished, and
others suffer in the process?
The elite thinks bitterness and narrowness are the defining
characteristics of small-town America.
If the hicks are mean-spirited and all that, why do the cities have
much higher rates of homicide, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse and
other social pathologies than the sticks?
For George Bailey, Jamieson tells us, "disappointments pile up."
He's the "pathetic older sibling," who's "emasculated when his bad
hearing keeps him out of World War II." Finally, "all the decades of
anger boil to the surface" and George "explodes" with justifiable
rage. Liberals are big on rage - anger being a sign of authenticity.
Jamieson would probably look at "Casablanca" and say, "It's a story
about a disillusioned drunk who's manipulated by his ex-girlfriend,
in the midst of municipal corruption."
According to Jamieson, Bailey's also a chump for sacrificing his
happiness for those around him.
Not that the left is opposed to sacrifice in all cases. When it's
for "racial justice," the downtrodden, spotted owls, the planet, the
Kennedys liberals are very much in favor of self-abnegation. It's
sacrifice for family, friends, community and country that it finds
Two things are worth noting about the way Jamieson sees Stewart's
alternate reality - when George Bailey glimpses a world without him,
and Bedford Falls transmogrifies into Pottersville.
The fate of George's family and friends is meant to show his
positive impact on the lives of those around him. Instead, Jamieson
draws a negative lesson.
The writer condescendingly observes: "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." Thus "flirty Violet" becomes a tart, gruff
but loveable Bert is maniac cop, and Ernie the cabbie is lonely and
chronically depressed. How liberals love to psychoanalyze.
The Talmud tells us we all have two natures (the good inclination
and the evil inclination) struggling for dominance. Sometimes all it
takes is an act of kindness, or a good example, to push us in the
Jamieson's other bit of brilliance is when he smugly admits that he
prefers Pottersville (a honky-tonk hell) to prosaic Bedford Falls.
Pottersville "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 sort of
excitement George had long been seeking." Why then is he horrified
by this vision? Our hero wanted to see the world and design
buildings, not wallow in the gutter.
Apparently, it's irrelevant that George's wife becomes a mousey,
spinster librarian, his mother is a bitter, dried-up hag who runs a
dilapidated boarding house, Uncle Billy loses his marbles when the
Building and Loan fails and ends up in the loony bin, the
pharmacist, Mr. Gower, goes to prison for accidentally poisoning a
child, and all of the men on a transport ship die in a kamikaze
attack because brother Harry wasn't there to save them (because
George wasn't there to save him when he fell through the ice as a
child), and so on.
But then, what are a score of ruined lives compared to the babes and
rock-around-the-clock action of Pottersville? By the way, it's
interesting that a sophisticate like Jamieson finds gambling, fast
women, bright lights and blaring music among life's most delightful
The great lesson of "It's a Wonderful Life": Each life is special.
Be we ever so humble, there's no one like us. We actually can make
the world a better place or, in the words of the angel Clarence:
"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives.
When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
The great lesson of liberalism: There are no great lessons no
absolutes. Life is meaningless. Other than self-gratification and
various causes (anodynes to make us forget our hopelessness) our
lives serve no purpose.
Because this perspective is so relentlessly bleak, the left is
driven to spread the pain that is, to make the rest of us
miserable too. Hence their urge to tax, control, regulate and order
our existence down to the minutest detail.
But aren't liberals compassionate and charitable? Only in movies. In
real life, it's conservatives who walk on the Bailey side of the
street, and liberals who are more like mean, old Mr. Potter the
wheelchair-bound misanthrope and control freak.
In 2006, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, wrote
"Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate
Conservatism." Brooks found the following:
Although liberal families on average have incomes 6% above those headed
by conservatives, the latter give 30% more to charity than the former
($1,600 against $1,227).
Conservatives also do more volunteer work. And, they are more likely to
give blood. (When it comes to blood, the left believes it's more
blessed to take than to give -- especially at tax time.)
In 2004, John Kerry took only one of the 25 states where charitable
giving is above the national average. Bush won the other 24.
Of the 10 reddest states (which Bush won by more than 60%), on average,
charitable giving, as a percentage of income, is 3.5 percent almost double
the average in the states Kerry carried by the same margin 1.9%.
But the left is like Henry Potter in another important way. Potter
owned just about everything else in Bedford Falls, but was driven to
distraction because he couldn't get his grasping hands on the Bailey
Building and Loan.
Like Lionel Barrymore's character, the left wants it all. It owns
Hollywood, most newspapers, national news magazines and network news
departments, except for FOX.
That's not enough. Like sour, covetous Mr. Potter, it plots and
schemes endlessly to control or destroy the one medium it doesn't
dominate -- talk radio. Potter had a bank-run and a stolen deposit
working in his favor. Liberals have the Fairness Doctrine, which
they mean to resurrect in the next Congress.
But, I digress. We are drawn to movies that reflect our sense of
life - cynical or joyful, obsessive or clear-headed, hopeless or
Of course the left loathes films like "It's a Wonderful Life." How
could it not? This courageous, ultimately optimistic, little gem of
a movie is a ray of light trying to penetrate the shriveled soul of