Sticking up for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

So, a few days back, someone posted an attack on It’s a Wonderful Life in the ‘Boston Herald,’ criticizing it, not only as a bad film, but as promoting socialism. It was a very poorly done piece, of the “make a bold claim, then support it with a sarcastic comment” variety, but since the point of view is one that I’ve seen infecting Conservative circles a lot, I thought it needed to be addressed. Hence, today’s piece in The Federalist:

Having dismissed “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a technical level with a single ill-informed paragraph, he proceeds to tackle the film’s message. Graham’s position is that George’s life is “pretty awful” because he endures a lot of suffering, is unable to go to college or even on his honeymoon, and “his kids wear second-hand clothes and get sick from the cold…because George can’t afford nice things for his family.” Graham then claims the film’s vindication of George’s life “fails” because “his life still stinks. He’s not, in fact, rich or even financially secure…and on top of that, Potter gets to keep the eight grand!”

Thus, apparently, Graham’s definition of a good life is one in which we are “rich, or even financially secure,” able to do what we like, able to avoid suffering as much as possible, and perhaps one in which evil people are punished as well. He then rather absurdly goes on to claim that “It’s a Wonderful Life” represents socialist, New Deal-style economics, and that it was intended for “the workers at a Soviet collective circa 1949,” with the message “who cares that you have no shoes? Back to the factory for Mother Russia.”

Ironically, Graham’s view of the good life as defined primarily by material security and wellbeing is far closer to a socialist perspective than anything in the film. The foundational idea of Marxism is that the world is purely material, and therefore creating material security and equality for the most people is the highest good.

Judging by this op-ed, Graham would agree, but only dispute with a Marxist whether socialism or capitalism creates the most good for the most people. One thing with which a Marxist would never agree is that a man’s happiness is far more dependent on family, community, virtue, and so on than by his material well being.

This is a fundamental flaw in modern discourse for both conservatives and liberals: we focus so much on material issues, trying to work out a system that will make, as Graham says, “the best world for the most people,” that we don’t stop to ask what we mean by “the best world” or a “good life.” Both sides are making the exact same mistake even as they draw different conclusions: both accept the same basic philosophy, but disagree on its application.

Read the rest here

It’s a Wonderful Life at Catholic Match

If anyone were to ask what I think the best movie ever made is (understanding there’s objectively no such thing), I would probably say It’s a Wonderful Life. I might do a piece going into why I think this, but in the meantime I get to give some idea of why in today’s piece on Catholic Match. 

I have sometimes thought it a shame that It’s a Wonderful Life is regarded as a ‘Christmas Movie.’

It is, of course (in more ways than one), but if we think of it as ‘merely’ a Christmas movie we risk undervaluing it.

Frank Capra’s masterpiece, of course, needs no introduction. You’ve seen it at least once, and if you haven’t you know the basic premise: an ambitious, gifted young man named George Bailey wants nothing more than to escape his small, provincial town and do something big and important with his life.

But, one way or another, he gives up every opportunity to make good on that dream in order to help the people around him until one Christmas Eve finds him contemplating suicide, feeling he’s wasted his life. A roly-poly, ‘second class angel’ named Clarence then appears and shows him what the world would be like if he had never been born.

The message of the film is usually given as “every life has value.” Yes, but not quite in the way you might think. It is not George Bailey’s intrinsic value as a person that leads to his vindication, but the choices he made along the way.

Read the rest here, and Merry Christmas!