I found a wonderful metaphor the other day. In the grass, next to the sidewalk, a discarded scratch off card. The name of the card was It’s a Wonderful Life.
Obvs, the person didn’t win the cash.
I love this because the scratch off is everything wrong with that horrible movie.
Oh, I know, I know, I should just let you enjoy it if you do. The thing is, when something is utterly loathsome, or perpetuates unhealthy things, a thinking person should step up and point it out.
There are good reasons kids seldom see Punch and Judy anymore, or libraries have failed to reorder copies of Little Black Sambo.
I’d like it better if more people agreed with me–I think most of us, even when we know we are right, desire validation.
To digress a bit, when Baby Einstein came out, I was alone in my peer group saying it was bullshit, that all videos could do was teach children to watch videos, and that toddler education should be hands on.
I got the cold shoulder for about ten years. Then scientists found that not only did Baby Einstein not teach anything beyond watching TV, it was actually bad for children because of the lack of depth perception practice that resulted from flat screens. (Even I didn’t see that one. I just didn’t like videos for babies/toddlers.)
I knew I was right all along, but validation made it easier on me.
For many many years I had a dislike of Bill Cosby I couldn’t articulate. I’ve been validated, and then some.
With this safely behind me, I say without hesitation: I LOATHE It’s a Wonderful Life. It is an anti-intellectual, classist, sexist, racist, hateful piece of garbage. And I can’t wait for someone with more cred than I have to validate me.
Since no one is in a hurry to do so, I’ll say what’s wrong with it.
Like the scratch off, it promises but doesn’t deliver. The expressed moral of the story is that you are a success if you have friends, but the fact is, when salvation comes, it really comes in the form of cash, not love.
I first saw It’s a Wonderful Life as the in-flight movie when I was returning to America, very homesick, after time as an exchange student. You’d think I’d like it, because it brought me HOME.
But I remember vividly being horrified that George’s little brother (a “good guy”) slapped the ass of the black maid and NO ONE STOOD UP FOR HER. When a “good guy” does something reprehensible and the movie doesn’t call it out, this normalizes and condones the horrible behavior.
Later, child Mary says, “I don’t like coconut,” and George calls her stupid. George is another good guy, the protagonist, in fact, so his invalidating the opinion of another person is A-OK.
Again and again the audience is expected to have sympathy for George for not being able to achieve his dreams. That Mary has dreams and achieves them is supposed to be George’s tragedy, not her triumph.
And I might add that Mary, and George’s mother, are pretty good role models for setting goals and working to achieve them. (I wouldn’t want Mary’s goals for myself, but that’s another story.)
The whole movie is a paean to white male privilege. The good world of Bedford Falls has black people only as servants, virtuous women only as wives, driving drunk as an almost harmless way for a man to vent his frustration.
The bad Bedford Falls, Pottersville, has women and black people independently employed (and a lively jazz scene, I might add), rather than as servants to white men.
And for all George’s expressed dreams of adventure and learning, it’s remarkably anti-learning. If I took a shot every time someone in the movie took a pot shot at libraries, I’d be polluted before the credits ran. When the movie needs to show George at his most useless, he says he is going to the library. When Violet wants George, physically, she says, “Don’t you ever get tired of just READING about things?” And of course, Clarence, reluctant to tell George that Mary’s life has become a total loss, can barely choke out, “She’s . .. just about to close the library!”
When we see librarian Mary, she is ugly, with a unibrow and thick spectacles. She never married, says Clarence. Ever since the first time I saw that movie, the spectacles puzzled me, making me think of the adolescent joke, “Can’t I just do it until I need glasses?”
It’s well known that the movie failed at the box office the first time. People say the message didn’t resonate. Maybe it didn’t resonate because it was a bad message. When it did so well in the 80s, we could look back at “good ol’ days” and overlook the sexism, racism, and privilege, because that is often the only way we can enjoy a cultural relic.
I don’t choose to. I’m not going to watch myself get symbolically beaten and then expect to get in the Christmas spirit.
I’m gonna go watch something with more brains and heart. As a matter of fact, I’m gonna go watch the He-Man She-Rah Christmas Special. Skelator’s transformation is truly heartwarming.