Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I love It's a Wonderful Life because it teaches us that family, friendship, and virtue are the true definitions of wealth.
In 1947, however, the FBI considered this anti-cosumerist message as subversive Communist propaganda (read original FBI memo).
According to Professor John Noakes of Franklin and Marshall College, the FBI thought Life smeared American values such as wealth and free enterprise while glorifying anti-American values such as the triumph of the common man.
The FBI specifically detested the way Mr. Potter was portrayed:
The casting of Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" resulted in the loathsome Mr. Potter becoming the most hated person in the film. According to the official FBI report, "this was a common trick used by the communists."
"What's interesting in the FBI critique is that the Baileys were also bankers," said Noakes. " and what is really going on is a struggle between the big-city banker (Potter) and the small banker (the Baileys). Capra was clearly on side of small capitalism and the FBI was on the side of big capitalism.
The FBI misinterpreted this classic struggle as communist propaganda. I would argue that 'It's a Wonderful Life' is a poignant movie about the transition in the U.S. between small and big capitalism, with Jimmy Stewart personifying the last hope for a small town. It's a lot like the battle between Home Depot and the mom and pop hardware store." Source: Franklin and Marshall College and Delilah Boyd
As you can imagine, Life is more than just a Christmas movie for us here at Wise Bread. Heck, George Bailey's life story is practically the blueprint for our mission statement!
Naturally I want to get to the bottom of this. I don't want to become an anti-consumerist, especially when our Commander in Chief has decreed that it is our duty as Americans to do more shopping.
So I fired up "The Google" and dug up the original FBI report just to make sure Professor Noakes was right. The original document was a bit hard to read so I transcribed it for your reading pleasure (I did this for free, maybe I am a pinko):
To: The Director
COMMUNIST INFILTRATION OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY
There is submitted herewith the running memorandum concerning Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry which has been brought up to date as of May 26, 1947....
With regard to the picture "It's a Wonderful Life", [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.
In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [redacted] related that if he made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans. Further, [redacted] stated that the scene wouldn't have "suffered at all" in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and "I would never have done it that way."
[redacted] recalled that approximately 15 years ago, the picture entitled "The Letter" was made in Russia and was later shown in this country. He recalled that in this Russian picture, an individual who had lost his self-respect as well as that of his friends and neighbors because of drunkenness, was given one last chance to redeem himself by going to the bank to get some money to pay off a debt. The old man was a sympathetic character and was so pleased at his opportunity that he was extremely nervous, inferring he might lose the letter of credit or the money itself. In summary, the old man made the journey of several days duration to the bank and with no mishap until he fell asleep on the homeward journey because of his determination to succeed. On this occasion the package of money dropped out of his pocket. Upon arriving home, the old man was so chagrined he hung himself. The next day someone returned the package of money to his wife saying it had been found. [redacted] draws a parallel of this scene and that of the picture previously discussed, showing that Thomas Mitchell who played the part of the man losing the money in the Capra picture suffered the same consequences as the man in the Russian picture in that Mitchell was too old a man to go out and make money to pay off his debt to the banker.
We can look back at the FBI report with scorn and ridicule. But are we really that much more enlightened today as a society?
We live in an America where romantic love is defined by three-month-salary diamonds and parental affections are expressed through ridiculously-priced video games (don't forget to check out our report on the Wii and PS3 locator, by the way).
Perhaps the FBI was (and still is) correct when it said It's a Wonderful Life did not reflect American values. If you don't believe me, try telling your loved ones tonight that they won't be getting a materialistic gift from you, beacause your love for them already makes them the "richest man in town!"
Is it really true that every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings? I don't know. I do hope that every time a Christmas shopper cuts me off in the mall parking lot, God smites a kitten.
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