Saint Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"It’s a Wonderful Life", or "Its My Life?"

"It’s a Wonderful Life", or "Its My Life?" (aka Pottersville)
Matthew J Bellisario 2012


It is a fact that our country has sadly, slowly drifted away from the more moral cultural norms of the 40s and 50s. Being an avid movie buff, I wanted to draw up a comparison between the morality depicted in many of the movies of the 40s and 50s to the standard of morality we see today. We rarely see in the movie industry now, the moral standards that were inherent and often depicted on the silver screen of yesteryear. Movies depicting relatively strong morals such as ‘Going My Way’, ‘The Bell’s of Saint Mary’s’, ‘All About Eve’, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ have been all but forgotten. While human nature has not changed, how we view human nature has radically changed over the years. We no longer look to faith in God for the solution to our problems. We have become a society of narcissists, only focused on ourselves and our wants. Again, this sinful inclination is nothing new. But today’s radical isolation, often steeped in immorality, as is depicted in the media today, has given a new meaning to the term ‘narcissism.’ It is not very difficult to prove that our current society is one of the most narcissistic. Our current president demonstrates this fact quite clearly, being that we elected one of the most arrogant self centered leaders we have ever had.

Let us examine the attitude that is regularly displayed by many today. Life no longer has meaning for them, and this is very noticeable in the large numbers of people plagued by severe depression. Men and women often seek solace in anti-depressant drugs or other substances such as large consumptions of alcohol, drugs or even pornography. The radical consumption of material objects such as big houses and fancy cars also reflect our restlessness with life. Yet no matter how many things we have, we never seem to be satisfied. The internet has also been a tool of the devil to further isolate men from one another, while cleverly making seem as if we are more connected by promoting such websites as Facebook and Twitter. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The proper vision of the family has largely been destroyed by all of these obsessions.  We have now gone way past the social problem of divorce. We can now see that the disordered immoral act of homosexuality and open promiscuity is no longer shunned, but openly accepted. This has further eroded the order of the family. Likewise our communication with one another has eroded because these immoral acts are severely self centered and eventually lead to a radical narcissism. No longer do families spend time talking or getting together for large family and friend outings. Instead we are on the internet, texting on our smart-phones, or glued to the television to watch the latest news broadcast or sporting event.

As we turn back to Hollywood, I think it can be argued that many people in Hollywood have always been a bit progressive, and much of the time they seem to have preceded the liberalization of our society. It wold not be far fetched to blame Hollywood as part of our moral decline. It is however not alway clear wether Hollywood helped to brainwash society, or merely reflected the attitudes that had already been largely accepted in society. Yet even in accepting the fact that Hollywood has been a part of the moral problem, we can still see a noticeable difference in the morality depicted in the movies of yesteryear to the movies of today. This observation is very educational for us. For example, in the classic picture starring Bette Davis, ‘All About Eve’, the film demonstrates how destructive materialism and narcissism was for the main character Margo. There is a clear moral of the story painted for us as Margo falls into depression and paranoia. Likewise, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed graced the silver screen in 1946 to shine a light on the importance of each and every person in, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The greed of Mr. Potter is contrasted with selfless giving of George Bailey, and the ugly trait of narcissism is clearly contrasted to that of humility.

What I found to be of more interest while watching the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ are the details of what is seen rather than what we hear in the dialog. For example, when the angel comes to show George Bailey what the town of Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been born, we see something quite striking. As he walks down the street of the town, which the name had now been changed to the name of the rather evil character of Potter, we see a depiction of what an evil or immoral town might look like to the average person in the 1940s. We see a lot of seedy dance clubs, bars and strip clubs along the main street, rather than the humble shops that were supposed to be there. The bank was now a seedy club, the humble café a dance club, and a girls strip club was now center stage on the main street of town.  In other words, it was well understood that nude strip shows and seedy night clubs were generally viewed as being sinister to the society of the 40s. If we fast-forward to the year 2012, we would never know that these types of establishments were to be avoided or viewed as a plague on society. In fact, we now see these types of businesses popping up all over America as if they are good old wholesome fun. At one time most Americans would have been embarrassed to be caught in such a place. Now they have no shame in being seen in them.

It would behoove us to reflect on how the corruption on our view of morality has coincided with our distaste and restlessness with life. The declination of the morals of our society coincides with the rise of depression in our society. The false notion of personal freedom being forced down our throats today is no freedom at all, but only an enslavement to sin. It is self absorption at its worst. Remember the story told in Dostoevsky’s book ‘The Brother’s Karamasov’? The old lady once gives an onion to a beggar, and when she dies she is judged as never having given anything to anyone. When judged she is sent to hell in a lake of fire. Yet, she brings up to her guardian angel the time when she gave the onion to the beggar. So the old woman is given one half of that onion by her angel to be pulled out of hell with. She grabs one end, and as she is being pulled out many others in the lake of fire grab onto her hoping to be pulled out with her. Selfishly she looks back to the others and arrogantly claims, ‘Its my onion!’ After her selfish claim, the onion breaks and she falls back into the lake fire. The tale cleverly outlines the attitude pervading our culture today. “Its my life!”

If we examine our culture today to that of 60 plus years ago, we see two very different understandings of morality. We would do well to compare two characters which stare upon us from the silver screen of Hollywood, which represent two very different moral outlooks. Representing today’s culture we have the all too popular narcissistic character of Harry Potter, who urges us to break all of the rules and to be ourselves despite what we subconsciously know to be right and wrong, or we have Jimmy Stewart’s character of George Bailey, representing a more virtuous culture, who recognizes that we are all important only in the context of faith in God, in union with our fellow man. One character more or less gives and the other more or less takes. Harry Potter, ironically somewhat like Mr. Potter in ‘Its A Wonderful Life, as like many of us today cannot say, ‘It’s a wonderful life!’ but only ‘Its my life!’ The characters of Harry Potter and Mr. Potter are the classic narcissists while George Bailey resembles more of the humble servant. For example, at one point in the film, he and his wife Mary give away their honeymoon money keep all of the townspeople afloat. I think it is important to pose two questions about these characters. Which characters are more Christ-like, and which characters at the end of the stories are truly happy? I don’t know about you, but I would rather be Jimmy Stewart’s character of George Bailey any day rather than the narcissistic Potters. Unfortunately we are all too familiar today with old George's predicament of standing in the middle of Pottersville.


1 comment:

Whats Up! said...

Did you know the 40's version of Miracle on 34th Street was almost condemned by the great Legion of Decency?
Beacause it depicted a divorced woman [O'Hara] dating a man who was not her husband. [Payne}

Not a big fan of that film.
The others you mention are good though.