Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's a Wonderful Lie

On Christmas Eve, NBC aired that timeless classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart. As I watched it for the gazillionth time, I was struck by the irony of the event – especially during the Ameriquest Mortgage commercials.

Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore get top billing, but the real star of the show is Liberalism. Liberal – and at one time American – values such as humility, self-sacrifice, heroism, kindness, cooperation and delay of gratification are at the core of this movie about a struggling building and loan company in post-war New York State. George Bailey, who operates the building and loan, believes the community should pool its resources in order to improve everyone’s standard of living. But his arch-nemesis, Mr. Potter, believes only in greed and wants to control the town’s resources to the detriment of everyone but himself.

Along the way, we see how Bailey’s kindness and vision avert widespread misfortune. His moral support prevents his childhood friend Violet from becoming a hooker; his good judgment prevents the local druggist from becoming a washed up drunk; and ultimately, we see how his imagination and compassion prevent the town from becoming mean, hedonistic and impersonal.

In the end – and this is the part that always brings a tear to my eye – we see how the qualities that Bailey takes for granted are actually cherished by his friends and neighbors. The years of hard work and sacrifice have paid off at last, and the reward is much, much grater than personal wealth and luxury. Bailey has almost single-handedly created a town that everyone would like to live in; a town free from pretentious moralism where friendships are genuine and the work is fulfilling.

By the movie’s end we are convinced that if every town and neighborhood in America had just one George Bailey we would be freer, safer and more prosperous than we can perhaps imagine. More importantly, we are led irresistibly to the notion that there is a George Bailey in each of us; that each of us can shed our petty recriminations and short-term desires and work together toward a shared goal.

The irony, of course, is that this cinematic vision of American Liberalism was broadcast on NBC, one of the coven of Mr. Potters currently in control of the airwaves. General Electric, the world’s largest company, owns Eighty percent of NBC. Vivendi, the behemoth privatized water conglomerate, owns the other 20 percent. It was former GE CEO Jack Welch who pressured newsroom analysts to call the election in favor of Bush in 2000. This move paid off well; the subsequent War on Terror has been a $2.8 billion-a-year cash cow for GE, which supplies aircraft engines and other military hardware to Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors.

GE uses its sprawling media web, which includes NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, over 60 book publishing firms and more to promote favorable coverage of the Bush administration and to discourage unfavorable coverage of same. Here is an example of NBC marionette Matt Lauer glad-handing right wing ideologue Ann Coulter on NBC’s Today Show. Now here’s an example of Lauer playing hardball with Michael Moore. See the difference? No wonder 70 percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein orchestrated the Sept. 11th attacks.

The unfortunate reality is that Potter’s vision of America has prevailed. Shortsighted, prehensile fascists like Jack Welch outnumber the George Baileys of the world, and this fact is made more painful by the cruel joke of NBC’s Christmas Eve broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Generally speaking, I am opposed to New Year’s resolutions, but here are two that I strongly recommend:

1. Resolve to turn off the fucking television.
2. Resolve to find the George Bailey within you and do something – anything – to promote the true American values of compassion and understanding exemplified by “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Happy New Year.