When I was an undergraduate student, I took a film appreciation course for easy credits. One of the films we had to watch was “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I will never forget what I did when that class session was over. Rather than stick around to offer my usual snide witticism to those sitting around me, I high-tailed it out of there and got to a place where no one else was so I could cry my eyes out. I cried for a long time and then walked around on the verge of it for days after.
There aren’t a lot of movies that have made me react to them with anything other than numbness and I’ve wondered every now and then what it was about that one which caused it to have such an effect. There are a number of other films in similar veins – some even with Frank Capra or Jimmy Stewart – and I haven’t responded to them the same. I certainly didn’t like the George Bailey character and that angel has to be one of the most annoying ever created. As best I can tell, my response was just to the final scene where all of these people come together to unconditionally help a business in trouble. With the exception of the evil Mr. Potter, no one wanted anything other than to help George Bailey stay in business. That got to me.
It got to me because it is normative rather than positive: representing the way things should be rather than the way they are. We ought to understand that most businesses exist to fill a need and by filling that need, they make our lives better. We should appreciate that most businesses are the manifestations of individuals who are taking risks. We need to chip in every now and then to help those individuals far more than we do. The last thing we should ever contemplate doing is abusing a situation and taking advantage of them in a time of weakness for nothing more than our own gain.
Sadly, self-interest keeps that movie from ever being a reality. Contrast the scene described from the film with one that actually took place in Anderson six days ago. The pumps at a gas station malfunctioned and caused the price of premium fuel to be one-tenth of what it should actually be. Rather than the kindly townspeople making sure that no one took advantage of this glitch while it was being worked on, the problem was posted on Facebook and lines of “customers” formed. According to an article in The Herald Bulletin, those customers demanded to be given the same price others got and at least one person felt they should be compensated further just for having to wait in line so long.
If “It’s a Wonderful Life” were worried about realism, all of those individuals rushing to the Baileys’ house at the end of the movie would have been doing so to buy the furniture for pennies on the dollar, to look at the office equipment, and to let George know he’d been a fool for taking such risks. There is a little Mr. Potter in all of us.
Emmett Dulaney is an Anderson resident and the author of several books on technology. His column appears Tuesdays.