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June 18, 2013

Emmett Dulaney: We are the Potters

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.

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