Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Bailey Park Ruined America

My thoughts on Ross Douthat's WaPo essay on "It's a Wonderful Life" are here. My conclusion, in disagreement with Douthat's mild praise of suburbia qua the American dream:

"As I have written elsewhere about the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the film is actually a tragedy. At its heart is a deep and sad irony: in creating Bailey Park, George Bailey not only emptied Pottersville, but he ultimately destroyed the vibrant small town of Bedford Falls. At the end of that great and instructive film, George Bailey discovers that his accounts are short $8,000 (due to the forgetfulness of dear old Uncle Billy). The movie ends with the moving scene in which hundreds of fellow citizens of Bedford Falls appear in order to offer George even their meager savings to make up the shortfall. “They didn’t ask any questions, George - they heard you were in trouble and asked how they could help,” says Uncle Billy in the midst of the heart-warming financial salvation of George. Yet, one can’t help to think - especially during this coming Christmas season - that part of the film’s perhaps unintended message is that George’s children - growing up in Bailey Park - will not be able to rely upon the help and assistance of extended family and long-standing friends and neighbors who will lend a hand “without asking any questions” because they know you well. Instead, they - like us - will turn to the Government in times of distress, and it is the Government that will give the banks the $8,000, asking instead only that we allow our businesses and bureaucracy alike to grow a bit bigger, to insinuate themselves a bit more deeply in our lives, and to promise us that our own expansion of appetite will be accompanied at every turn by the expansion of “the vast tutelary State” which Tocqueville predicted would come about NOT from traditional motives of oppression, but as a consequence of our disconnection from community and the helplessness induced by our individualism."

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