Is It a Wonderful Life…Without Mary?

Personally, I’ve always felt that there had been too much, boo, hoo, over George!  Mary, whether…’just another housewife’, as we would current day say; kept her shit…and, her family together.

Why the Hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life” Isn’t George Bailey

Eric Teachout | December 20, 2018

Why the Hero of "It's a Wonderful Life" Isn't George Bailey

I think I’m not the only person that cries every time I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The movie pulls our heart strings because we can all relate to George Bailey: man has dreams to see the world and do big things, but is instead given a meager life of service. Many reduce the film’s central message to a dichotomy of  selfishness vs. selflessness, for good or ill. However, it’s not the greedy capitalists or the needs of others that George is struggling against, but something much deeper. Ultimately, George is wrestling with his own destiny, and often in the midst of life’s frustrations, so are we.

I try to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas, and after watching it this year with a friend, we noticed something new. It wasn’t the dramatic change in the protagonist, but the steadiness of his wife: the ever faithful Mary Hatch Bailey.

Now we’ve all been taught—by middle school English teachers and film critics alike—that morally perfect characters are flat and boring. If this is true, then Mary Bailey should hold no sway over our hearts. Throughout the plot, Mary is seemingly flawless; about the only crime she could be said to have committed is breaking a perfectly good record album.

And yet, while it’s George we relate to, we can’t help but find Mary incredibly desirable. She stands iconicly as the devoted wife, and the movie is jam packed with these shining moments of Mary.

Take, for example, their wedding day.

George and Mary scraped together a honeymoon fund of $2,000 to wine and dine and see the world. But, when there is a run on the banks, the beloved Building & Loan is out of money, and George must attempt to dissuade a mob of people thirsty for cash. Beholding such a moment, it would have been perfectly natural for Mary—who insisted that George never get out of the car—to become very upset for the ruined day.

But when faced with crisis, Mary holds up their wad of cash (equivalent to about $35,000 in 2018) and yells to the crowd, “How much do you need?” She doesn’t even blink at the opportunity to rescue her husband and community. Later that night, Mary fixes up the old, rickety Granville house for the honeymoon they will never have.

As the film progresses, George’s ungratefulness only becomes more sharply contrasted with Mary’s devoted-ness. When George reels over the temptation of a lucrative job under Mr. Potter, Mary gleefully announces that she is carrying their first child. George spends his days toiling at Building & Loan and disparaging his beat-up car, but Mary faithfully fixes up the house and raises their children. While George contemplates suicide over the misplaced $8,000, Mary goes on the move and resourcefully mobilizes the town to come to their aid.

Over and over, the film belabors the point that Mary is the better person. Through poverty and obscurity, Mary remains contented, apparently because she got her life wish of marrying George Bailey, despite his feverish restlessness.

The central plot and driving force behind “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t the virtuosity of Mary, but George’s personal transformation. Yet, it is Mary’s incredible devotion that provides the foil for us to see and appreciate that change within George. And insofar as George is a stand-in for ourselves, Mary’s impossible example exists to confront our own ingratitude.

In talking about “It’s a Wonderful Life” with my friend, she pointed out that all of Mary’s actions stemmed from a deep love for George. She lived to please George, but not for her own validation. Instead, she simply did what that love directed her to do. As Mary so prophetically declared as a little girl “George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die.”

As you enter the Christmas week, may you appreciate the film’s message, expressed in its title: No matter what cards life has dealt you or how dark things seem, there is something wonderful in this life that you must hold gratefully.

eric teachout/intellectualtakeout.com

 

 

[Image Credit: Living Dead TV CC BY 2.0]

Emancipate Yourself…Maybe?

When the pain gets too much…We will then do something about it?!

 

How did we arrive at a point in our history where gangs of hecklers chase politicians from restaurants, where senate hearings have lost all decorum, where family members and friends part ways over politics?

Every day brings new examples of incivility and violence. In the last twenty-four hours, I have casually browsed several sites online. Here was a professor advocating castration for white Republicans; celebrities mocking a black singer for praising the President; strangers leaving death threats on the phones of politicians, judges, and their families; anonymous callers phoning in false accusations of rape; some wicked soul mailing the poison ricin to a Republican senator and to officials at the Pentagon.

Only a quarter of a century ago this ongoing malevolence would have shocked most Americans. Sure, conservatives and liberals attacked each other, but those disagreements resemble a dialogue in Plato’s Academy compared to the howls and antics we find in 2018.

Why is this? Here are five possible answers:

1. Technological Advances

Twenty-five years ago, the Internet and cell phones were in their infancy. Twitter was a noise made by sparrows in the yard. These devices are wonderful but allow every bozo with an opinion—including myself—to shoot that opinion into cyberspace instantaneously and often anonymously. From school bullying to Supreme Court nominations, our technology gives us the power to destroy a fellow human being with threats and insults.

2. University Ideology

Remember when many people, liberals and conservatives alike, poked fun at political correctness on campus? Well, those smiles are gone. PC remains rampant in our educational institutions, only now graduates of Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and a few hundred other colleges have injected PC into the world of business and government. In our public universities we have long tolerated professors calling for radical changes to American society. The agents of this transformation are now sitting in boardrooms and on government committees.

3. Historical Ignorance

Google “Americans ignorant about history.” Magazines as different as The AtlanticAmerican Heritage, and National Review feature articles lamenting this lack of knowledge about our past. In 2011, for example, a majority of adults didn’t know that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. Others can’t identify the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, or the reason for celebrating Independence Day.

George Santayana famously remarked, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given the dumbing down of our citizenry regarding history, he may be wrong. Instead of repeating history, we may instead descend into a dystopia we can’t even imagine. Fifty years of steering away from courses in basic civics and denigrating American achievements have produced a bumper crop of malice.

4. Politics as Religion

Many Americans have take politics for their religion, fanatical as any Reformation Calvinists or Catholics. We make gods of our politicians and demons of our opponents and their leaders. We are on the side of the angels and they conspire with devils.

5. Washington D.C.

“Follow the money” is a journalistic axiom. Okay. Let’s follow some money. Of the 25 richest counties in the United States, 11 are located in the area surrounding DC. The city also hosts administrators and employees of government, think tanks, lobbying groups, and private businesses involved in federal endeavors.

In other words, the scorpion bottle of our animosities is not in Boise, nor in Austin, nor in Minneapolis, it’s in D.C.

These and more are reasons for our division, what some have called a “cold civil war.”

I can’t offer any grand solutions. But I can think of a small one. If we would just talk to each other and ask each other questions, person-to-person, without all the cacophony of the mainstream media and the politicians, if we could agree to disagree and then vote, then maybe we could find our way back to a country we can love.

Jeff Minick/Intellectual Takeout

My personal opinion?

Perhaps…we are tired of each other!  We’ve so long among our own insecurities, limitations, bigotry, family trees…We have just had enough!  But even as Bob Marley says,

Emancipate yourself from inner slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…

Have no fear for atomic energy, ’cause none of them can stop the time!

 

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