David B.




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December 25, 2008

It’s a Wonderful Life, Or It Could Be


‘Tis the season for the cable television networks to dust off the hoary old seasonal chestnuts they’ve kept under lock and key for the last 360-odd days and treat what’s left of America to another round of “heartwarming” and “affirmative” testaments to innate American “virtue.”


Each year of vapidity, gluttony and greed concludes with yet another Miracle On 34th Street, another digitally colorized absolution for the preceding year’s excess, venality and waste. For a day or two, we all pretend to buy into that humility, charity and brotherhood of man crap until its time to shovel our brats into the SUV and head off to the after-Christmas clearance sales, or scurry back to the office to preside over the next round of downsizings and layoffs, and the annual cycle begins again. AMC, TCM and the others unite in a festive holiday chorus to proclaim that See, we’re not so bad; underneath our craven capitalist, militarist exteriors lurk hearts of 14-carat gold – even if it takes an electron microscope to find them.


Imagine what the spectacle must look like to the typical resident of Guinea, Swaziland or Burkina-Faso, to choose three random examples. Each year, the nation that gluttonously sucks down the lion’s share of global natural resources, the nation that has most recently presided over the extermination of roughly one million Iraqis for no particular reason, settles itself in for a merry succession of narcissistic, self-worshipful holiday films as its denizens ply one another with gifts of cheap Chinese-made crap gadgetry while professing adorations for a savior whose teachings on charity, poverty, humility, compassion, peace and tolerance not only play no part whatever in their day-to-day conduct but are dismissed as socialistic or subversive by the majority of the populace.


Zany, huh?


Serious self-analysis has never been America’s strong suit, and in the post-1930 era of universally accessible corporate-controlled broadcast media, it has proven impossible for all practical purposes. Whatever impulse towards kindness, decency, or conscience lurks within the souls of individual American citizens, it cannot hope to compete with the ubiquitous, all-engulfing meta message extolling consumption and militarism, which have swirled around them unceasingly for the last several generations.


There is nothing uniquely or innately evil, blind or malignant about individual Americans, any more than there is about residents of any other corner of the world. But like all human beings, we are subject to external shaping and influence, and in the history of humankind there has been no more pervasive and effective molder of human consciousness than the American corporate/state/military mass communications apparatus.


Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life posited the possible consequences if certain key elements – namely the existence of the ever-virtuous George Bailey – were absent from a community. Based on this premise, it is worth asking what sort of people we would be had the Mr. Potterish elements been expunged from our midst. What if there had never, ever been an ABC, NBC or CBS? What if there simply had never been a ubiquitous national mass communications network, let alone one controlled by interests whose agenda consisted solely of the sale of products and ideologies?


What if, for the last 80 years, we had continued to receive our formative news, opinions and ideas from our neighbors over the garden gate, rather than through a controlled, constricted and programmed electronic apparatus? What if the American Community had consisted of ourselves existing in relation to our immediate friends, coworkers and neighbors, with the same interdependencies that had formed the substance of human societies since the beginning of time up until that point? What would we have become?


Would we really have evolved into a nation of gluttonous, warmongering, mall-shopping, Survivor-watching automata, or might we have amounted to something more? Force-fed a diet of 24-hour “news,” vapid visual titillation and popular discourse in which every single syllable is a lie, we will never know.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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