One of the fascinating dynamics of 20th century American history is the determined, generations-long effort to change its nature — but discussion of this is often considered off-limits. The most obvious forecasts of consequences ot public policy changes are derided as “slippery slope” arguments (although why this is even considered a rebuttal eludes me). Clear statements of beliefs and intent are dismissed as just theory or (even better) just kidding.
Every week’s media gives its crop of examples. Here are a few, topical for the season.
“Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life“, Wendell Jamison, New York Times, 18 December 2008
“All hail Pottersville!“, Gary Kamiya, Salon, 22 December 2001 — “The ‘bad’ town in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ jumps and jives 24/7 with hot bars and cool chicks — while ‘wholesome’ Bedford Falls is a claustrophobic snooze.”
Both strike similar notes. Here’s an excerpt from the first.
In Capra’s Tale of Two Cities, Pottersville is the Bad Place. It’s the demonic foil to Bedford Falls, the sweet, Norman Rockwell-like town in which George grows up. Named after the evil Mr. Potter, Pottersville is the setting for George’s brief, nightmarish trip through a world in which he never existed. In that alternative universe, Potter has triumphed, and we are intended to shudder in horror at the sinful city he has spawned — a kind of combo pack of Sodom, Gomorrah, Times Square in 1972, Tokyo’s hostess district, San Francisco’s Barbary Coast ca. 1884 and one of those demon-infested burgs dimly visible in the background of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
There’s just one problem: Pottersville rocks!
Pottersville makes its brief but memorable appearance during that tumultuous scene when George, who has just been bounced from Nick’s Bar and is beginning to seriously freak out, rushes down the main street. A large neon sign — the first of many — announces “Pottersville.” As sirens sound in the distance and a big band wails jazz, George staggers on, into an unfamiliar nightlife district that has replaced the town he knew. In a rapid montage, we see a neon bar sign saying “Blue Moon.” Another announces “Fights.” Yet another blaring “Midnight Club — Dancing.” There’s a pool and billiards joint and a pawnbroker shop. A large marquee announces “Girls Girls Girls — 20 gorgeous girls — 3 acts.” The “Indian Club” gaudily sports a kitschy neon sign depicting the face of a brave. The “Bamboo Room” promises a more Oriental setting. As the disbelieving George stares at the teeming entrance of the “Dime a Dance” joint (“Welcome jitterbuggers”), a scuffle breaks out — some floozy is resisting being thrown into the paddy wagon. “I know every big shot in this town!” she shrieks as the gendarmes manhandle her. In horror, George recognizes the floozy — it’s Violet, the town flirt from his previous existence, now apparently turned full-fledged professional. After his protests almost land him in the pokey too, he stumbles off in shock and grabs a taxi.
George’s confusion, even dismay, is understandable — it’s always a shock when the laws of space and time cease to apply. But if he’d hung out for a while, had a few drinks in the Indian Club, dropped a couple dimes in the dance hall, maybe checked out the action at the burlesque, he would have gotten a whole new take on the situation. Pottersville has its problems — its bartenders can be undeniably ill-humored, for example — but compared to the snooze-inducing Bedford Falls, it jumps. In the immortal words of Jeffrey “Janet Malcolm” Masson, it’s a place of “sex, women, fun.”
The gauzy Currier-and-Ives veil Capra drapes over Bedford Falls has prevented viewers from grasping what a tiresome and, frankly, toxic environment it is. When Marx penned his immortal words about “the idiocy of rural life,” he probably had Bedford Falls in mind. B.F. is the kind of claustrophobic, undersized burg where everybody knows where you’re going and what you’re doing at all times. If you’re a Norman Rockwell collector, this might not bother you, but it should — and it certainly bothered George Bailey. It is all too easily forgotten that George himself wanted nothing more than to shake the dust of that two-bit town off his feet — and he would have, too, if he hadn’t gotten waylaid by a massive load of family-business guilt and a happy ending engineered by God himself.
We see the author’s view of women at work in these review. Mary (Donna Reed) is an “”oppressively perfect wife” in Bedford Falls, while “rocking” Pottersville has hot women, like dime dancer and prostitute Violet (Gloria Grahame) — a “professional” to Kamiya (go girl!).
Folks like the authors of these two articles fight to mold America to match their vision. Will those who have different visions fight as strongly?
If so, who will win?
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Posts about the American spirit, the American soul:
- Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
- Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- A philosphical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
- The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
- We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
- The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008
- Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture, 5 November 2008
- The corruption of a nation is usually hidden, but sometimes becomes visible, 21 November 2008