By Larry Teren
It’s A Wonderful Life, the 1946 holiday season classic movie starring Jimmy Stewart, needs to be updated considering the ongoing economic crisis. I see this movie now from a different perspective. For years I watched its annual broadcast on television as a young, wide-eyed, capable of being influenced positive person. I was glad to see that George Bailey, the character played by Stewart, won out against the old man Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore).
In the original version, George takes over his father’s small town savings and loan company when his father prematurely dies. In its best days, it is never a big money maker because it has to compete with Potter’s bank. Potter practically owns the town giving mortgages to half the residents and renting to the other half when he repossesses properties. In fact, Potter is also a shareholder in the savings and loan and wants to take it over and close it down.
It is the typical Hollywood plot of the dashing young man fighting for his rightful place in society at the expense of the stodgy, old curmudgeon. It is quite easy to side with Bailey when you are in your twenties, thirties and even forties. Art parallels life and I can readily think of how tough it was in the 1980’s to establish myself as a viable small business computer consultant. It probably helped that supporting accounting software was such a new field and that most businesses did not have someone to turn to. The doors were open as long as I had referrals. I wasn’t going to succeed in cold calling. Not with my scaredy-cat attitude.
It also seemed that most of my clients’ businesses were run by people who were from an earlier generation that only knew from typewriters and adding machines. They were grateful to work with a younger person who was attuned to the new technology and how to adapt it. Especially one who gave them all the due respect.
Roll forward to the present. For one, there are hardly any savings and loans left. The Federal government made sure of that more than ten years ago. Potter was right- tying a financial institution’s viability to profiting off of mortgage lending is not a good business model. Even George Bailey would see the light today and move his family from Bedford Falls to New York City and try his hand at Wall Street. If that was not in the cards, he’d help build up a social media operation with his down-home, user-friendly, folksy approach.
The other part of this reality check is that now that I am in theory on the other side of the divide, generation-wise, I kind of relate to Mr. Potter and no longer identify with the George Baileys of the world. When I watch old movies such as Meet John Doe, I shake my head at Gary Cooper’s socialist agenda. When watching Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, I shudder when Jimmy Stewart grabs the microphone on the Senate floor and does a filibuster. Shame on him for wasting the taxpayers money because he has to be right and everyone else wrong.
If you catch a pattern here, all three movies were produced and directed by the legendary Frank Capra.He also produced and directed a Pocket Full of Miracles. You get the idea- he was an idealist, a cockeyed optimist who came to this country at a very young age from Italy.
Yes, I’ve become the surly, older guy trying to protect my place in the American breadline from all those fresh-faced idealistic foreigners who come here and want the same opportunity I was given. What a wonderful life.