• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #350: The Second Day of Christmas: George Bailey


It might be wonderful, but you're still a banker, sucker.

I think we've all got a bit of George Bailey in us. Life rarely pans out the way we thought it might when we were young. We plan to lasso the moon, to get out of Bedford Falls and change the world. But our health, our luck, our commitments lead us to slowly sacrifice our own dreams and take on the obligations of adulthood. We labor at jobs we do not love, thinking all the while of what we're giving up as we age, our dreams growing a little dimmer every day. We see others achieve and accomplish and the worm of envy and regret grow in our hearts, making it harder to cherish the blessings we do have. And many of us have so much to cherish.


George gave it all up to stay home and take over the family business. What he saw as a pride-swallowing, meaningless existence was in fact anything but, as his actions caused ripples throughout his own little community and far beyond. His childhood heroism in rescuing his brother saved countless lives during the war. His daily investment in his neighbors paid dividends in their lives, though he had trouble seeing it. So much of life is like that - there are few big payoffs. Mostly, humanity is a matter of compounding interest. We make tiny deposits every day, and over time these accumulate along with those being made by others. It's how we build communities, a society, a civilization.


In some ways, It's a Wonderful Life was prescient. Potterville has come with a vengeance, with far too many Americans in the grip of eroding prosperity while our hometowns are routinely exploited by the monied interests that place profits above people. It's enough to make any of us walk out on the bridge and take a hard look at the icy river. Instead, the world needs us all to be George Bailey. It needs us all to make those daily investments in one another, seemingly inconsequential, but in the aggregate the most powerful force there is.


A bit of additional history, if you're interested:


In 1947, the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated It's a Wonderful Life as a potential Communist propaganda piece. One would think that this homage to faith, community, and the power of the individual would be a favorite of the flag-pin, objectivist set. Yet it seems Capra had run afoul of a more central commandment: thou shalt not make bankers or the wealthy appear villanous. The FBI memo specifically states, "the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists." (The sources, by the way, included Ayn Rand). The memo went on to state that "this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters."


Reason alone to include it among your favorites.

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