A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rand vs. Capra

I don't know what possessed Joe Carter to compare George Bailey (from It's a Wonderful Life) to Ayn Rand's Howard Roark, but the results are interesting. Go see for yourself.

Part of me would like to ramble about the latent Christianity in It's a Wonderful Life, and about how Christianity is communal rather than hyperindividualistic, and that there might be some level on which Americans still recognize the good of community and are drawn to it. But it's late, and I have to pack for a trip, and I've never read anything by Ayn Rand anything, so I'll just make two quick points about why we think of George Bailey as an Everyman even though most people aren't like him. Then I'll call it a year.

First, I think part of the reason Americans see George Bailey as "everyman" is simply that the film is about a life that is good, though full of failures and dreams never achieved. That's what most of us experience. We don't get to live our dreams. One of my friends expressed this well when she described how frustrating she found the task of buying graduation cards. Most of them were cheezy, sentimental, over the top. Worse was that, in her opinion, many of the cards carried lies: "You can do whatever you want to do! You can be whatever you want to be!" "Follow your heart and you can achieve your dreams!" This simply isn't true. We can't all be the people we want to be, and we can't all do the things we want to do- just ask any would-be author, actor, or artist who now works a nine-to-five job. And yet, for most of us, life goes on even after we learn that our childhood dream of being an astronaut or owning a horse ranch is not going to come true. What's more, life is still good even though our talents are squandered and our ambitions are crushed. I think most viewers "get" that from It's a Wonderful Life, even if they don't get why Bailey's life is so wonderful.

But more importantly, the reason people see George Bailey as Everyman is that he was played by James Stewart. As a successful actor, Stewart was hardly Everyman in real life- but he sure looked like it on the screen. It's not "George Bailey" we resonate towards- it's Stewart's version of George Bailey. There was something about his acting that radiated homey normality, trustability, and a particularly American style of innocence-as-goodness. If you don't believe me, rent Harvey over the holidays and see.


Blogger Geech said...

I haven't read Fountainhead, either, but I didn't think that Joe Carter's analysis of George Bailey was any good. I've never really read Rand so perhaps Carter's working with a different definition of the term than am I, but he seemed rather confused as to what self-interest actually meant.

3:21 AM  
Blogger Geech said...

Here's a different take on Wonderful Life for those who are interested in such things:

3:48 AM  
Blogger La Mama Loca said...

I've read lots of Rand. It was very much - "You must never do anything to help another person (especially financially) or they will take advantage of you." Basically, altruism is wrong because it goes against your own self-interest. I thought Carter was spot-on in that analysis.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Leopoldtulip said...

I've read a bit of Rand too. I think the principle is more, "You should only help someone else if it brings _you_ pleasure"--for example, you support a starving artist because looking at his/her artwork makes _you_ feel good. Of course, in Rand's world, the talented artist will _refuse_ outside help. He's like "l'il' Bruder" on Homestarrunner ("I can make it on my own").

4:54 PM  
Blogger janeeyreish said...

Perhaps the appeal of "George Bailey" as Everyman in "It's a Wonderful Life" is that he is a combination of George Bailey and James Stewart.
When I read Ayn Rand for the first time in college in the 60's, I was very much influenced by and impressed with her philosophy because I was going through an era when it was wrong to want anything for yourself. I finally decided that the beauty of the Christian religion is that Christ did it all, but we aim to better ourselves not at the expense of other people but working together (now I'm sounding sappy, but I did like Ayn Rand).

6:24 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home