it’s a wonderful communist life

Here are some True Things about people who are frightened. 1) They see threats everywhere. 2) They see threats even if they don’t exist. 3) They prefer imaginary threats over actual threats, 4) They will ignore actual threats in order to focus on imaginary ones. 5) They will take dramatic steps to defend themselves against imaginary threats, while avoiding taking sensible steps to defend against actual threats. 6) Their fears make them vulnerable to authoritarian leaders.

In the mid-to-late 1940s, Americans were frightened by communism. They weren’t scared of actual communism, which is a socio-economic philosophy grounded in the idea that the people who actually produce stuff should have reasonable access to the tools they use to produce that stuff and a fair share in the stuff they’ve produced. They were scared of the Soviet Union (and to a lesser extent, communist China), which presented an interpretation of communism as a single-party authoritarian government ruled by ideologues instead of elected leaders.

This was the political equivalent of assuming the Spanish Inquisition represented all of Christianity. There’s good reason to be afraid of the Spanish Inquisition; Christianity as it was originally created is pretty harmless.

“Daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings a communist gets to steal a banker’s wings.”
“That’s right, Zuzu, that’s right. Attaboy, Karl Marx!”

But back in the 1940s and 50s, a LOT of people were scared of what they believed was communism. They saw communists everywhere; they saw the supposed influence of communism everywhere; they were told that a cadre of dedicated communists were actively infiltrating every aspect of American life in a wily attempt to destroy everything decent. Including movies.

In 1947, the FBI produced a massive 13,000-page report (no, that’s not a typo, it was seriously more than thirteen thousand pages long) called Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry. It included this:

The purpose of the Communists in Hollywood is not the production of political movies openly advocating Communism. Their purpose is to corrupt non-political movies — by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories and to make people absorb the basic principles of Collectivism by indirection and implication. Few people would take Communism straight, but a constant stream of hints, lines, touches and suggestions battering the public from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if continued long enough. The rock that they are trying to split is Americanism.

One example of communist infiltration provided by the FBI provided was the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The screenwriters (Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett), according to the FBI

“were very close to known Communists and on occasion in the recent past while these two writers were doing a picture for MGM, Goodrich and Hackett practically lived with known Communists and were observed eating luncheon daily with such Communists as Lester Cole and Earl Robinson.
With regard to the picture, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [name redacted] stated in substance that 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.
In addition, [name redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [name redacted] related that if he had made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiners in connection making loans. Further, [name redacted] stated that the scene wouldn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown.
In summary, [name redacted] stated it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way.”

So, It’s a Wonderful Life was seen by some people as communist propaganda because it was mean to bankers. It’s an incredibly twisted way to view that movie.

“What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty, working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.”

But we can apply that same anxious, apprehensive worldview to almost anything modern conservatives fear. Firearm safety, drag queens, Ukraine independence, people of color, COVID regulations, trans kids in high school sports, Hunter Biden, immigrants, independent women. They’re not really afraid of the reality of these things; they’re afraid of some weird, twisted interpretation of these things. They see any depiction of these things in popular media as an attempt to destroy the American Way of Life.

In reality, these things actually represent the American Way of Life. They’re a big part of what makes life wonderful.

Let me return to my original point. People who are afraid see threats everywhere, even if they don’t exist; they prefer these imaginary threats over actual threats, which they’ll ignore in order to focus on the imaginary ones; they’ll take dramatic steps to defend themselves against imaginary threats but avoid taking sensible steps to defend against actual threats. This makes them vulnerable to authoritarian leaders. This is the MAGA-verse in a nutshell.

Let’s listen to that glorious commie, George Bailey, refute that perspective.

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about…they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

You want a wonderful life? Stand up to Mr. Potter. Every time a bell rings, a drag queen sings a show tune. A person of color is elected. A firearm safety law is enacted. A trans kid in high school competes in a swim meet. Ukraine gets heat. A person with a compromised immune system can go shopping. An immigrant gets a green card. An editor ignores a Hunter Biden conspiracy theory. A woman can walk home at night in safety (with her hands in the pockets of her pants).

8 thoughts on “it’s a wonderful communist life

  1. I did not know It’s a Wonderful Life was considered Communist propaganda. I see every film produced today in the US as deep state propaganda where one top gun beats up the rest of the world. I have wondered why John Wayne’s machine gun never runs out of ammunition. Have a Merry Christmas celebrating the socialist born in ancient Palestine to Jewish parents.

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    • There’s no doubt that the US entertainment industry has created a media hegemony, but it’s important to acknowledge that it cuts both ways. Yes, action movies tend to glorify conservative values. But we can’t ignore the fact that the US media hegemony has also contributed to normalizing LGBTQ relationships, reducing racial hatred, making folks aware of the dangers of climate change, and a lot of other lefty liberal concerns.

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  2. “(with her hands in the pockets of her pants).”

    Pockets?? That’s just CRAZY talk! My wife once saw some nice looking pants on the rack once when we were shopping. “OOh, they have pockets!”

    They did not have pockets. The “pockets” were a cruel lie, it was just some trim on them to make it LOOK like they had pockets.

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  3. Ayn Rand left Russia because she hated how the Communists treated her and her family. She tried to break into Hollywood as a screenwriter, but that’s tough for anyone, especially someone with a thick accent and no connections. But it never occurred to her that it might be hard. She thought they would put her right to work, and when it didn’t happen, complained to friends that the “pinkos” in Hollywood were sabotaging her career. She finally made it, and when the HUAC hearings started, she was a “friendly witness” testifying that her colleagues were slipping Commie messages into films. She wanted to testify that “The Best Years of Our Lives” was a terrible, subversive film, but they ran out of time and she testified on other stuff. Like the FBI document you mentioned, she couldn’t point to any real Communist propaganda, so she just insisted it was too subtle for anyone to notice.

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    • I know very little about Ayn Rand, I’m afraid. I tried reading ‘The Fountainhead’ years ago, and found it too dull to finish. I am familiar with HUAC and McCarthy, though, and the Congressional assault on Hollywood and the publishing industry. It was an ugly period — and I’m afraid the House is going to revive that sort of performative ugliness over the next two years.

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