THAT WHICH IS SUBVERSIVE
One of the most subversive works in film history wears a disguise. It dresses up on Christmastime as sentimental pap, full of old cheer for the old days, sweet and safe as a Sunday sermon.
All the while it teems with despair, death, greed, corruption, brutality, prejudice, suicide, and dreams endlessly deferred.
The film is It’s A Wonderful Life
and much like Mark Twain’s masterful Huckleberry Finn
, it can be read as quaint family entertainment or a funny, poignant and bracing cultural critique that examines the struggle to be human in an unjust world.
It’s an absolutely marvelous work of art.
What makes it subversive? It’s A Wonderful Life
grew out of certain American films from the 1930s that represented unfettered capitalism as a spiritually destructive force, at odds with the deepest principles of brotherhood and social justice. Made during the depression, these films portrayed the vast gulf between the rich and the poor, and the struggle of marginalized people to maintain dignity amid a dehumanizing culture.
Frank Capra directed various masterpieces in this tradition (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lady For a Day, Meet John Doe
, etc.). But It's A Wonderful Life
came later, after WWII, and this made its message even more challenging. Hadn’t we fought a war for democracy? Wasn’t everything just fine?
Well, maybe. The studio released this film as a bundle of joy. You can see in its posters
the emphasis on the glorious romance and the ceaseless joy of living. The shadows and tensions of the film were nowhere to be found in its promotion. Everything was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
But the FBI thought otherwise. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover investigated
the film’s subversive and communistic impulses. The damning portrayal of the capitalist Potter was considered suspicious; so too the film’s depiction of George Bailey with its triumph of the common man.
Potter sees the people of the community in terms of class and ethnicity (he ridicules a lowly cab driver and calls the Italians “garlic eaters”). They’re merely “chumps,” objects ripe for financial exploitation.
Bailey sees them as human souls. The FBI’s suspicions were right on the mark.
The radicalism of It’s A Wonderful Life
springs from its humanity. As played with dizzy magnificence by Jimmy Stewart, Bailey possesses a riveting life force. We feel the power of his wanderlust, his burning desire to travel, to explore, to become anything he dares to be.
But this same openness to the universe also translates into a heightened sensitivity toward the needs of those around him. He is trapped by his own heart. To follow the ambition of his ego is to break with his secret bond to the welfare of others. This he will not do.
His actions take the shape of sacrifice. It’s not overdone – there’s no blood, no speeches, no one gets up on a cross – a price is paid, simply, quietly, continually, just below the surface of waking life. There are countless George Baileys around the world, isolated and anonymous, invisibly bending desire’s trajectory in daily deference to the life of a father, a friend, a child, a dog. It is a profoundly human experiment. It doesn’t make the magazines and it’s not on YouTube. Such people invent their own value and follow their own inner guide. They live without praise. They are utterly subversive in the face of political and economic dictates.
All the while, the unmet desire remains a wound that burns. Late in the film, George Bailey finds himself on a journey through the hallucinogenic night of a lost world stripped of human tenderness. Only then can he return to his own universe with eyes that can see. Suddenly the sacrifice is no longer sacrifice. The traumas no longer traumas. He walks anew through his front door with a revelation banks and business cannot possess.
back to the top
WAIT FOR REVELATION!
Meanwhile remain absolutely passive.
"It is a terrible thing to order the use of something that (here he looked down at his desk, rather reflectively) that is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had. You have got to understand that this isn't a military weapon. (I shall never forget this particular expression). It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses."
(Harry Truman, 33rd President, discussing the atomic bomb in July of 1948, as recalled by David Lilienthal, then Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.)
On the Farm
Another short video
from Charlie Leduff. Check out the brief, but memorable, portrait of a kid out in the plains.
Fashion in the Modern World
Everyone knows how hard it is to stay stylish when you put on your bullet-proof armor. Thank God then for the genius of Miguel Cabballero whose expanding line of protective fashion (all based in Bogota, Columbia, naturally) has really made our lives more splendiferous.
Go here to see his collection
, here for a good article
, here for a video
. Now if there was just a stylish way to accessorize my sawed off shotgun...
Are You An Art Lover?
Hidden among the occult signals of TV broadcasting, you may find glimpses of pure truth revealing the essence of our culture in one fell swoop. Click here
to witness such a sacred moment.
Our Beloved Icons
We've got the best damn religion that money can buy. But some folks don't know glory when they see it. Click to see David Sotar's Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols
Only What Will Seem So
“What I have actually heard about this, Socrates, my friend, is that it is not necessary for the intending orator to learn what is really just, but only what will seem just to the crowd who will act as judges. Nor again what is really good or noble, but only what will seem so. For that is what persuasion proceeds from,
(Phaedrus by Plato, 360 B.C.E.)
PARIS BEGINS IT ALL
banksy, hilton, celebrity, fakery, guerilla art, profound vacancy, destroy
UPON TAKING THE PHOTOGRAPHS BACK OUT
blue, blue, blue, blue sky, september 11th
WE AS HUMANS
robots, camel racing, child slaves, starvation, sport, robot jockeys, sheikhs
THE HUMAN FORM DIVINE
william blake, leduff, storyteller, detroit, charon, body snatcher, 14 bucks
THAT WHICH OFFENDS
michael dickinson, rude, madman, torture, eggs, bush, photomontage
LIBERTY OR DEATH
patrick henry, gabriel, slaves, rebellion, how awkward, freedom, death
CHILDREN'S GUIDE TO TERRORISM archie campbell,
warning to children, arabian, delight
THE GLORY OF ART
warhol, commodity, south africa, death and water, creativity, merry-go-round
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
mughal emperor, saira wasim, pakistan, buffoon, boys, politics, missiles
AS IF WE COUNT
obvious & obscene, the dead unheard, civilian toll, counting, who? who?
THE MARVEL OF THE TASER
glorious invention, small problems, library, confronting brutality
THE FACE OF HUMANITY
glory, mars, civilization, human marvel, sacred image, timeless message
BEHOLD THE LIGHT
thomas kinkade, serenity, inoffensive images, million dollar industry, kitsch, piss
THAT WHICH IS REPEATED
hiroshima, debate, civilians, annihilation, history class, patriotism, bomb drop
GESTURE, MOVEMENT, ACTION body, signal, raw, performance art, action, motive, irrational event
THAT WHICH IS SUBVERSIVE radical, souls & chumps, FBI, Jimmy Stewart, secret bond, lost world, human value
THE SPORTING LIFE
noble tradition, child abuse, nuisance, something good, mighty princes
WHOLE LOT SAFER
mission accomplished, dead Saddam, bad people, vigilance, rutabaga!
THAT WHICH DOESN'T EXIST madmen, pieta, diego rivera, rockefeller, lenin, robot beggar, erasure
GIFTS FROM THE GODS Limbaugh, healing words, incredible offer, angels, commies, warrior, O'Reilly
ART AND THE TOILET advertising, fantastic tale, soft and superior, Mona Lisa, civilized ass
WHEN RODNEY KING MADE A SPEECH brutal beating, riot, ignorance, eloquence, ridicule, we're all stuck
BURDEN OF IMAGES
Lee Miller, fashion, photographer, war, annihilation, cooking
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND hiding war images, civilian death, military coffin, surreal, shaming
THAT WHICH BLIGHTS THE CITY contamination, public work, illegal art, madman's ravings, abomination
WRITER AS HERO
Mr. Vonnegut has left
the room and may not
be back shortly
THAT WHICH ENTERTAINS
torture, Battle of Algiers, dark ages, filmmaker, 24, agony and amusement
THE MEASURE OF WOMEN
body, size, control, fear, engineering, dolls, violence, war, length of history
THE WALLS OF THE WORLD
creatures, murals, opening skins, struggle, dream, dolls, violence, Blu
THE MOST POSITIVE MAN IN THE WORLD boy, war, hunger, trek, fear, lions, art, new world, Awer Bul
VISION OF THE DIVINE
dark mysteries, dream visions, avatar, courage, clarity, guiding muse
THE NEXT GREAT SPECIES
changing planet, chemicals, consumption, cell phone, kingdom of the cockroach
oil industry, cataclysm, transformation, new fuel, janitor, bright future
GO FUCK YOURSELF MR. CHENEY crucial message, Dr. Marble, decency, FCC, boobies, achievement
THE DAILY DRIVE
Iraq, checkpoints, panic, broken, familiar, tedium, fear, mistakes, humor
THE COMPASSIONATE SOUL caring Americans, injustice, Mother Teresa, women, benefactor
WONDERFUL ANIMATION FOR AMERICAN CHILDREN terror, animation, evil, souls, patriot, inspiring
AS IF HUMAN
Hirst, skull, profit, homeless, Eqbal, dignity, portraits, street stories,
OUR FRIEND IS DEAD
stopping to move forward, endless mystery, foolishness & wisdom
THE OLD DOG BEGINS TO BITE Botero, enormous, mythic, Columbia, pleasant, murder, prison, memory
OUR STRANGE DREAMS aching manifestations, desires, justice, brazen truth, book 'em Danno
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW future glory, lightning from heaven, eternal trust, always with you
THE MAN WHO MADE THE MOUSETRAP machine gun, invention, Hiram Maxim, knighthood, thanks!
THE GIFT OF THE HEART AK-47, Valentine, sweet Kalashnikov, sacred and cheap, kiss, true love
OUR TWILIGHT ZONE
Saudi Executioner, TV talk show, insanity, modesty, brain matter, normal
THAT WHICH IS FASHIONABLE stylish, taser, objet d'art, writhing, music, pain, beauty, failure
BEHOLD THE MAN prison torture interview etchings stories catastrophe shame complicity
THE NEW WORLD garbage Texas dead zone plastics poison nature survival fittest nature!
EXCLUSIVE ADS FROM MCCAIN CAMPAIGN! Britney Hitler Lenin Manson Farrakhan Satan
THE DREAM DEPICTED Guernica decimation dream of flight aerial slaughter civilized incineration