Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Money and movies

I watched Tony Scott's video review of "It's a Wonderful Life" yesterday. Man, he pulled out all the grimmest bits of the movie. The shots he pulls out made me realize just how desperate George was, just how trapped and unhappy. There's a look on George's face as he's gazing out on one of the streets of Bedford Falls that really conveys that the man is a danger to himself and/or others. (I'm afraid my choices for putting it in this blog were to have it be really, really small or slightly fuzzy; I went for slightly fuzzy.) And so it took just under 5 minutes to get me to cry when you see the end of the movie with the town gathered around helping George out of his dire financial situation.

This film seems pertinent, too, to this day and age because it seems to me that one of the threads throughout "It's a Wonderful Life" is that we are not financially self-sufficient. We need loans, we need money to tide us over, we need help when things go wrong. The money in "It's a Wonderful Life" is a very fluid thing, and the healthy use of money (from the Bailey Savings and Loan) is to help others, while the unhealthy use of money (from Mr. Potter) is entirely focused on helping himself.

There's a podcast I still have to listen to from a Kenyan man who talks about the ethics of aid. I'm curious to hear it. In an introduction to the interview (that I found at The Lead), Krista Tippett, quoting from a book by Paul Theroux, includes this seasonally relevant simile:

Coming back to Uganda, for example, where he had worked for a time in the 1970s, he found everything on the wane despite, as he writes, "the new hospital donated by the Swedes or the Japanese, a new school funded by the Canadians, the Baptist clinic, the flour mill that was signposted 'A Gift of the American People.' These were like inspired Christmas presents, the sort that stop running when the batteries die or that break and aren't fixed. The projects would become wrecks, every one of them, because they carried with them the seeds of their destruction."

Later, "Wainaina [the man interviewed] described the message from the West that aid too often communicates: 'We can save you from yourselves. We can save ourselves from our terrible selves. ... We want to empower you. No, your mother cannot do this. Your government cannot do this. Time cannot do this. Evolution, it seems, cannot do this. ... No one can empower you except us.' The power to help, Binyavanga Wainaina insists, can be as dangerous as 'hard power.'"

Returning to the movie, the Bailey Savings and Loan is still a business, in the business of making money. The work of the Savings and Loan is mutually beneficial--not just for the bank; not just for the borrowers. They need each other, and depend upon each other. I suspect that's one of the problems with foreign aid as it is currently practiced, that one side thinks it is helping the other without considering that it might have any actual need of the other. But I'll know more once I listen to this man's insights.

One other reason why "It's a Wonderful Life" is pertinent for our day and age: it's a reminder that it's not banking per se that is evil, but banking used for evil purposes. A couple of the deadly sins come to mind: greed and envy.

Man, I'm thinking about money a lot! I can understand why Jesus spent so much of his time talking about it; it's strange and powerful stuff!

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