Monday, October 4, 2010

It's (Not) a Wonderful Life

I'm old enough to remember when the movie shown anywhere and everywhere during the Christmas TV movie season was Capra's It's a Wonderful Life rather than the current fave, Shepherd's A Christmas Story. Even from a very young age, I came to dread the coming of the holiday season because of how frequently Capra's story was shown. Oddly enough, I'm still able to sit through the Turner Network's various marathon's of Shepherd's story.

I think part of why I always dreaded the inevitable showings of It's a Wonderful Life was that I took a completely different message from it than the one that everyone around me did. While many people simply grew tired of it from overexposure, they all seemed to take a positive message from it. Me? Not so much.

The message that It's a Wonderful Life seems to try to convey, at least as I interpret from the reactions of those around me, is that we're all unique and important; that we all make more important and positive impacts on our worlds than each of us may realize. And, well, I get that that may be the case. I get that each of us is frequently unaware or not fully aware of the impacts our lives have on others. I get that some, many or all of those unfelt/unnoticed impacts may be positive ones. There's also the not-so-subtle message that suicide, or even just the wish to have never existed, is "selfish". I don't know so much that I simply disagree with this view or don't care about it being selfish.

We're all selfish. In the end, everything we seek to do benefits us, in one form or another. Even "completely selfless" charity, isn't. Why? Because, even if, objectively, you receive no benefit or, indeed, cause yourself genuine hardship to accomplish it, you're still benefiting in some way. At the very least, you feel good about having done something. Yeah, you can't really put an objective pricetag on that good feeling, but, it may be worth more to the do-gooder than anything more tangible that they might receive for any other action they undertake. So, no, nothing's "selfless".

What's worse, to me, about the message of It's a Wonderful Life is that it tries to substitute others' selfishness for that of the protagonist. It tries to convince the protagonist that, without him, many other people - indeed, an entire town - would have been worse off. The message most people take away from it is "you should cherish your life because you're really important to the world." whereas, the message I take from it is one of being told, "you should live because, without you, my life would be less/worse." The message I take from it is is that your selfishness is worth more than mine is.

Other than because your selfishness is yours, in the end, why should it be more important than mine? Ultimately, why should I really give a flying fuck? Why shouldn't my selfishness be more important to me than anyone else's?

I admit, however, that, for a long time I've bought into the selfishness of others being more important than my own. Indeed, much of the life I've constructed has been geared towards ensuring that the needs of others outweigh my own. I've taken on obligations to anchor me. I've made it so that I can't, in good conscience (who knew I had one of those?), just disappear (either from my current life or the face of the earth) without there being repercussions for others. I took on a house. I took on pets. I took on a wife. Had the stars aligned, I'd probably even have taken on children.

Perhaps that they didn't align should be taken as a sign that it was a stupid strategy. I should take it as a sign of the Universe saying, "you need to come up with better crutches than that."

Perhaps I do need a better crutch. Or, perhaps, I need to just stop trying to anchor myself. Perhaps I need to let my underlying selfishness just shine fully through.

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