Tuesday, January 2, 2007
The holiday season has come to a close, but it's worth reflecting upon, as the New Year begins, one of the most telling images of year-end festivities in the United States. I'm speaking of the near-idolization of single-family homeownership that is applauded in the classic Christmas film from 1946, "It's a Wonderful Life," which has become as important a part of Christmas as conifers in the house and long shopping lines. Where else in American literature is the hero a banker (or rather, the director of a "building and loan"), who is heroic for providing easy mortgage credit to those (immigrants, etc.) who could not have afforded homeownership in other centuries and other cultures, and in financing a middle-class housing development ("Bailey Park" in the movie)? (Although the nightmarish, re-zoned "Pottersville" always looks, to me, like a fun place to spend a weekend.) To me, this film speaks more eloquently than any other work about the fundamental success of the United States -- and its land use and credit laws, of course -- in providing simple happiness to a majority of its citizens.