Some posts online this holiday season recounted the Aphelis website story of how after the end of World War II, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI recruited the arch-selfish individualist protagonist Ayn Rand to evaluate the 1947 Frank Kapra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to evaluate its content for a pro-communist taint.
It helps to explain why the film, for the last 30 years a beloved if schmaltzy staple of the holiday season, was never shown or even mentioned to me for the first thirty or so years of my life. I can get why my dad didn’t want us boys to see “Bambi,” being the deer hunting aficionado he was, but “It’s a Wonderful Life” was something wonderful that was kept completely away from my consciousness, and by extension from my friends and social contexts as well, growing up in Southern California.
By now everyone in American culture knows the story of the film, I am sure. An honest local small-town banker played by Jimmy Stewart is tricked into a run on his bank by an evil “too big to fail” banker, and struggles with his small town clients to stay in business.
Many a small businessman, like myself, can relate to the scene where all the customers are in a line to withdraw all their savings, and Stewart appeals to their collective good will, asking each person one at a time, “J-J-Just tell me how much you need to get through today,” and dolling the cash out bit by bit until he closes the bank doors and is still in business.
Good overtakes evil in this feel-good classic, as the idyllic little upper New York town of Bedford Falls (modeled on Seneca Falls) prevails with the steady hand of the Stewart character to avoid the fate of becoming a “Potterville,” an alternative ending vision of what the town would have become had the heartless big banker, Potter, prevailed. That vision is filled with unemployment, licentiousness and broken lives.
According to Aphelis, here’s what Ayn Rand told the FBI: “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 continuing long enough. The rock that they are trying to split is Americanism.”
“The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Pride of the Marines,” and “Buck Privates Come Home” were among some of the movies also evaluated by this criterion.
In the October 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearings that wound up sending the “Hollywood 10” (Hollywood writers and a director who refused to testify) to jail, Ayn Rand was among those who testified and “It’s a Wonderful Life” was repeatedly called “a Communist picture.”
This was the seed bed for the right wing FBI and CIA cultural paradigm shift that turned America from a generosity of spirit dedicated to the reconstruction of Japan, the Marshall Plan in Europe, the United Nations and the International Declaration of Human Rights to the terrified victims of the Joseph McCarthy witchhunts that proposed Communists were hiding behind every light post.
It wasn’t just the terror, and threats to the careers and of prison to all manner of those in the government and shaping public opinion, it was the way in which the wickedly selfish ideology of Ayn Rand and her ilk became all that was acceptable and worth promoting in the U.S. culture. This is what constituted the pure evil from this era, and the nation has not recovered to this day.
This resulted through the 1950s in a cultural current called “postmodernism,” which has become hegemonic in our culture. Postmodernism in art, philosophy, the social sciences espouses the ultimate atomization of the individual, smashing all notions of what Rand called “Collectivism,” including notions of human bonding and love.