Monday, December 12, 2016

It's A Wonderful Life -- Or Is It?

I'll bet a good many of us will find time between now and the end of the year to watch at least a couple of the "holiday classics" such as It's A Wonderful Life.   But how many of us will take the time to reflect on what that movie says to us in today's terms.

The problem with the movie is that there are so many important messages that it's hard to know where to start.  Having faith, never giving up, being generous instead of greedy and not always focusing on material things for happiness are the obvious starters.  Those are mostly individual things, of course, but are there important lessons for us collectively?  I think so.

Jardin du Soliel Lavender Farm, Washington
Canon EOS 7D, 24-105mm

Just for starters let's examine the benefit to society of a strong middle class.  Because the Bailey Building and Loan made it possible for average working people in the community to afford quality housing they prospered.  The money spent and saved helped others in the community to also enjoy a positive, middle-class lifestyle.  Although Mr. Potter is viewed as the villain that he is he is a villain because of greed.  

Profit is not a dirty word.  Businesses must make a profit to survive and for employees and survivors to flourish as well.  But in today's business world profits are not only required but must be maximized which often means that the "one percent" does well but not many others.  This may not be so troublesome in very good times but when those times are up it's feast or famine.

While we feel warm fuzzies over It's A Wonderful Life I suspect we overlook the post-Depression recognition that the key to a healthy economy and society is a strong middle class.  When Main Street and Elm Street prosper Wall Street should prosper, too.  But today too much emphasis is placed on Wall Street and the phrase "everything in moderation" is usually assigned to caloric intake.

Mount Saint Helen's, Washington
Canon EOS 7D, 24-105mm
Where our political and economic policies fail us is that they don't emphasize the value of a strong middle class which sustains both the rich and the indigent.  The postwar economic boom proved this.  So did FDR's New Deal.  Putting people to work improving our infrastructure brought the nation out of economic crisis and taught us -- or at least should have taught us -- that paychecks are better than welfare checks.

Supporting a strong and growing middle class isn't a handout or charity.  It's an investment that produces substantial returns.

Making A Good Point Without Rubbing It In Your Face

Bison, Yellowstone National Park
Canon 40D, 500mm 1.4x

CBS did the nation a favor Sunday night -- showing two colorized episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Most of us have either forgotten or never knew what it was like to have a television program make a point in troubled times without being graphic, tacky or beating you over the head.

Rewind to 1963, one year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.  The cutting edge comedy show then was Dick Van Dyke's in which the iconic actor and a newbie named Mary Tyler Moore played Rob and Laura Petrie, suburban white dwellers in suburban New Rochelle.  Rob was a writer for a fictional comedy show starring Carl Reiner.  Laura was a suburban housewife who while young and attractive had a mind of her own.

In this particular episode Rob was recalling coming home from the hospital with Laura and newborn son Richie.  The show starts off with Rob being weighted down by all the gifts and paperwork to bring home from the hospital, some of which was meant for another couple.  This was in good humor until Rob begins freaking out over the possibility that maybe the hospital goofed and sent them home someone else's son.

Slapstick turns to paranoia as Rob increasingly adopts a marginally plausible theory of how this could have happened culminating in a telephone conversation with the other dad, a Mr. Peters who also lives in New Rochelle.  Rob begins to lay out his mixup theory and Mr. Peters says that he's nearby and will be there in a few minutes.

The doorbell rings.  Moments later Rob and Laura and welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Peters, a well-dressed affluent young black couple, into their home.  The conflict is, of course, immediately resolved but our lesson doesn't stop there.  Mr. Peters tells Rob that he didn't disclose the dispositive truth over the phone because he wanted to see Rob's reaction.  They do the 1963 equivalent of a fist bump and amicably part ways.  There's more.

The program ends with Rob telling his friends that Richie and the Peters boy are classmates and while Richie isn't the brightest student in the school the Peters boy aces everything.

Wow  In the space of a minute or two we've had a bushel of bricks dumped on us and never felt any pain.  The anxiety was felt by Reiner and the writers because CBS didn't want to go there but they convinced the network that if the studio audience liked it the scene would stay in.  The audience did.

53 years ago we didn't see blacks being treated as equals on television and here we have not only a couple that rival the Petries but also the black husband got the last laugh.  Actually, two because we also had a black child attending a suburban school where he's the head of the class.  There were no lectures, graphic videos, guilt trips, intimidation ploys or whatever.  Just some ingenious writing with a message that could be just as viable today.

Ah, but now there would have to be something ugly, salacious, indecent or profane for television to pay it attention.  They would have to rub our noses in it.  Some people would find it offensive enough to tune it out or else dissociate because they cannot relate.  Our consciences wouldn't be so engaged.  Nor our minds.

It isn't always easy to get people to think -- or do -- the right thing,  But it's easier when they feel good about thinking and/or doing it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Come back to the Smokies

Foothills Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Canon EOS 1D Mark II, 70-200mm

It's hard for any of us with a connection to "the Smokies" to not feel a sense of pain, loss and grief over the horrendous wildfires which so far have claimed at least 13 lives and destroyed 1,000 or more homes and buildings in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area.  The destruction is wide and deep.  Many people literally escaped with the clothes on their back.  It is a tragedy so enormous that it's hard to fully grasp.

But in the depths of this tragedy there is resilience and perseverance.  You see it in the firefighters who have refused to go home and rest, instead catching a few hours of sleep on the pavement so that they can continue to try to save what can be saved.  You see it in the people who have already committed to rebuilding their homes and businesses.  You see it in the folks who are helping each other, including Dolly Parton's offer of $1,000 a month for up to six months for people who've lost their homes and belongings.

Mountain folk are like that.  Strong.  Resilient.  They've known hardships and have persevered.  They will likely bury the dead, heal the injured and persevere.  God bless them in this.  But they can't do it alone.  They need us.

Obviously they need us to help support the organizations bringing relief to those affected by the fires. They need us to stay away while the rescue personnel are doing their jobs so we don't get in the way.  But then they need us to come back.  

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains intact.  So does the core of downtown Gatlinburg.  Dollywood is reopening.  Townsend escaped the wildfires.  The worst thing we can do for ourselves and for the people of the area is to be reluctant to come back.  The mountains are still there.  They will call us in the spring to see the renewal of life.  There will still be deer shedding their winter coats in Cades Cove.  The dogwood will bloom again along the rivers and streams.  And even at some point the "touristy tacky" parts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge will again compete with Wisconsin Dells for the crown of "ugliest city in America."

Tourism -- that's us -- is the economic engine of the Smokies.  When it's safe to return, we should. Getting life back to normal as quickly as possible will be the greatest help in healing those who are hurting.  They need us.  So come spring let's make it a point to come back.  Yes, it may be a little difficult at times to avoid focusing on what was destroyed but then we should -- and must -- turn our attention to what remains and what is is being renewed as it always has been and will be.  Have faith and all will go well.

Little River, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Canon 40D, 24-105mm