Friday, December 19, 2008

Classic Holiday Essay: Why Pottersville is better than Bedford Falls

In an instant classic essay in today's New York Times, Wendell Jamieson, clearly a lover of "It's A Wonderful Life," makes the hilarious (and perhaps accurate) case that the hated Pottersville would actually be a more vibrant town today than Bedford Falls.

Jamieson first relates how initially felt about Beford Falls and Pottersville when he first saw the movie as a teen-ager.

Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.

Then Jamieson gets into the economics -- noting that the economic base of manufacturing that Jimmy Stewart famously promoted probably would have been outsourced while the gambling of houses of Lionel Barrymore's Potter would be thriving today.

Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.

On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.

I checked my theory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, and he agreed, pointing out that, of all the upstate counties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.

“The reason is that it is a resort, and it has built an economy around that,” he said. “Meanwhile the great industrial cities have declined terrifically. Look at Connecticut: where is the growth? It’s in casinos; they are constantly expanding.”

In New York, Mr. Moss added, Gov. David A. Paterson “is under enormous pressure to allow gambling upstate because of the economic problems.”

“We ease up on our lot of cultural behaviors in a depression,” he said.

What a grim thought: Had George Bailey never been born, the people in his town might very well be better off today.

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