There are a few seminal American movies that I've made a (non-)tradition of never seeing: E.T., Forest Gump, Platoon, High Noon and It's a Wonderful Life. It's sort of fun to not have seen something that everyone else has. However, I possibly brought a curse upon me and my kin by finally watching Frank Capra's Christmas classic last Saturday at the Egyptian Theater in sunny, anti-winter wonderland Hollywood. The commentary on It's a Wonderful Life is vast, I'm sure, but along with being baffled at anyone who would choose Donna Reed over Gloria Grahame, here's what came to me:
Ultimately, what capitalist realism amounts to is the elimination of left wing politics and the naturalisation of neoliberalism. [...] Capitalist realism is about a corrosion of social imagination, and in some ways, that remains the problem: after thirty years of neoliberal domination, we are only just beginning to be able to imagine alternatives to capitalism. -- Mark Fisher
I don't know which of the most prominent intellectual leftists first said it, but Fredric Jameson, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have all repeatedly commented that it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the world continuing without capitalism. We treat capitalism as a biological state of things (survival of the fittest, etc.) or a nomological principle on which our understanding of humanity rests. Even the angels in It's a Wonderful Life can't imagine a counterfactual reality where capitalism ceases. George, contemplating suicide, is given an onto-ethical choice between two worlds: one in which he lives trying to help those in need as best he can, but where his whole community ebbs and flows from one crisis to the next according to the caprice of capital, with capital mostly flowing to those most capable of and willing to exploit the working class, i.e., old man Potter; or, two, a world where George was never born, but Potter's power is even greater and he's more successful at exploiting the working class. If divine power is so great that it can fabricate a new reality without you in it, and follow the diverging trajectories of everyone in the alternate world, then why not do the same regarding capitalism, or Potter? George could've even made a deal with Clarence, his guardian angel, such as: "You want me to live, so that you can get your wings, right? Well, how 'bout you make Bedford Falls into a self-sufficient, anarcho-paradise, where there's no hierarchy and everyone respects each other's individuality, yet we work together for the good of the collective, too? I'd love to live, even with Donna Reed and all these goddamned kids, in such a place." But, no, capitalism is greater than God's will.