One of the great cliches of Christmastime is the airing and re-airing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Jim Kunstler, writer of the excellent Geography of Nowhere he of with a blog name that is not safe for work. writes about the parallel universe vision of George Bailey’s Pottersville, and how it bears a close resemblance to Las Vegas.
Clusterf*** Nation by Jim Kunstler : Not So Wonderful
At a crucial point in the story, Clarence the guardian angel takes George Bailey on a tour of Bedford Falls as-if-George-had-never-been-born. Only the town is named Pottersville now. Main Street is lined with gin mills, strip clubs, and dance halls instead of wholesome banks, groceries, and pharmacies. (Oddly, casinos are absent, because in 1946 we lacked the vision to see how truly demoralized our nation could get.) Prostitutes ply the busy sidewalks. Now the weirdest thing is that Pottersville is depicted as a busy, bustling, lively place — the exact opposite of what main streets all over America really became, thanks to George Bailey’s efforts — a wilderness of surface parking, from sea to shining sea, with WalMart waiting on the edge of every town like Moloch poised to inhale the last remaining vapors of America’s morale. Frank Capra could imagine vibrant small towns turning their vibrancy in the direction of vice — but he couldn’t imagine them forsaken and abandoned, with the shop fronts boarded up and the sidewalks empty, which was the true tragic destiny of all the Bedford Falls in our nation.
Most ironically, today America’s favorite main street town, Las Vegas, is Pottersville writ large, and most Americans see absolutely nothing wrong with it. How wonderful is that?
Kunstler is an alarmist. He explains America as a morass of gasoline dependency, and when the price and availability of oil reach crisis point American suburbia will implode in a way that will truly undermine our culture. I have hope his predictions are incorrect, although his explications of how suburbia evolved, and how genuinely toxic it can be are powerful food for thought.
When we lived in San Diego, we lived in a house built in 1896. We were walking distance to a Church, and to a corner store. We now rent what my father describes as a McMansion, built in the 1980s. We don’t have a Church within walking distance. No corner store either. The 1896 house was far more humane in many ways. Our current home is car-dependent. It assumes cars. Without cars, it does not work.
Recipe for disaster? JHK’s work predicts an end to easy gasoline, and then cars, and then, a catastrophic end to suburbia. Is it plausible? It makes logical sense. But is the first part of the prediction realistic? An end to easy gasoline?
I leave that as an exercise for the reader.