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It's a Wonderful Life & The Tall Poppy Syndrome

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
3 min read
It's a Wonderful Life & The Tall Poppy Syndrome
A Zero Game for Sum II by William D. Higginson (williamhigginson.com).

Table of Contents

Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. Clarence Odbody

It's a Wonderful Life is a classic American film directed by Frank Capra and released in 1946. The movie is a heartwarming Christmas fantasy drama that has become a beloved holiday tradition for many.

The Plot revolves around George Bailey, played by TP James Stewart, a man who is on the brink of despair and contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. However, an angel named Clarence intervenes and shows George what life would have been like if he had never been born. Through a series of flashbacks and alternate reality sequences, George realizes the impact he has had on the lives of those around him and gains a newfound appreciation for his own life.

The film explores community, friendship, and the value of every individual's contributions. It has a timeless message about the importance of love, sacrifice, and the positive impact that one person can have on others.

Pernicious Potter. A key element of "It's a Wonderful Life" is the complex and adversarial relationship between George Bailey and the film's antagonist, the wealthy and malevolent Mr. Potter, portrayed by Lionel Barrymore. Potter is persecuted by the dark emotions of bad envy of George's virtues which hinder his happiness and a desire to destroy George's (see Envy, the Coppolas, & The Tall Poppy Syndrome) and greed.

George Bailey's life is profoundly affected by his interactions with Mr. Potter, the unscrupulous and influential businessman in Bedford Falls. Potter serves as a stark contrast to George's idealistic, compassionate, and virtuous nature.

Throughout the narrative, Potter consistently attempts to undermine George's dreams and business endeavors and is always trying to block his efforts or cut him down. From attempting to take over the Bailey Building and Loan to exploiting George's financial difficulties, Potter symbolizes the ruthless pursuit of wealth at the expense of community welfare.

The tension between George and Potter comes to a head when George faces financial ruin due to a misplaced deposit. Potter seizes the opportunity to frame George for embezzlement, pushing him to the brink of despair. This conflict sets the stage for George's encounter with Clarence, the guardian angel, who gives him a glimpse of a world where Potter's greed goes unchecked.

The juxtaposition of George's selflessness and Potter's greed enhances the film's central theme of the impact of individual choices on the collective well-being of a community. George's struggles against Potter become a microcosm of the broader societal struggle between selflessness and self-interest.

The townspeople ultimately rally around George, demonstrating a shared sense of community and empathy that stands in stark contrast to Potter's callous individualism. The resolution highlights the triumph of goodness over greed and reinforces the film's message about the enduring value of a life lived for the benefit of others.

The dynamic between George Bailey and Mr. Potter adds layers of depth to the narrative, contributing to the film's exploration of morality, sacrifice, and the true meaning of success. Their adversarial relationship serves as a vehicle for the story's broader themes and enhances the emotional impact of the film's conclusion.

This wonderful story is an affirmation of the trait of selflessness or servitude as the surest way to tallpoppydom (see The Tall Poppy Syndrome: The Joy of Cutting Others Down). The chapter, The Tall Poppy Hall of Fame, detailed the characteristics of TPs. The most common trait was selflessness or servitude to others. Potter may have had more money but George was the "richest man in town."

The film has elements of basic storytelling: conflict, good versus evil, and good eventually winning out over evil. It also has elements that are our constant TPS themes such as peer-to-peer TPS, bad envy, and greed (see The Anatomy of the Tall Poppy Syndrome). Especially important is that cutters often end up cutting themselves down (see Jealousy, a Love Triangle, & The Tall Poppy Syndrome).

A critical component of movies and moviegoers, although unknown and unrecognized, is the sense of schadenfreude or dessert for the ride home - in this case, Potter's comeuppance - he cut himself down.  

Happy Holidays and experience your new point of view as you watch "It's a Wonderful Life" this holiday season. It's free to stream for Amazon Prime members.

tall poppy syndromeIt's a Wonderful Lifebad envygreedschadenfreudeGeorge BailyMr. Potter

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.

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