Friday, December 25, 2009
You know about aspirational marketing, right? It's selling not just a product, but a lifestyle, a self image. It's pretty much everything at REI, which we buy not because we need a high-quality oceangoing kayak, but because we want to the be kind of people who need a high-quality oceangoing kayak. It's why everyone in Apple commercials are young and hip, because hey, we're young and hip, right? It's about the difference between who we are and whom we wish to be.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is aspirational marketing for the noble life. George Bailey is the person we want to be, an individual who puts others before self, who stands up for what's right, who meets his responsibilities kindly and gently. And we see him garner his rewards in ways large and small, from the inner satisfactions of doing the right thing under hard conditions to the outer ones of earning the regard of his friends, relatives, and neighbors. George is even played by the man we want to be, an individual who spent his life doing the right thing; earned the regard of his friends, relatives and neighbors; and even rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. The supporting cast, of course, feels just right after all these years: Donna Reed is luminous, Lionel Barrymore is so evil he reminds us of Dick Cheney, and Henry Travers is just plain delightful as AS2 Clarence Odbody.
The whole thing works because it wears its heart on its sleeve. Frank Capra returned from WWII determined to celebrate the heroism of the common man, and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE doesn't deviate from its theme by one iota. Each episode of George's life speaks to the idea of doing one's best within one's sphere, and its culmination in inspiring the people of Bedford Falls to do the same inspires us. It inspires us to aspire to be better people.
That's something I can settle down to every Christmas Eve.
PS Last night's screening represented the first time my 9-yr-old sat for the whole thing. I'm so thrilled that he enjoyed it.