Is It’s a Wonderful Life actually a story about giving up on your dreams? How is A Christmas Carol a larger narrative about corporate welfare and charity? Most importantly, is Jingle All the Way the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? We answer all of these questions and more! If you have always wanted to hear a Libertarian rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas, you won’t be disappointed.
0:00:08 Landry Ayres: Oh, hello there. Welcome to Pop & Locke. I’m Landry Ayres.
0:00:13 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.
0:00:15 Landry Ayres: It’s officially holiday season and what better way to celebrate than by kicking up our feet, grabbing some hot cocoa, and diving into our favorite feel-good holiday classics. We’ll be discussing heart-warming topics such as, does the subsidization of Santa’s workshop actually hurt competition? Why is it so hard for Hermey the Elf to become a licensed dentist? And why are we diverting NORAD resources to track a sleigh that flies 3000 times faster than the speed of sound?
0:00:48 Natalie Dowzicky: To answer these questions and more, we’re joined by libertarianism.org’s Paul Matzko.
0:00:52 Paul Matzko: Thanks for having me, guys.
0:00:54 Natalie Dowzicky: And Paul Meany.
0:00:55 Paul Meany: Thanks for having me.
0:00:56 Natalie Dowzicky: We’ll kick things off with a classic, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. So, the Pauls, you tell me, is it actually a wonderful life?
0:01:05 Paul Matzko: Well, it’s actually always wonderful if you’re Mr. Potter. He seems like a perfectly happy individual come Christmas time.
0:01:13 Natalie Dowzicky: So, why don’t we take a step back. Who is Mr. Potter in our film?
0:01:17 Paul Matzko: Maybe we should do a quick rundown. Okay, so Mr. Potter is the big bad guy in the show, he’s the banker. This is in 1947, it’s released, so Great Depression is still in memory. And the big banks didn’t come out the Great Depression looking all that great with their users. So, they’re the bad guys, Mr. Potter’s the bad guy. He wants to own everything in town, and he wants to squeeze out the little man, the working man. They shouldn’t get credit, they shouldn’t be allowed to own houses, they should rent from him in his slums. And the good guy, George Bailey, he and his uncle, formerly his father, owned a… Well, his uncle wasn’t formerly his father.
0:02:02 Paul Matzko: He used to do what his father does, that’s it. But the Baileys owned the Bailey Brothers’ Savings & Loan, And they look out for the little guy. They lend to Bert and Ernie, the cop and the taxicab driver. Not the Muppets, they might lend… Hey, there’s a tie over at two-hour Muppet Christmas Carol.
0:02:19 Natalie Dowzicky: We’ll get to that.
0:02:20 Paul Matzko: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But they look out for the little guy, they lend to workers, so they can own their own homes and be part of the American dream. Potter isn’t like this. So the big… In the background of the story, it’s this struggle between Potter and Bailey for the control of the financial soul of the town. That’s the first three quarters of the film. In the last quarter, George Bailey gets beaten down by Potter’s attacks, by small town life, by the crushing of his hopes and dreams, which we’ll talk about more later. And the final fourth is, he is…
0:02:56 Paul Matzko: And spoiler alert for those of our listeners who haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life, he contemplates committing suicide, but an angel intervenes and shows him life if he had never been born. And he realizes how full his life actually is and how much good he’s done for the town and everyone sings Auld Lang Syne at the end and it’s a happy ending.
0:03:16 Natalie Dowzicky: Also, I’m just gonna put in a side note, if you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life by this point, you should probably turn the show off and watch it. It’s been out for a while. Just piggy-backing off what Paul said, so George Bailey is the main character, we get his entire life story. He wants to go and travel, he is essentially the embodiment of the American dream. He has lots of dreams, he doesn’t wanna stay stuck in this small town, he… One of the first scenes in the beginning is he gets this giant suitcase, and he is talking about all the stickers he wants to put on it.
0:03:49 Natalie Dowzicky: And then his father passes away, and he learns that he’s gonna have to take over the family business, and instead, he allows everyone else to go after their dreams. So, his brother doesn’t have to stay home to take care of the business, his brother actually ends up going off to war. But it’s a story about either… Mixed reviews; it’s either a story about someone being selfless and allowing everyone else to travel, to go after their dreams, to travel, etcetera, or it’s a story about just giving up on your dreams. So, I was shocked when I was reading some… I’ve seen this movie plenty of times, but I was just curious. I was reading some critics that…
0:04:31 Natalie Dowzicky: From a variety of time period. So, I read a critique from 1980, I read one from 2003. And all of them were very pessimistic about the video, they… Or about the movie. They didn’t necessarily think it was all that positive, ‘cause we watch it as a feel-good movie. But if you really get down to the nitty-gritty, or how they treat women, and that kind of stuff, it’s not actually all that feel-good, though it ends up okay for George. So, my…
0:05:00 Paul Meany: Wholly is just his life being, not ruined by any chance, but he starts the movie off, loses his hearing, doesn’t get to go to college, misses his honeymoon. Every time something good is going for him in his life, something goes wrong and he takes responsibility and helps people out. So…
0:05:17 Paul Matzko: Well, the problem is, we are Sam Wainwrights, all of us here in this room. So, his perspective, and the moral of the story, which is supposed to be for people like him, falls flat on us to some extent. So, what I mean by that is, Sam Wainwright in the film is a bit character. He’s a friend of George’s, who leaves… He does all the things George wishes he would have done. He goes off, sees the world, he’s a big city guy, he gets rich in plastics. He just… A couple of times, it cracks me up. At the time, they’re like, “I told George he could’ve gotten in on the ground floor of plastics.”
0:05:57 Paul Matzko: But in a sense, today, he would be like a tech person, a tech entrepreneur. Or somebody who goes to the big city, where he get’s a law degree and is a high powered attorney, or a… So, Sam Wainwright is the cosmopolitan that gets out of the small town, has a high flying, well-off, seemingly very happy life. George Bailey is the one who stays in his small town. I imagine this is small town Ohio. I have no reason to believe that Bedford Falls is in Ohio, but that’s my mental image. But he stays at home, he’s the good son, doesn’t go off and get an advanced education.
0:06:34 Paul Matzko: He doesn’t get to travel the world and become a National Geographic Explorer like he imagines as a kid, he doesn’t make a million dollars by the time he’s 30. So, all of that… Those of us here in this room made the opposite choice. We left Texas, or South Carolina, or Ireland, and moved to the city, we are Sam Wainwright. So, it makes sense that it feels a little bit off, that something about his life choices wouldn’t resonate with us. So, I don’t know, do you feel like you’re Sam Wainwright?
0:07:05 Landry Ayres: At times, I certainly do. When you brought up the question of, he represents this American Dream, to me it raises the question, at what point does he represent the American dream? And what does that… When you identify as like, “Oh that’s what it is,” what does that say about what you think the American Dream is? Is it sacrificing yourself for others and building a community? And in that case, I think he ends up with the American dream through all that struggle. Or is it that he tries to pull himself up by his bootstraps and be self-sufficient throughout a struggle, which is very much like this myth of the self-made man. And myth, not in the fake sense, but in the larger story we tell ourselves…
0:07:54 Natalie Dowzicky: Metaphysical.
0:07:54 Landry Ayres: As our nation. Or is it the idea that he’s someone who wants to go out and see the world and be this… He’s not a cowboy straight going out west, but he has that rugged individualism. And I think where you identify what you see as the American dream really comes through in what you pick up as, where was the point in his story that you see him lose what his goal was? So, I thought that was really interesting for you to bring up there.
0:08:28 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, I was gonna even have a follow-up question about, what do you think… What do we individually think that this movie is saying about the American dream? Because, to me, when I think American Dream, I think immigrant. I think that they’re coming over with nothing, they’re like you just said, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, that kind of sentiment, but that’s not what I see in George Bailey. They have a small family business, a closely family-run business, he’s not necessarily left with nothing. And in the event that he is, it’s due to an error in someone’s family, his uncle, I’m blanking on his uncle’s first name, but… Yeah, Uncle Billy accidentally gives the money to Mr. Potter in his newspaper.
0:09:13 Landry Ayres: We all have an uncle Billy, don’t we?
0:09:16 Natalie Dowzicky: So then, I guess, in theory, George Bailey then has nothing, and then has to overcome that error. But then again, that’s not really like a rags-to-riches type story. I think that’s just like, “Oh, that’s an unfortunate event that happened in his life.” And I don’t think… I really don’t think this is a story about an American dream, I just think it’s showing where America is, stuck in our post-war world. So, it’s between Pottersville, to me, represents future in the movie. And Bedford Falls is what George Bailey is so desperately holding on to, what it represents, and the nostalgia of Bedford Falls and keeping it local. But what do you guys think?
0:10:03 Paul Meany: In my opinion, I think that, I don’t exactly know if would be about the American dream. But I think there’s a line early on in the film that hints towards what it’s trying to portray. And it’s before George is about leave for college, his brother is graduating school, and he’s talking to his dad. And his dad whispers to himself, that it’s deep in the race of men to want to own their own house, basically. I think a lot of the film is about a dignified living, and it’s not about Potter. Potter’s life has more than he can ever spend, it’s what a lot of people say about him, but he is like, he has no family, he has no friends, he only has sycophants who worship him for money.
0:10:39 Paul Meany: And so, when George is in a bad place and thinking about suicide, the whole point of it is to show that it’s not monetary success, or it’s not what you own that makes your life much better, it’s how you serve people in your community and how you help people out. And you thought you never helped anyone, but literally everyone had a house because of him and what he did. And so, I think that’s what the movie is about, is that he helped other people to have dignified life and have a dignified life himself. And it’s not a bad thing to not be a massive financial success at all turns. You don’t have to live this adventurous, crazy, amazing life, you can have a good quiet happy life.
0:11:13 Paul Matzko: So, ultimately, he fulfills his father’s vision for the good life in the end. I like that, it’s like a thesis statement for what’s the moral of this film? My dad said it right before he croaks with a stroke.
0:11:25 Paul Meany: Yeah. And it’s also the idea of Potter is that, it’s not just like renting property is a bad thing, it’s that he wants to keep people at his will, and he’ll always have some sort of power over ‘em and that’s the problem. But everyone else has some sort of level of independence because of George, and because George isn’t cruel like that.
0:11:41 Paul Matzko: It definitely fits in. Here’s where is, does tie into I think into a vision of the American dream, but it’s bigger than that, it’s not just… ‘Cause these questions of, “What is the good life?” are very old. But that sense of people should be small holders, or in the old world sense freeholders, they should own their own fee simple property, farm their own little plot, have their own space on God’s green earth that is theirs enviably. This rejection of the idea of rentier class, the people who rent out land.
0:12:14 Paul Matzko: So, of course, in an Irish context that’s very old, these English landlords, these Potters, classing English surname, renting out land to the poor Irish and keeping them in serfdom essentially. So, it’s a rejection, is that vision of… In American context, that is very Jeffersonian, Yeoman farmers. It’s even… We had this discussion on Free Thoughts about Josh Hawley’s vision of epicurean liberalism, which is a rejection of the Sam Wainwright cosmopolitan vision of the good life and the affirmation of the small freeholders owning their own plot in small-town virtues across America vision.
0:12:55 Paul Matzko: So, there’s a very American historical theme, but a broader, deeper philosophical concept. So, in that sense, we do see that here. The other bit though, I think, where we do have some of that American dream being affirmed here, is the immigration angle. So, Frank Capra is a first-generation Italian immigrant. He comes over, he is dirt poor, scrabbles his way up through the Italian ghetto of Los Angeles. And to be Italian in America in the ‘1910s and ’20s like he was, was to be… The contemporary color there would be to be Mexican in America today, facing lots of prejudice, lots of nativism, lots of… Yeah, just oppression because of your ethnicity.
0:13:39 Paul Matzko: And so, people didn’t like… This is the time of the second Ku Klux Klan, when he’s coming of age, who don’t want these Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans coming over and immigrating, ‘cause they can’t… They can’t be fully American, they can’t be fully integrated, and you know what, they’re not even really white. In fact, if you look at political cartoons from the time, especially people from Southern Italy like Capra, Sicilians, they were… Napolis were considered not white, like Northern Italians. Northern Italians, okay, they’re okay. But Southern Italians, oh no-no, because they intermarried with the Moors and with the Muslims. It’s a whole complicated…
0:14:17 Paul Meany: There was a character as well who’s Italian. Martini, right?
0:14:19 Paul Matzko: Yeah.
0:14:20 Paul Meany: And he eventually gets his own home as well. He used to live in one of Potter’s shacks, and then he moves out eventually, and has his own home. And there’s a big speech about… They have their different things they give them as gifts.
0:14:28 Paul Matzko: Yep. So, Martini plays an important role in here. And I think what Capra’s doing is, he is saying this… It kind of under-guards the entire story, he’s saying, “How do we know that you can integrate white ethics, Italians”. Like Martini, who plays this really big role, which is odd, ‘cause if you think about Bedford Falls, I don’t know, let’s say Ohio or Massachusetts, the Martini figure is odd. Usually, Italian immigrants come to New York City, to big cities first. So, why does he insert an Italian character there?
0:15:02 Paul Matzko: Well, he’s saying, “How do we know the Italians, like myself, Frank Capra, the Director of the movie and Martini, the character in the film, how do we know they can integrate and become fully American? We know that because the Baileys did. Bailey is an Irish name, right?
0:15:20 Natalie Dowzicky: There are some Irish Baileys cream in your hot chocolate.
0:15:22 Paul Matzko: Yeah I know.
0:15:22 Paul Matzko: It’s like, “You don’t get more Irish than Baileys Irish Cream.
0:15:27 Landry Ayres: Is that accurate Meany…
0:15:28 Paul Meany: No idea.
0:15:29 Landry Ayres: You don’t get more Irish than throwing Baileys in your…
0:15:31 Paul Meany: Even though I’m Irish I’ve barely drunk any Baileys. [laughter]
0:15:33 Landry Ayres: Oh, man.
0:15:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Darn.
0:15:34 Paul Matzko: Do they drink it in Ireland?
0:15:35 Paul Meany: Some people do, it’s kind of a Christmas thing actually.
0:15:37 Paul Matzko: Oh, okay. Yeah.
0:15:37 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Do you have eggnog?
0:15:39 Paul Meany: No.
0:15:39 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, interesting. Anyway, back to Paul. [laughter]
0:15:41 Paul Matzko: Yeah, no. So you have the Baileys here, they represent… And the big wave of Irish immigration comes over in 1830s and ’40s. So, by the 1940s especially, but by the time of Capra has come, same pattern there. They weren’t considered integratable, they’re Catholic, they speak Gaelic, they don’t… They’re not considered fully white in 19th-century political cartoons. But they had integrated, they had become more American, they’ve been Americanized and they were considered fully white and yada, yada. And there’s all these markers of that in here. The Baileys are sending their boys to college, Harry is the member of an eating club, which is…
0:16:25 Paul Matzko: Before there were fraternities at colleges, there were dining clubs or eating clubs, and they still exist today like the Ivy League colleges. But Harry is a member of one, he’s a member of a dining club, there’s reference there. How do you know they’re fully white, well, they have a black servant. And of course, part of being white in America means showing that your social stratus…
0:16:47 Natalie Dowzicky: You’re above average.
0:16:48 Paul Matzko: Is above African-Americans. So, Capra makes these decisions to show that the Baileys had become respectable pillars of the community, and now they could give an arm up to the next wave of immigrants, your Martinis and the like.
0:17:01 Paul Meany: One weird thing about the story though is that, when you’re talking about an American dream, it’s rags to riches, but in this story, it’s actually riches to rags. His dad’s house seems much better than his… And he eventually moves into a worse house, and he has way less money. At one point they talk… I was looking up how much money he earned a week. I tried to translate it in inflation, ‘cause it was $145 a week, I think, something like that. And then Potter is talking about it like, “Oh, when you have a kid, you’ll only have $10 a week to save. If you have another kid, you’ll have nothing left.” So, he wasn’t even earning very much. And he comes… ‘Cause someone complains about his house the entire time when he’s had that bad day.
0:17:32 Paul Matzko: Definitely, this doesn’t make the DIY movement look very…
0:17:35 Paul Matzko: The horrors of trying to fix up that big old drafty mansion.
0:17:38 Paul Meany: What’s the thing on the stairs he keeps trying to… What’s that called?
0:17:40 Paul Matzko: Oh, yeah. Whatever that’s called.
0:17:41 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, it’s part of the rail, right? It’s like…
0:17:44 Landry Ayres: The banister.
0:17:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. It’s part of the banister that always falls off, yeah. Well, I also thought… So, going back to what we were saying about homeownership, too. I think it’s interesting that throughout the film, a lot of it, a lot that we see is about either owning a house or fixing up a house or creating a neighborhood or slums, that is a common theme throughout the movie. And I think it starts with the raggedy house, and that’s where they got engaged, right? Or…
0:18:10 Paul Meany: That’s where they first run… She wished… She threw the…
0:18:12 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, where they fell in love.
0:18:12 Paul Meany: Still at the little house and made a wish.
0:18:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Something like that, and then he bought the house, a big romantic gesture but… [laughter] Here we are and…
0:18:20 Landry Ayres: A bit presumptuous right, but… [laughter]
0:18:23 Natalie Dowzicky: But… So, here we are with this old raggedy house, and he always makes comments coming back to it, too. And then when he goes to work at the Savings and Loan, he is one of those people that trusts that he’s gonna give out a loan, that maybe someone can’t afford now for their house or for their home, but will afford at some point. So he’s very trusting in a sense. That’s almost not… Not great. [laughter]
0:18:52 Paul Meany: You know it’s viewed personally, there’s a point where I think it’s Potter’s talking about the taxi driver. I forget his name now, but he’s saying “How will he ever pay this loan back?” And he’s like “Well, he just had a bad day, or a bad week and he’ll pay it back eventually, he always does, and like I can vouch for his character.” He knows everyone in the town so he can act like that. Potter doesn’t… Like Potter has no friends, no family, so he can’t trust people the same way George does.
0:19:12 Paul Matzko: Yeah, It is this kind of rejection of a… It’s not a full-blown rejection of capitalism per se…
0:19:18 Paul Meany: Faceless capitalism in a way.
0:19:20 Paul Matzko: Yeah, it’s kind of a really… It’s a particular vision of… Yeah, again it goes back to that smallholder, small town, where you know everyone, you can vouch for their character in a rejection of big capitalist institutions that are faceless and nameless. Of course, there’s a plus and a minus to this like, I can’t imagine if I were on the board of directors of a bank and my… The person is with fiduciary responsibility for making sure that the bank stay solvent, is like, “Yeah, I gave a loan to him ‘cause he’s like a friend and I’ll vouch for him.” And has this literal uncle, it’s like reverse nepotism, because boss’s nephew. Reverse nepotism. You have your uncle who is clearly incompetent. Uncle Billy should be nowhere. He should be barred from being within 100 feet of the bank.
0:20:07 Paul Meany: He has the bird in the bank as well.
0:20:09 Paul Matzko: He has the bird in the bank.
0:20:10 Paul Meany: I think he has a squirrel in his house. He’s very eccentric.
0:20:12 Landry Ayres: A bird in the bank is worth two in the bush.
0:20:16 Paul Matzko: That’s right. But this is, it’s like a vision of… I’m not so convinced. Obviously Potter’s framed as the bad guy. But you think about what depersonalized institutions actually can do. So this vision of the small town life where you know everyone, and everyone gets along and pulls together at the same he’s in loan, that sounds all well and good, but imagine if you grew up in Bedford Falls and you weren’t white, or you weren’t the right kind of immigrant who wanted to integrate.
0:20:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Or you were a woman.
0:20:45 Paul Matzko: Or you were a woman trying to start her own business or you are black or you were gay, or small time life, that kind of dense network of “I’ll give you options, I’ll lend to you, I’ll let you go to college.” If you fit in, that sounds great as long as there’s someone who can fit in.
0:21:05 Paul Meany: It’s very easy to forget when you watch it, it’s so glamor and glitzy, you’re like, “Oh it’s so great. The ’40s sound great,” then you realize, except for everyone else.
0:21:12 Paul Matzko: Potter ironically, if he was not framed as like always being this cackling bad guy. That vision means we don’t care if you’re gay or you’re black or you’re white or you’re Christian, or Catholic or whatever. We’ll lend to you if you’re reliable, that actually can be freeing for the very people who will find Bedford Falls stultifying otherwise.
0:21:30 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I also thought it was interesting ‘cause throughout the film we see very little minority characters, so we see… There are females in the story, but they don’t really have a lot, other than being home-makers or in the alternate and George’s alternate universe she’s a librarian who apparently makes nothing of her life when she doesn’t have George Bailey.
0:21:51 Landry Ayres: A movie from the ’40s with shallow female characters.
0:21:55 Paul Meany: Who’s the girl who fancies George in the beginning, the blonde girl?
0:21:57 Natalie Dowzicky: The blond girl, curly hair, right? Violet.
0:22:00 Paul Meany: Yeah, she goes off to work in New York. That’s as close as we get to female empowerment.
0:22:04 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, but his wife, essentially, the movie literally says his wife could not have a life without him, because she is some raggedy librarian and just is waiting around for her French charming. Which is BS. But besides the point. The other thing I was just thinking, I forgot about the part when there’s a run on the bank which none of us, thankfully, have experience, but there was a run on the bank and he actually, he had $3 left, or whatever he was giving out…
0:22:33 Paul Meany: It was $2.
0:22:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, he had $2 left.
0:22:34 Paul Meany: That was so great eventually.
0:22:36 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Which was his honeymoon fund. He has $2 left that he’s giving out to people. And the last person gave it to was an old female. I’m blanking on her name right now, but I also thought that was interesting that they did throw some female characters in there, probably just as fillers, because most of the women portrayed in this movie are very ditsy and can’t have a life without their husband and…
0:23:00 Paul Matzko: Well, there is a representation of women that it really is so striking, that final scene like… And also the horror. Anyone who’s worked for a library would be like the horror. The worst thing you can imagine, life without man means being a librarian. But that means the role of race in the film, well, it’s kind of minor, it is there. I counted three black characters in the film.
0:23:24 Landry Ayres: The absence of it says a lot about it.
0:23:26 Paul Matzko: The absence says a lot. But you have Annie, who is the hired help, who they casually sexually harass, swats her on the rear end. You have a black couple on the town laughing at George Bailey when he was kind of romance this romantic vision to Violet. So part of the night life scene, which is disapproved of in the film, and then tellingly you have a black piano player in the alternate version of the [0:23:49] ____.
0:23:49 Paul Meany: I was about to say in Pottersville.
0:23:51 Paul Matzko: This is part of that whole immigrant framing, but there’s the good immigrant and the bad immigrant, that’s going on. The good immigrant runs a bar, Martinis, runs a bar. But makes sure people don’t drink too much, he’s very responsible, playing traditional Italian music in the background. The bad version of the immigrant bar, Nick’s bar has a black piano player playing jazz and that’s one of the things in the 1940s, white folk would have heard jazz playing and been like “Oh, black people jazz, bad parts of town.”
0:24:19 Paul Meany: Do you remember how Nick described the bar?
0:24:21 Paul Matzko: No, how does he describe it?
0:24:23 Paul Meany: He starts talking and, Clarence starts talking, the guardian angel of George starts talking to him and eventually he just says, “This is a bar for hard liquor to get people drink fast and nothing else.”
0:24:32 Paul Matzko: Yeah, that’s right.
0:24:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, it’s also very telling of the time to how they treat alcohol in this film. So it’s insinuated that no one should be drinking and that they’re very anti-alcohol, which, like, this isn’t too far away from prohibition, but it’s very frowned upon. Just like the quote you were just saying, it’s very frowned upon ‘cause George is stumbling drunk in his alternate universe and comes across the pharmacist that he ended up saving his job since he was never born. The pharmacist was like a drunk and had gone to jail for 10 years because he ended up killing his son with the medicine that George had found. The incorrect medicine. But I think it’s very interesting just because when we watch it, we’re like, we might not pick up on those subtleties because alcohol is a normal part of our lives. But back then, it was like everyone agreed that alcohol was more of like promiscuous, so to speak. Or…
0:25:27 Paul Meany: And whatever you drink it’s only hard liquor. No one ever drinks like a beer or something, it’s always a double bourbon is what he orders in the bar.
0:25:32 Paul Matzko: Yeah, that’s true.
0:25:34 Landry Ayres: I think the most important question that we could ask ourselves about ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is, is it even a Christmas movie? And I don’t think so, and in this essay, I will. So the movie is two hours and 15 minutes long. If you watch it on TV, it’ll take you half the day, with commercials, around that time of year. And only the last 57 minutes are actually devoted to occurring, during, I believe it’s Christmas Eve, and a very short portion at the beginning, when we see a lot of these through flashbacks once the angel has visited George Bailey. But I think it begs the question, how do we define a Christmas movie? Does it need to be set during Christmas? ‘Cause if so, as a lot of people have compared online, ‘Die Hard,’ also a Christmas movie. But I would argue and a lot of other people have said so as well, “Christmas is more of a theme hit upon in ‘Die Hard’ than in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”
0:26:36 Paul Meany: Now, I don’t think that it’s a bad movie and I don’t think that there are not values that could align during Christmas time, but you could theoretically take this movie and put it during Thanksgiving and the gathering of the family at the end could be a group… A Thanksgiving dinner that everyone gathers to put together, and 99% of the themes could make sense and still have a lot of thematic impact. So I, just to play contrarian a little bit, I don’t consider it a Christmas film.
0:27:12 Natalie Dowzicky: Okay, well, I’m not gonna lay out my thesis here, but if we’re not delineating it as a holiday film or a Christmas movie, mind you, we did say with these were feel-good classics, which…
0:27:25 Landry Ayres: Fair, fair, I can’t argue with that.
0:27:27 Natalie Dowzicky: Which most holiday movies if they’re not comedy, they’re still some type of feel-good, happy at the end, and everyone gets gifts, or everyone is drinking hot chocolate or Baileys.
0:27:35 Landry Ayres: I don’t know, Krampus is great, but…
0:27:37 Natalie Dowzicky: Okay, Krampus is a different category, but I don’t think you can delineate it in any other way than saying it’s a holiday movie, would you watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in the middle of July?
0:27:48 Landry Ayres: Whether I would watch it is something completely different, but I’m just saying… And Paul, you look like you were about to say something, come in, save me here.
0:27:56 Paul Matzko: Well, I was just gonna make a quick note, which was that this movie was originally not intended to be released at Christmas time. They ended up…
0:28:02 Natalie Dowzicky: That doesn’t help his thesis.
0:28:03 Paul Matzko: Yeah, it doesn’t help, it actually kind of helps Natalie I suppose, but maybe, I don’t know who it helps, because…
0:28:07 Paul Meany: I don’t know about that.
0:28:08 Paul Matzko: The original intent… They were going to release a different picture at Christmas time. This was gonna come out like mid-summer and they had to delay it, they decided they’ll try to release it at Christmas, but they released it late, most locations it came out in January of 1948. So…
0:28:23 Natalie Dowzicky: But wasn’t it like a flop?
0:28:24 Paul Matzko: It did okay. But the problem was it was a very expensive film to make, so it underperformed expectations, but it was like the sixth highest grossing film of the year.
0:28:36 Natalie Dowzicky: But it’s typically on ABC, TBS, all of our Christmas, 12 Days of Christmas countdown, right?
0:28:42 Landry Ayres: Here’s what I’ll say, it has become a Christmas film due to cultural events surrounding the movie. The fact that the copyright on the actual film, not the story, but the film lapsed, and so a lot of people were able to buy up the rights and I was gonna say stream it, but to broadcast it very frequently, very cheaply, during, I believe it was like the 1970s was when that started. So the film, in a vacuum, as a discrete piece of media, is what I say, I would not call it a Christmas movie. I think that after all of the events and it becoming sort of a ritual, a tradition that people do, much in the same way ‘A Christmas Story’ is played 24 hours on TBS every single year.
0:29:33 Landry Ayres: I see why we consider it now to be a Christmas movie, but until learning about that, I was always confused as to… Once I saw the movie because I had seen scenes of it or knew about it for many years, but when I actually sat down, I think I was like a late teen and I actually watched the whole thing, I like knocked out a whole afternoon by watching it on TV during Christmas one year…
0:29:56 Natalie Dowzicky: And you seem like you deeply regretted it.
0:29:58 Landry Ayres: No, I enjoyed the movie. It is a great movie. I’m not hating on Frank Capra’s work, it is a wonderful life after all.
0:30:10 Natalie Dowzicky: And Jimmy Stewart is oh so good looking.
0:30:12 Landry Ayres: “Oh yeah, well, Mr. Potter… ” Wait, Jimmy Stewart, how did you come into the studio? It’s amazing. The ghost of Jimmy Stewart everyone. “Well, thank you for having me.”
0:30:24 Paul Matzko: That’s pretty good, I like that, yeah.
0:30:25 Natalie Dowzicky: Okay, but, so, one of the…
0:30:26 Landry Ayres: Good, you tell him.
0:30:29 Natalie Dowzicky: One of the things I was also… One of the reasons it makes me think of Christmas, in particular, is because of the angel, Clarence. So a lot of holiday movies typically have angels, or ghosts, or some type of… I mean, if we wanna get all hallmarky, what’s that…
0:30:47 Landry Ayres: ‘The Spirit of Christmas.’
0:30:48 Natalie Dowzicky: ‘The Spirit of Christmas.’
0:30:48 Landry Ayres: Now that is a Christmas movie and we’ll get to that.
0:30:52 Natalie Dowzicky: But so I think that with the existence of the angel, that makes it a stronger case to be a holiday film.
0:31:00 Landry Ayres: The angels are throughout the Bible though, they weren’t just, they didn’t just herald the birth of Jesus.
0:31:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, but doesn’t it have a little bit of an essence, same like Christmas Carol, obviously, has all the ghosts that come in it and we’ll talk about that later. But I think that kind of ties in the holiday season a bit more, though, as Paul said earlier, that was only a quarter of the movie, right? That wasn’t actually… Angels weren’t a bigger part of the movie, though I’m not seceding to you right now. So…
0:31:24 Paul Meany: Angel’s second class as well.
0:31:28 Landry Ayres: Alright, well, you tell us what you think, make sure to send us a message or tweet at us and tell us, do you think, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a Christmas or holiday movie? I’m very curious to know what the listeners think.
0:31:42 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, regardless, what we think or they think, it’s still gonna be on 24/7 every night, leading up to Christmas this year. So…
0:31:49 Landry Ayres: I believe that’s growing in consensus.
0:31:56 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, so the next movie we wanted to cover was a Christmas carol.
0:32:00 Landry Ayres: Excuse me, Natalie, I would just like to clarify, we are discussing the Muppets Christmas Carol.
0:32:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Because there’s only been 30 renditions of A Christmas Carol.
0:32:11 Landry Ayres: But none of them have involved Henson-esque puppets, and everybody loves puppets.
0:32:18 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, It makes the story 10 times better.
0:32:19 Landry Ayres: It’s true, when you’ve got Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat narrating, acting as a Greek chorus, for Dickens Classic. I think it really elevates it to another level.
0:32:31 Paul Matzko: Does everybody… I have this theory that puppets, there’s a…
0:32:36 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s Muppets.
0:32:36 Paul Matzko: Chronological delay here.
0:32:38 Landry Ayres: It’s true, we should…
0:32:38 Paul Matzko: Puppets, Muppets.
0:32:39 Landry Ayres: We should note. It is Muppets.
0:32:42 Paul Matzko: But the phenomenon of puppets whether Muppets, or not, they might look to future generations like clowns do to us, so clowns become super popular in the 1940s and ’50s, early television, like they’re desperate to get some content on TV, so they’re like, “Let’s take clowns from the circus, and have all these clown, the clowns will do variety shows for kids.” And that lasted, that went pretty well for young boomers who finally remember, like these clown shows they literally grew up with, but then people started, they were weirded out by clowns eventually. We got clown saturation. And we’re in a post-clown moment, like…
0:33:26 Paul Matzko: But like, clowns now are creepy, they’re scary. There’s like literal horror movie, I forget the name of it, where a guy puts on like a clown nose that transforms him into an evil like serial killing clown, so…
0:33:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Not quite Krampus.
0:33:38 Paul Matzko: Not quite Krampus, or “IT”, “IT” is a clown.
0:33:41 Landry Ayres: Oh, Yeah.
0:33:41 Natalie Dowzicky: IT is a clown.
0:33:42 Paul Matzko: IT is a clown. Like, you can’t have a non-ironic clown, is like a good wholesome like, it sounds bizarre, but imagine if all the late night shows were hosted by clowns, that’s how big of a deal they were in the ’50s, but maybe puppets and Muppets fill that same kind of niche. They were very popular in the late ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. They’ve tailed off a bit recently, there may be a bit of a revival, but will in 30 years…
0:34:05 Landry Ayres: With CGI and animation sort of filling a void. I think now that this is especially cheaper and cheaper to produce, and that’s the kind of like children’s content that we want. ‘cause it sort of, it can be fantastical and everything. I wonder if that will sort of move on and take the place that Muppets and puppets did. I hope that we have a like a creepy Muppet scare. Like how clowns come back every few years and they’re like, a clown was stalking children and…
0:34:32 Paul Meany: But it’s kind of hard to be scary when they’re 2 foot tall. Their carrying the flag is nothing.
0:34:35 Landry Ayres: And that’s why I’m hoping, ‘cause it’s like you’re seeing like a Gonzo the Grouch Muppet leapt out and scared a couple while walking down the sidewalk in Cedar Rapids.
0:34:48 Paul Matzko: It’ll be a horror movie 30 years from now where Jim Henson, the puppet, you know, like it goes around and stabs people.
0:34:54 Landry Ayres: The puppet master in theaters this Halloween.
0:34:57 Paul Matzko: Yeah, right.
0:34:57 Natalie Dowzicky: I’m rolling my eyes at all of you.
0:35:00 Landry Ayres: So, that gets us back on topic. I think Natalie, this is a good question. You seem tired of… You mentioned 30 different renditions. Are you tired of Christmas Carol and why?
0:35:10 Natalie Dowzicky: I’m not tired of it. I think, I mean it’s a classic. I am going to admit that I’ve actually never read the story. Mid-1800s, right, like 1850 something or 1840 something.
0:35:21 Paul Meany: It’s 1800s, that’s right after the The Poor Laws of 1834, that’s how I know.
0:35:25 Landry Ayres: Of course, yes.
0:35:26 Paul Meany: I can give you the context of…
0:35:27 Landry Ayres: Yeah, we all knew that.
0:35:28 Paul Meany: Do you want the context?
0:35:28 Paul Matzko: Give us some context.
0:35:30 Paul Meany: So, Thomas Robert Malthus was a economist and thinker who wrote an essay on Principle of Population, and he talked about how the growth of the human race is, what he calls geometric, like an exponential, so we grow in like two then four then eight then 16 then 32, but he said food production, or, like the growth of food surplus I guess you might call it. That was arithmetic, so he’d say, “grow by 10”, then another 10, so go 10, 20, 30. And so he believed that no matter what, there’d always be too many people eventually. And so whenever we had a surplus of new food thanks to new production methods, any standard of living that we have, any increase in standard of living would eventually be done in, because exponential growth of the human race would stop it, and we’d all go back to subsistence level, it’s called the iron law of wages.
0:36:18 Paul Meany: This sounds very bizarre, but anyway, going on… In 1601, there was The Poor Laws of Elizabethan England, and they talked a lot about how if someone was dying of starvation, well, the government should do something about it and help them survive. But in 1834, influenced by the theories of Robert Malthus, and the iron law of wages and how there’d be too many people, the British government decided to get rid of that and have the workhouses instead, and so they said, you know, “We’ll make workhouses, so it’s really unattractive to ever go on relief and so you have to work for it.”
0:36:47 Paul Meany: And Charles Dickens who wrote ‘A Christmas Carol,’ was very poor growing up, and his father owed 40 pounds for buying bread, and back then you went into the debtor’s prison. That’s why Scrooge is the bad guy, because his family, everyone, his mom, his sister, and his dad all went to prison while he worked 8-13 hour shifts in a factory as a child, so he, for his entire life was always an advocate of helping out children, he probably comes from the experience of disabled children that he wanted to help out and reintegrate, he was always arguing for more sanitation and factories and whatnot, but he hated Thomas Malthus.
0:37:23 Paul Meany: He thought his theories were ridiculous and that they just produced this really callous attitude towards the poor. And originally, ‘A Christmas Carol’ was gonna be a pamphlet on the welfare of children, but then he decided, people will feel really bad about that, because they’ll just realize that they’ve been terrible people and they’ll try and deny it, so instead of making it into a novel, and that’ll slowly convince you, so that’s why there’s characters like Tiny Tim and whatnot, to make you feel very guilty about what they’ve done. And the two, there’s the two children with the ghost. Which ghost is it? The Ignorance and Want. The two children, what ghost are they with again?
0:37:55 Paul Matzko: They might not show up in this version, though.
0:37:55 Paul Meany: In the Muppets version they probably don’t show up, but the two…
0:37:55 Natalie Dowzicky: The original version, they do.
0:37:55 Paul Meany: Yes, there’s two children that show up, Ignorance and Want, and Ignorance and Want are supposed to represent the problems of Victorian society, that there’s people who need resources and there’s people who actively ignore them, which is the Victorian elites.
0:37:55 Paul Matzko: So this anti-Malthusian propaganda, basically.
0:37:55 Paul Meany: Yes, it comes through in the Muppets version very well.
0:37:55 Paul Matzko: So it doesn’t quite… It doesn’t quite map onto our concerns perfectly ‘cause libertarians are also anti…
0:37:55 Paul Meany: We spent like five minutes talking about it.
0:37:55 Paul Matzko: Because we’re not… We’re anti-Malthusian too…
0:38:27 Paul Meany: Yes.
0:38:28 Paul Matzko: But we’re not anti-Malthusian in… That doesn’t lead us to the same conclusions as Dickens, in a sense. I mean like Scrooge, he’s clearly the bad guy here and he’s unfeeling and whatever, but we’re not inherently opposed to the concept of money lending. He’s a moneylender and…
0:38:49 Paul Meany: But he’s not just a moneylender. He’s also just terrible. He talks about… At one point, he’s talking about some child and he’s like, “You should lend yourself to surplus population,” which is a term for people who should die off because there’s too many of you. So that kind of thing. It’s not just that he’s a moneylender. Well, obviously Dickens did not like moneylenders because his… But back then, if you took out a loan and didn’t pay it back, you were considered like a criminal.
0:39:10 Paul Matzko: Go to jail, yeah. Debtor’s prison.
0:39:11 Paul Meany: Yeah. So I can kinda see why he’d hate them so much. But Dickens did believe in progress, and that it would actually help people, and that we weren’t doomed to this really… It’s called a Malthusian Trap. He didn’t think that. And that’s what A Christmas Carol is about. But it’s also supposed to be about humanizing the poor ‘cause a lot of time it was kinda viewed as if you were poor, it’s your own fault, really, even though you’re born into Victorian England with no opportunity. But that’s why they have the whole scene at the end with the family having the small meager feast, but loving each other a lot. It’s to humanize them and to make Victorian England feel terrible about what they’ve done.
0:39:41 Paul Matzko: One of his early fans was Karl Marx, actually. Marx writes approvingly of A Christmas Carol, right? I can’t remember exactly what he praised it for, though there was a bit of a critique where he agrees he does such a great job showing how basically terrible and evil industrial capitalists are, and showing the plight of the poor working classes, but he doesn’t offer a systemic alternative. So Dickens doesn’t have a then, “Well, because of this, the Bob Cratchits of the world should join together, rise up and overthrow… “
0:40:15 Landry Ayres: Rise up and beat Scrooge with… They grab Tiny Tim’s canes and attack him in his home, or something like that.
0:40:23 Paul Matzko: Right.
0:40:23 Landry Ayres: He said he doesn’t offer this?
0:40:24 Paul Matzko: He doesn’t offer a solution.
0:40:25 Natalie Dowzicky: That was one of the sequels I didn’t watch.
0:40:26 Paul Matzko: Yeah, that’s right.
0:40:27 Landry Ayres: Muppet Christmas Carol 2: Muppets Strike back.
0:40:30 Paul Meany: The Revenge of Tiny Tim.
0:40:32 Paul Matzko: I would watch that film.
0:40:33 Landry Ayres: Yes, I would. So this goes to… I think a larger question is… It also kind of humanizes Scrooge, I mean in a weird way by the end where he sort of tries to redeem himself. He goes out and he gets the largest turkey hanging in the window and provides it to this family, and everything like that. So do you think Dickens would… Does he see Michael Caine’s Scrooge as redeemable, or do you think he is trying to portray him as inherently bad because of his choices that he’s made?
0:41:12 Paul Meany: I think the whole point is that once you actually… Scrooge is isolated. He never sees other people, doesn’t pay attention to people. But once he’s shown what is happening, he realizes the error in his ways pretty fast. So it’s all just about experiencing other people, I think, is the point of the story.
0:41:25 Landry Ayres: In one night, he changes his mind!
0:41:27 Paul Meany: Yeah, one night, that’s all it takes. Well, a lot of people never actually looked at the underbelly of Victorian Society. When Karl Marx lived in England, he actually never visited a factory. So that kind of stuff happens, that you live in your own world and you can stay there, and it’s quite easy to.
0:41:41 Paul Matzko: So yeah, we have this critique of… We have a critique of unthinking, unfeeling people with money, of capitalists, right? But they can be humanized and redeemed by the end. If you had to tweak this story to make it more classically liberal… ‘cause at the time, you have classical liberals. This is 1840s, we get… Isn’t this the Corn Law agitation, where the Economist, the magazine, is founded, and where we root a lot of transatlantic…
0:42:14 Paul Meany: Thomas Malthus also supported the Corn Laws.
0:42:17 Paul Matzko: Yes. [laughter] So in a sense we should be… We are on the side of Dickens in the classically liberal 1830s, 1840s sense, right?
0:42:24 Paul Meany: Mm-hm.
0:42:25 Paul Matzko: But how would we tweak the story? If you had to change the story to make it more… Even more classically liberal, how would you do that?
0:42:33 Landry Ayres: More Muppets.
0:42:34 Paul Matzko: More Muppets?
0:42:35 Natalie Dowzicky: The solution to everything.
0:42:36 Landry Ayres: No humans. Well, that’s not true. You gotta have one human, ‘cause the contrast is what makes it really good. [laughter] And what I think… Just side note: Michael Caine when he accepted this part said, “I will play this as if I am in the Royal Shakespeare Company production.”
0:42:48 Paul Matzko: Yeah. Yeah.
0:42:49 Paul Meany: He puts a lot of effort into it!
0:42:50 Landry Ayres: There’s never a wink or a nod to the audience that he’s doing it in a movie or in a Muppets production. He plays it straight and I think that’s why I really like it. But you gotta have one human in there.
0:43:01 Natalie Dowzicky: Getting back to Paul’s classically liberal question, how would we change or alter this film? I mean this film is… A lot of it’s about charity too, especially since… I don’t know if this happened in the Muppets version, but one of the versions I watched from when I was little was when the beggars came to the door… I think this is in one of the original versions. Beggars came to the door asking for food, asking for donations, and… I think they asked for meat and drink or something like that. And Scrooge replies, “Oh, are there no prisons that are open now?” Which is something we referred to earlier, but I think charity is a large part of this story. And Scrooge, obviously, in the beginning before he’s visited by ghosts and all that good jazz, was under the impression that it was their fault that they were begging for food, that he didn’t owe them anything. Not necessarily that he has a… He thinks he owes them something at the end, but I think there’s a larger story about charity here that we could make more classically liberal than its depiction.
0:44:06 Landry Ayres: It is in the movie, because Bunsen Honeydew is the charity collector in this movie, so he comes to the door. Just to clarify.
0:44:12 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes.
0:44:12 Paul Meany: I don’t know how I’d make it more classically liberal. The charity angle could be good. Or maybe that they end up just not needing Scrooge by the end. That’d ruin the story though, but hopefully they’d find a way to work without someone who’s so terrible like Scrooge.
0:44:24 Paul Matzko: Maybe if you insert a character… Yeah, you insert someone who is a Scrooge-type, in other words he’s the mirror image. There’s Scrooge and his foil is a moneylender who is more generous, who is… So you have some sort of foil there, showing that… I mean, in a sense he acts as his own. There’s Scrooge before the visitation and Scrooge after, so you kind of already have that, in a sense.
0:44:53 Paul Meany: Maybe you could have Scrooge goes out of business ‘cause he has terrible business practices. Maybe that could be something because…
0:44:58 Natalie Dowzicky: The free market comes down on Scrooge.
0:45:00 Landry Ayres: Yeah.
0:45:00 Paul Meany: Well, there was a whole thing about there was a humane factory owners that gave people houses, and gave them higher wages, and didn’t make them work to death, and tried to educate them, and whatnot. And they tended to be better off than the people who wouldn’t put coal on the fire.
0:45:10 Paul Matzko: That’s actually a through line between both of these movies, in a sense. So you can see It’s A Wonderful Life is… When it criticizes Potter and Potterville and run to your class, it’s actually also a criticism. Capra was a New Dealer. A lot of his films… Well, him personally versus… But his films promoted the New Deal in the 30s and 40s, and it was a critique of corporate welfare. So you had these old company towns where Milton Hershey would build a town full of apartments and a hospital and schools and company stores, and everyone in the town would live in Hershey, Pennsylvania in the company town. Ford did the same thing.
0:45:52 Paul Meany: The first time they actually talk about Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, they say, “Is he a king?” In his carriage.
0:45:58 Paul Matzko: Yeah. Potter is not just a rich guy, he’s a rich guy who runs a company town. We call this the corporate welfare before the state welfare system was enacted during the New Deal. But that’s a through line there, is that you… Once upon a time in the late 19th century, that was seen as the future of how to take care of the poor, of the indigent, etcetera, was through these kind of corporate welfare systems. People like redeemed Scrooge having… Or less a moneylender, I suppose, and more like the factory owner… Would have the factory, and they provide education for the children and housing for the workers. It doesn’t necessarily… I mean they do out-perform. I think you’re right. Ford used to be praised by progressives because he paid the highest industrial wage in the entire country. He was also deeply anti-Semitic so, you know, you win some, you lose some.
0:46:55 Paul Matzko: But that was once seen as if you were a progressive forward-thinking person, you wanted these kinds of people to provide welfare. Now, it had downsides and I think you could be…
0:47:07 Paul Meany: Be dominated by your company.
0:47:09 Paul Matzko: You’re dominated by your company. There’s no freedom, and… Yeah.
0:47:10 Paul Meany: The Dickens answer to all this was… He constantly was all about hygiene and education. That was normally his thing. He was always very afraid of children losing faith in God ‘cause of their situation being so terrible, so he always was about the education. The hygiene makes a lot of sense because apparently… And in the book, it is just filthy. Everything’s just terrible.
0:47:29 Paul Matzko: Yeah, this is about the same time period where there’s push for the first municipal sewer systems and water systems. Philadelphia famously… You’re a Philadelphian, Natalie, right?
0:47:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Go Birds.
0:47:39 Paul Matzko: The Water Works, that was 1880s, 70s, I think, but… So at this time, you have these cities that we recognize are modern, filled with millions of people, and they’re still throwing their sewer stuff into the street. So yeah, people… It was a problem. It was a problem, hygiene.
0:47:56 Paul Meany: That’s where I put it.
0:48:00 Paul Matzko: So what… We’ve been talking a lot about the Christmas Carol and Dickens. What do you think adding Muppets in really adds to it, for you, Landry?
0:48:10 Landry Ayres: Well, it’s just adorable, first of all. [laughter] Any time you’ve got humans interacting with Muppets and taking it seriously, I’m just automatically more enraptured. But I don’t know, I’m not sure what it is about Muppets as opposed to others. I really just like this version the best because whenever you get the Muppets together, you’re gonna get big names too. You’ve got all the Muppets, all their Muppeteers, and then you get Michael Caine in there. The only thing that would make it better is if it was like Muppets Take Manhattan or something like that, where we’ve got cameos the whole time coming in left and right.
0:48:47 Paul Matzko: You want like Justin Bieber to pop in and sing with the Muppets or something? [chuckle]
0:48:52 Landry Ayres: Take my money. Right here. [laughter] They got Tim Curry for Muppet Treasure Island. I wanna see him in A Muppet…
0:48:58 Natalie Dowzicky: That’s my favorite Muppet movie.
0:49:00 Landry Ayres: ‘Cause it’s the best one.
0:49:01 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
0:49:02 Landry Ayres: So really it was just an excuse for… We wanted to talk about A Christmas Carol because it’s a classic, and I think it’s a story that we can learn a lot from. I think everybody can learn from a visit from Jacob and Robert Marley, as Statler and Waldorf are known as when they visit. So I really just wanted an excuse to talk about Muppets.
0:49:23 Natalie Dowzicky: And basically I lost because I said my favorite version was Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but yeah.
0:49:28 Landry Ayres: We don’t have the money to talk about that, so…
0:49:32 Paul Matzko: Disney will come after you.
0:49:32 Landry Ayres: They will come for us.
0:49:35 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh my gosh.
0:49:36 Paul Meany: Please don’t sue us, Jim Henson. [laughter] They were good.
0:49:40 Natalie Dowzicky: But I think we could probably expect at least two or three more editions of Christmas Carol within the next 10 years. I think the latest one came out…
0:49:47 Landry Ayres: Was it the… Jim Carrey? Was that the one?
0:49:48 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Jim Carrey came out… What was that… Gosh, three or four years ago now?
0:49:51 Landry Ayres: I don’t know.
0:49:52 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s like The Grinch. They keep coming out with new versions of The Grinch too. [chuckle]
0:49:55 Landry Ayres: Time is a flat circle, you know.
0:49:57 Paul Matzko: Let me put on my libertarian hat for a second and be like… ‘Cause this came up with It’s A Wonderful Life too. Our copyright system is too restrictive. So both these stories, the real reason why we get so many Christmas Carol adaptations is because you can do it for free. The source material is in the public domain. That encourages creativity. You can imagine, if the family of Dickens still controlled the rights to Christmas Carol, would they have been like, “We wanna take a real flyer on letting people put puppets in this hallowed piece of the literary canon”? No, the odds are that they would have rejected that kind of… But when you allow that into the public domain, it creates… Encourages innovation, ingenuity. It’s A Wonderful Life, it under-performed at the box office, dropped off the map, no one thought about it for the next 30 years. And then because the rights lapsed temporarily, this new… The Turner Broadcasting System, which was… I mean, today everyone’s like, “Oh, TBS. I know what that is.” But back then, no one knows what TBS is. It’s just struggling new nascent cable companies like, “We’re desperate for content that’s free, that we can play on a loop from Thanksgiving to Christmas.”
0:51:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Jimmy Stewart. Perfect! [chuckle]
0:51:08 Paul Matzko: Jimmy Stewart. Right? There are vaguely famous people in here and no one’s enforcing the rights ‘cause there’s no profit to be had. But again, corporate law’s way too strict, and it’s a libertarian hill I’ll die on, that we do need property rights that… I think intellectual property is good, but it’s gone too far. And part of this is because of Disney. Every time the copyright term starts to… Is about to lapse…
0:51:35 Natalie Dowzicky: It gets close to when Mickey becomes in public domain…
0:51:36 Paul Matzko: When Mickey would go to public domain, they extend it a little bit farther. And that’s had… That’s discouraged cultural innovation in America for the last half century or so.
0:51:44 Landry Ayres: Now, It’s A Wonderful Muppet Life… [laughter] That might be a Christmas movie.
0:51:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, yeah.
0:51:49 Paul Matzko: That, I would wanna see.
0:51:49 Landry Ayres: I would… You know, I would be like… There we go.
0:51:50 Natalie Dowzicky: We should start… We should contact the right people for that.
0:51:53 Paul Meany: Who would be Clarence, though?
0:51:53 Paul Matzko: How about Elmo as Clarence?
0:51:55 Landry Ayres: It would be Elmo.
0:51:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
0:51:55 Landry Ayres: I was gonna say Animal, but it would be Elmo, I think.
0:52:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Moving on to our very serious movie, Jingle All the Way, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a more comedy, low-key, maybe not one of the…
0:52:17 Landry Ayres: Highbrow drama. [laughter] That’s what this is.
0:52:19 Paul Meany: It’s like Die Hard.
0:52:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Christmas movie.
0:52:21 Landry Ayres: This is not a tumor.
0:52:24 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright.
0:52:25 Landry Ayres: Not this Schwarzenegger movie, but I just had to say it.
0:52:27 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright. At least we got one Schwarzenegger impression out here. So this is essentially just a story about how Christmas is about material things, right? We have Arnold Schwarzenegger going after Turbo Man, which is the must-have toy.
0:52:42 Landry Ayres: The Tickle Me Elmo, or the Cabbage Patch child of the season.
0:52:46 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Hey, don’t knock down on Cabbage Patch.
0:52:47 Landry Ayres: I’m not. I’m not a hater.
0:52:48 Natalie Dowzicky: I had a bunch of those. Okay. So anyway, Turbo Man is like the end-all, be-all to Christmas. Your kid is gonna be miserable and hate you forever if you don’t get it. I think he’s electronic too, right? He makes noises and…
0:53:01 Landry Ayres: Oh, yeah. He is an action figure.
0:53:04 Paul Meany: He doesn’t look that good. That’s one weird thing about the film. It doesn’t actually look that…
0:53:07 Paul Matzko: Looks like a cheap…
0:53:08 Paul Meany: Yeah.
0:53:08 Landry Ayres: So we’re gonna turn to Paul Meany here, ‘cause this is the first time he watched this film.
0:53:12 Paul Meany: Never heard of it.
0:53:13 Natalie Dowzicky: He had never heard of it until a few days ago.
0:53:16 Landry Ayres: First impressions, Paul?
0:53:17 Paul Meany: I was speechless the entire time. It went from people laughing at poor old Arnie in the shop to him fighting Santa ninjas, and there was a boomerang, there was a bomb scare…
0:53:29 Landry Ayres: Yes, there is a postal worker who threatens a radio station with a bomb.
0:53:35 Paul Matzko: That wouldn’t play so well in the post-9/11…
0:53:37 Natalie Dowzicky: No. [laughter]
0:53:37 Landry Ayres: It would not. It would not. Also, Sinbad’s character, originally supposed to be Joe Pesci. Little-known fact. [chuckle]
0:53:47 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, my personal favorite scene from the movie was actually when Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to steal the toy from his neighbor’s house, and he almost sets the neighbor’s house on fire because, I don’t know, the Christmas tree fell into something. Whatever. He…
0:54:00 Paul Meany: It’s like a… What’s the animal that comes in? It’s like a deer or something. He attacks…
0:54:05 Landry Ayres: It’s a reindeer, I think.
0:54:05 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So he goes outside. He goes outside and starts drinking with the reindeer. [chuckle] That was… I mean there are so many just classic scenes in this movie, but…
0:54:13 Landry Ayres: Any of the scenes with Phil Hartman, because he is a gem and he can… Any line-read from him is great.
0:54:21 Natalie Dowzicky: So I guess… I don’t have children, but there’s only one person at this table who does. Paul, would you do this for George?
0:54:29 Paul Matzko: Do what for George?
0:54:30 Paul Matzko: Just run… [chuckle] Go through this ordeal.
0:54:30 Landry Ayres: Would you run through this?
0:54:32 Paul Matzko: Fight off Santas? I would have said unequivocally “no” before I had a child. Then you have a child, and… George is obsessed with Hot Wheels. If I did not give him some Hot Wheels set for Christmas, and thankfully it’s not as specific as “I want Turbo Man”. But I start to understand it. I still don’t think I would, but I get the temptation to… That’s… Anything else and the kid’s not gonna be happy on Christmas, and you wanna make your kid happy on Christmas. Of course, in Arnold’s situation, there’s strife at home and he thinks that buying this thing will kind of fix everything, repair his relationship with his son, with… They’re still married, right?
0:55:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, but he’s worried that she’s cheating on him with Phil Hartman.
0:55:20 Paul Matzko: Hartman, yeah.
0:55:20 Landry Ayres: Yes. He’s worried that Phil Hartman is going to steal his wife out from his arm. He also is, I believe, considered to be like a workaholic.
0:55:30 Paul Matzko: Yeah.
0:55:30 Paul Meany: Mattress salesman.
0:55:31 Landry Ayres: Yes, he’s a mattress salesman. And so to me it sort of raises the question… It’s a question about capitalism. Has it gone too far? Is he pushed to work too hard?
0:55:43 Paul Meany: Hasn’t gone far enough. They don’t have enough Turbo Men.
0:55:46 Paul Meany: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
0:55:46 Landry Ayres: That was gonna be what I was sort of talking about, and it raises these questions about…
0:55:50 Natalie Dowzicky: There’s a scarcity.
0:55:51 Landry Ayres: There’s a scarcity of Turbo Men out there.
0:55:53 Paul Meany: Well, online ordering. That’ll make it all better than the shops, where they’re just fighting each other. No way. More capitalism is a solution to the shortage of Turbo Man.
0:56:01 Landry Ayres: It leads to innovation. Absolutely.
0:56:03 Paul Meany: That’s only thing I took from this film that was so bizarre.
0:56:06 Landry Ayres: Okay, that was gonna be…
0:56:07 Paul Meany: So I’m done now.
0:56:08 Landry Ayres: All right, everyone, that’s our show. Thanks so much.
0:56:11 Natalie Dowzicky: Paul Meany’s put in everything he’s got.
0:56:13 Paul Matzko: Well, there’s that bit… When Common Sense Media, which is one of those Christian film-rating websites… They gave it a low rating, 1 1/2 stars or something, because they said it was about consumerism. But it’s actually supposed to be… It’s one of those films where there’s an intended purpose, and then there’s the way people actually watch it. The intended purpose is supposed to be a critique of mindless consumerism, like he shouldn’t work so much, he shouldn’t think that buying a thing will fix his family and his relationship with his son. And he realizes that at the end, that “I should value my family more, and work less, and not be a mindless consumer.” But there’s the intended purpose and then there’s the way people actually watch it, which is like… That’s kind of tacked on at the end. The reason why people watch it is like, “Oh, look how funny it is that he’s going after this doll,” in which case you can kind of see it as an affirmation of consumerism in a sense. So there’s that… You wanna have your consumer’s cake and eat it too, or…
0:57:10 Natalie Dowzicky: But not all these scenes are totally unrealistic, though. Him fighting in the store for the last one, or pushing people out of the way when the store door opens, that kind of stuff happens all the time. Have you been to the King of Prussia mall on Black Friday?
0:57:24 Paul Meany: I have never been to…
0:57:24 Natalie Dowzicky: It is a do or die type situation.
0:57:26 Paul Meany: I’m about to have my first Black Friday. Not a thing at home back in Ireland, so this is my first time.
0:57:31 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, this is exciting.
0:57:32 Paul Meany: I’m gonna fight someone.
0:57:32 Paul Matzko: You need to take Paul to the King of Prussia mall.
0:57:34 Natalie Dowzicky: You have to… Black Friday actually starts on Thursday now, so…
0:57:37 Landry Ayres: Yeah. Now it’s not even… Everything, all that creep. It’s like the elections or primaries. They just keep getting front-loaded. [chuckle]
0:57:47 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
0:57:47 Paul Meany: I thought Black Friday is not as crazy as it used to be.
0:57:49 Paul Matzko: You’re right, ‘cause of online.
0:57:50 Natalie Dowzicky: Because of online.
0:57:50 Landry Ayres: Now it’s Cyber Monday.
0:57:51 Natalie Dowzicky: And Cyber Monday.
0:57:52 Paul Meany: Which is much better.
0:57:53 Landry Ayres: Do you think… There is a Jingle All The Way 2 starring Larry the Cable Guy.
0:57:56 Paul Matzko: Oh, my.
0:57:57 Natalie Dowzicky: What?
0:57:57 Landry Ayres: It was a straight to DVD film produced by WWE Media. [laughter] It has at least one professional wrestler in it, but I’m wondering if we get a Jingle All The Way 3: The Rejingling or something, if it’ll be about Cyber Monday and to get the perfect toy for…
0:58:18 Natalie Dowzicky: I mean on Cyber Monday…
0:58:19 Landry Ayres: A child. A mom has to break into an Amazon warehouse in the middle of the night and hijack servers and drive around one of their little robots.
0:58:28 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, also on Cyber Monday now, people wait in virtual lines to get on the stores’ sites. I don’t know if you guys have ever done this. It’s not very fun, but you have to open your browser and it’s like, “You’re 320th in line,” and it sets you to a different homepage. Then when you have access to the site, because there’s so many people trying to get on at one time, they don’t want it to crash, then they’ll let you go on to the regular homepage.
0:58:51 Landry Ayres: I’d rather do that than stand in a real line, though.
0:58:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, but…
0:58:55 Paul Meany: You’re still at home.
0:58:56 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s the spirit.
0:58:56 Landry Ayres: ‘Cause I don’t like the people next to me. I don’t like the spirit of Black Friday ‘cause I…
0:59:02 Paul Meany: Shoving people and grabbing things sounds terrible.
0:59:04 Landry Ayres: It’s the worst. I would much rather be bored at my house in front of my computer with a mug of hot choccy having a good time with my flannel on, than be out at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving when I’ve just woken up from my tryptophan coma. I think this is one of the cases where, as Paul mentioned, innovation has allowed for us to improve our lives.
0:59:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Okay, fair enough.
0:59:35 Landry Ayres: As pessimistic as people can be.
0:59:37 Natalie Dowzicky: Though I still… We still want more Arnold Schwarzenegger movies to keep pumping out.
0:59:41 Landry Ayres: Oh, of course. Absolutely.
0:59:42 Paul Matzko: It is funny ‘cause The Terminator: Dark Fate is just now coming out with Arnold, kind of recast in his Terminator role.
0:59:48 Landry Ayres: Just came out a couple of…
0:59:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Why does everyone say Arnold’s name that way? Arnold.
0:59:51 Paul Matzko: Arnold.
0:59:51 Landry Ayres: We’re on a first name basis.
0:59:53 Paul Matzko: Yeah.
0:59:55 Landry Ayres: Arnie?
0:59:55 Paul Matzko: You want me to say “Governor” instead? Governor of California?
1:00:00 Natalie Dowzicky: [chuckle] No.
1:00:00 Paul Matzko: What’s was interesting about his little career and… Big career, I should say.
1:00:04 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes. It’s not a little career, Paul. [chuckle]
1:00:06 Paul Matzko: A pumped career. And the role of this movie in it is that… To get all film nerdy on you, there’s this film critic called John Cuolty… I got this by way of the YouTuber Nerdwriter, if there are any Nerdwriter fans out there, but… Who has this theory about the lifecycle of genre films. Cuolty is applying it to westerns and then Nerdwriter’s applying it to superheroes. But I think it also applies here to action films. So those who are fans of action movies know that the 80s was the golden age of the action film and a certain kind of action hero. It was your Arnolds, your Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and they’re all these pumped, often steroid-pumping, though they would… Wink wink, nod nod, say they wouldn’t… These pumped characters who are larger than life. A lot of it… For those cultural critics who have some history background, it’s a reaction to the 70s and 60s and American failures at the time. We lost in the Vietnam War but you know what? We need to say it wasn’t our fault, it was because of traitorous generals or lack of will…
1:01:17 Paul Meany: Pencil-pushers, always.
1:01:19 Paul Matzko: That’s Rambo. Rambo is, “We could have won if we’d been allowed to win.” Especially the later ones, two and other later sequels. Even Arnold… All those movies are this brash, “We’re not in the Jimmy Carter malaise anymore. This is Reagan’s America. Proud to… We’re strong and muscular and assertive.”
1:01:39 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s all masculinity.
1:01:40 Paul Matzko: “We can fight just vague ambiguous brown people in whatever overseas situation they’re set in.” Right? So it’s… Yeah, it’s like a late Cold War hyper-masculinity on display. So what’s interesting is this movie… What are they doing with this guy who’s the recognized king of that genre? This is 10 years later, it’s the 90s. What’s he doing in this kind of ludicrous role? Well, it’s parody. And so in genre film, Cuolty’s point is that genre films, they reach a point of saturation, that people become tired of them. People become tired of that classic 80s action film. It started to feel trite, had all these tropes that got boring, and it seemed hollow and inauthentic by the 90s. So you start to parody it. That’s what this is. This film is a parody of the action film. He’s fighting not to spread freedom or to win the Vietnam War or whatever; he’s fighting to get a doll. A toy.
1:02:38 Natalie Dowzicky: And he dresses up as Turbo Man to do that.
1:02:40 Paul Matzko: Dresses up as Turbo Man.
1:02:41 Natalie Dowzicky: And fights Santa.
1:02:42 Paul Matzko: Cheesy. It’s… Ninja Santas!
1:02:44 Natalie Dowzicky: Ninja Santas. Sorry. [chuckle]
1:02:46 Paul Meany: Yes. Doesn’t want nunchucks for the…
1:02:48 Paul Matzko: So it’s a parody of the roles he would have played in the 1980s. Of course then after, in Cuolty’s cycle, eventually you get back to reaffirmation of myth. You get demythologization, which is films like… You think like No Country For Old Men, which that’s an action film and it’s kind of like, ugh, this is…
1:03:06 Landry Ayres: More of a noir than anything, I would say.
1:03:09 Paul Matzko: Yeah. Yeah. And then you get to reaffirmation of myth in the superhero genre. That’s like Logan and The Dark Knight are reaffirmation of myth. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it’s kind of a nostalgia for, “I wish this is a world where this could be true.” And in a sense we have Terminator: Dark Fate as a reaffirmation of myth. We’ve gone long enough now that it’s like, “We are nostalgic for a time when we all kind of bought into Arnold as this legit action hero, and we want to un-ironically imagine a time where that seemed like a… Not a realistic world, but that seemed like a thing that we wanted as a society.” Anyways, this movie plays the parodic role in that, and I think it’s interesting.
1:03:51 Natalie Dowzicky: I think I was reading something online. It’s usually Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most forgotten film, and I was like, “Well, why?”
1:03:57 Landry Ayres: Who did they survey?
1:03:57 Paul Matzko: It’s definitely his most famous!
1:03:58 Natalie Dowzicky: [chuckle] Yeah. I know. I was like, “I wanna see the stats on this one.”
1:04:02 Landry Ayres: Jingle All the Way. Kindergarten Cop. That’s it. [laughter] The top two, right there.
1:04:10 Natalie Dowzicky: Anyway, I thought that was also funny just because… That and people forget Arnold’s the main character, which I was like, “Arnold’s like the whole movie,” so I don’t know how you would forget Arnold is the main character, but whatever. Some people just don’t agree with us. It’s fine.
1:04:17 Natalie Dowzicky: I think that’s all we have for today, but in our… In true holiday spirit, Landry has written us a song and he is going to perform it right now. [chuckle]
1:04:17 Landry Ayres: So you may be familiar… We had a discussion about copyright law and public domain, so I had to hunt for a song that was in the public domain. And luckily, for the holidays there are plenty. So I’ll only… The song is a song sung in the round, so it takes a while to get through the whole thing if you sing all the lyrics in the order as they would appear. So I’m just gonna sing the very last verse of The Twelve Days of Libmas.
1:04:17 Landry Ayres: On the 12th day of Libmas the state gave to me, 12 students debting, 11 whistles blowing, 10 laws regulating, nine candidates fighting, eight Dodds Franking, seven agencies spying, six schools no choosing, bureaucracy, four endless wars, three vaping bans, two party system, and a one for liberty.
1:05:40 Landry Ayres: Thank you so much.
1:05:42 Paul Matzko: Bravo!
1:05:44 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If you wanna hear us break down one of your favorites, Muppetfied or not, you can follow us on Twitter @PopnLockePod. That’s pop, the letter N, lock with an E, pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unraveling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by Tess Terrible and me, Landry Ayres, as a project of libertarianism.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.