It may be cheesy, but It’s a Wonderful Life is the perfect Christmas film for all of us this year.
I scoffed at the person who told me to bring tissues to the screening. I am a cynical journalist, I told them, and I do not cry at soppy movies! By the end, both I and the (equally cynical) politician I went to the movie with were bawling. The teacher sitting between us was dry-eyed. What this says about our respective professions I don’t know.
But I digress. For those of you who don’t know the story, George Bailey is a dreamer saddled with mundane responsibilities. His local town, Bedford Falls, is run as a fiefdom by the malicious millionaire Potter, and George’s family has been the only one to stand up to him, founding a Building & Loan society that is helping to pull people out of slums and poverty.
It’s the usual David & Goliath, good versus evil story you see in Christmas films. But what’s particularly resonant about it today, in Ireland, is the fact that it’s all about banks. Banks, building, and small businesses.
George’s business is more like a charity. He runs it for the good of the community, and has forgone the opportunity to get rich to do so. Potter, on the other hand, is a rich, miserable, control freak who thrives on the unhappiness of others – he profits massively from the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which increases his hold over the town.
Under these circumstances, small businesses like George’s can barely survive. But George, through a combination of adroitness and kindness, manages to keep a roof over his head and those of his customers.
Without ruining the ending for you, the fact that George’s business continues to grow is no thanks to the bank, which is owned by big, bad Potter. It’s thanks to the small-timers.
The comparisons between Depression-era Bedford Falls and modern Ireland are stark.
Every day we are seeing small businesses go to the wall while our taxes bail out banks whose greed during the good times now holds the country to ransom. In our case, however, the ‘small-timers’ – taxpayers and social welfare recipients – are cushioning banks, while small businesses like the Bailey Building & Loan have nowhere to go for help.
With the City Council this week deciding not to hike rates for 2010, it’s clear the powers that be recognise businesses are facing a tough year. But it’s not enough.
Businesses suffering from the recession, lack of consumer confidence and of course the floods need more from Government than a constant assurance that prices are dropping. They need practical help – an onus on the banks to be more flexible would help.
For businesses like Plugd Records, which this week announced its closure, it’s all been too much. They need more than is being given.
To that end the Cork Independent hopes to play a very small part in helping flood-affected businesses get back on their feet, by offering free coverage to those re-opening in January (see p46 for details).
It’s a small thing, but, like the community of Bedford Falls, the community of Cork has rallied. The Raising Cork quiz and the various charity collections going on at the moment show that people are generous even in adversity Individual charity donations are up; staff in our office donated to the Saint Vincent de Paul rather than do our customary Kris Kindle this year.
There is an understanding now, more than there ever was in the Celtic Tiger years, that there but for the grace of God go we. Together, we can take whatever is thrown at us; it might be hard, but it’s a wonderful life.