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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Pottersville Goes Online

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What is it that makes the holiday movie classic "It's a Wonderful Life" feel so ancient? It's the relationships, but which ones?

Not George Bailey's warm and loving family. We have close families today. It's not the far-off relationships, as with long-lost school friends. We have more of them than ever, thanks to Facebook and other digital communities.

The relationships they had in Bedford Falls that are often missing today are those between the very intimate and the quite distant. Townspeople like Gower the druggist, Ernie the cabdriver, Bert the cop — George knew them all by name, and he knew their stories.

George's family, owners of a building and loan, was fairly prosperous. But the Baileys remained tightly woven with people of varying incomes, education and ethnicity. Each of them was an individual, not just a useful provider of a good or service.

This is society's middle ring, so strong in the Main Street America of 70 years ago but much weakened since by several forces. One is the clustering of like-minded people from similar backgrounds in the same neighborhood. Another is the migration of social life and shopping from in-person to the Internet.

Marc Dunkelman writes of the fading town-based model of society in his book, "The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community." The middle ring, he says, was "where communities of people with different skills and interests, disparate concerns and values, collaborated with their neighbors in the pursuit of the common good."

"It's a Wonderful Life" wallows in sentimentality, but it does not sprinkle sugar on the stresses of middle-ring relationships. A key theme is George's ability to deal humanely with the town's flawed human beings. For example, he treats the local floozy, Violet, with unfailing kindness, even lending her money so she doesn't have to sell her furs.

There's a harsh scene in which a drunken Gower slaps young George around.

George responds with tearful sympathy for the grief he knows the druggist is suffering.

Today the parents might sue the druggist for assaulting their child. And Gower's reputation would have been shredded beyond repair on social media.

The Facebook generation would probably unfriend these needy or difficult people in two minutes. But in the social matrix of Bedford Falls, these connections are for life.

Sacrifice for others is another theme. George gives up his dreams of adventure to protect his neighbors from the evil banker Mr. Potter. Gratitude for his good deeds, however, does not flow freely.

When there's a run on the bank, angry depositors ignore George's assurances they'd eventually get their money back. He has to remind a man named Joe that when he was behind on house payments, the bank let his family keep its home.

Some want to take Mr. Potter's offer of pennies on the dollar. George implores them: "We've got to stick together. ... We've got to have faith in each other."

In a nightmare sequence, George sees what Bedford Falls would have become without him. It's Pottersville now, a hellish place where malice is the default, the vulnerable are humiliated and seedy bars, strip clubs and pool halls expel their neon nastiness onto the streets. (The jazz is good, though.)

As our relationships move online, this dark vision is looking awfully familiar. There's "flaming," the spread of false personal attacks. And doxxing, the malicious disclosure of private information. Hacking into private accounts has become commonplace. Stolen personal photos are posted on anonymous websites. And adults are using false identities to traumatize children.

This is what happens when middle-ring relationships are replaced by an outer ring crowded with strangers. Is it all Pottersville from here on? Let's hope not.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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Ma'am;... Your article reminds me of the line from Uncle Fester in the Old Addams family. He explained the break up with his girl friend by saying, I'm a boy and she's a girl; We got nothing in common.

America is becoming a land where neighbors have nothing in common. I barely speak to mine, and I always speak when I am spoken too. Even my newest neighbor who I had some contact with because I cut down one of his trees hanging over my garage is not on my chat list. He is little over a third of my age, and he keeps to himself.

I got tired of being cooped up in my house last weekend. I have only music while I work, and I was working many hours on a job, finishing a deer hide as an anthropological experiment. So I packed up the hide and drove to a dive that was really hopping. I have never seen the place so busy and it is sort of a hangout for the younger counter cultures crowd. I was expecting dead, even on a saturday night because it was dead every other day I went. But it was cool, even when dead, with a loft, and a lot of really good books.

Half way into the bar I met my neighbor who recognized me right off, but he had to remind me of who he was. I guess I didn't look too close because he is a renter, and even with a daughter, I think transient. I couldn't talk. The drying hide was in my bag and it needed constant work to dry soft. So I grabbed an IPA draft, and found a dark corner of quiet seclusion, and went to work, working the hide over my legs, and keeping it stretched. The band was great, and from Kazoo, playing original music. They also had a body painting contest under way, and to my surprise, nymphs were walking around the bar painted and shirtless. So naturally, I feel like a perve being in the same zip code as these girl who were as young as my girls. Fortunately I could pull on that hide and drink my ale, and occupy myself.

After the music ended for the night I saw my neighbor, and said I hoped I hadn't de-cooled the place for him.
And he was great, only wondering how I had ended up in the same dive as himself. It wasn't the girls, or the band I didn't know was playing. The place was simply laid back and the people friendly, and it wasn't a pick-up joint as far as I knew. So anyway; now my neighbor and I have something in common. Now, I have a reason to talk to him and say: hey.

Neighbor come from the words: Near, and By. Living by some one is no longer evidence that you have something in common. My neighbor's daughter is roughly the same age as two of my grand daughters, and all go to schools for exceptional children. Do we really relate as you seem to think, electronically? Because I am a face to face sort of person. I don't go out of my way with people. Even when I try to help people I prefer it to be at a formal distance. I am really afraid of being sucked into the hellish lives I see people struggle their way through. I can relate, but to care is to become vulnerable. I don't like that feeling.

So this is Lansing, and you can tell it's not Bedbug Falls. We do not have angels here unless one of us appoints himself to the post Pro Tem.The problem as I see it with neighbors and neighborliness, is that we have only time to work on the most major and natural relationships. If our nation, and if our sense of unity of people and purpose is lost it is in part because government has failed us, and we will never, short of revolution, have a chance to correct the government. Many of us struggle with personal relationships, and social relationships, and I think this people has to ask why, with all of this knowledge and technology, and for what reason we do not have time to devote to government. Between Survival and the struggles to keep our personal relationship in order, we have nothing left.

The reason electronic relationships are such a boon is that they take less of the time we have nothing extra of. I went to the bar not to relax, but to work, and it does not matter that only my own personal education was at stake. If at 61 and retired I do not yet have time to kick back, there is plenty wrong in America. I can't expect, and don't expect others to have an interest in hand tanning deer hides to see what labor tanning took. I can't expect others to have an interest in my gardening or steel salvage yard. What I am left with is civility rather than familiarity. George Bailey was familiar with his town and its people. Familiar it is likely to be taken as an insult around here
I am not agreeing that things are all the great. I think the old in particular suffer a lot of anxiety, insecurity and lonliness. I have heard of children separated by great distance from their parents out of economic necessity, sensing over the telephone, their only connection, -the physical, and mental decline of their parents and being able to do absolutely nothing for them.

There is only so much any of is can do because we are practically slaves. What will these retired people do when the gravity of their situation sinks in because the government betrayed them to the demands of the rich? The old are only slightly less vulnerable than children. To have ones own government rob our pensions to keep itself in business is a criminal abuse of power. Who will they not rob? Every day they celebrate high profits and national recovery, but in all that they cannot tax the powerful, but can rob the powerless. This is a hard world to make friends in, but you better hope you have enough friends to bury you, because the government is killing us.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Thu Dec 18, 2014 10:02 PM
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