Mary had a little stereotype

At our house, It’s a Wonderful Life is only the third most popular Christmas movie, after the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol and Love Actually.  It’s a very solid #3, though, and we happily anticipate the 2011 viewing.  My husband and daughter never miss an opportunity to laugh and point in my direction during a certain incident.

You know the scene: it’s been established that, because George Bailey was not born, his destined wife Mary obviously would have been denied any other other chance at marriage (despite the fact that she is charming, intelligent, and beautiful).  Therefore, after the makeup crew has done its best to render Donna Reed ugly and pathetic, we are presented with the most dread-inspiring fate imaginable (even worse than being single) for any woman.  Mary has become a–gasp of horror–librarian !  Noooooooo!

Not surprisingly, we female librarians prefer the cinematic role models of Katharine Hepburn (Desk Set) or Parker Posey (Party Girl).  Marian the Librarian in The Music Man has an enviable wardrobe, a fabulous voice, and a whole lotta spunk, but she doesn’t appear to enjoy her work, does she?

Of course, since then we’ve profited from a variety of dynamic representations, including blogs like LibrarianinBlack and Days and Nights of the Lipstick Librarian.

Fictional characters now avoid the stern and the hapless, as well.  Jess Lourey’s character Mira James is a part-time librarian and part-time reporter; Richelle Mead and Michele Bardsley have created vampire librarian characters.   Speaking for myself, I believe we’d rather be associated with a paranormal type than a pitiful one.

It’s a Wonderful Life has aged remarkably well given that some other foundational tropes have, like the concept of library careers for unmarriagables, gone out of style.  You could view Mr. Potter, the misanthropic financier, as a case in point.  Meryl Streep’s turn as the evil magazine editor in the movie based on Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada demonstrates that nowadays fashion and women can challenge banking and men for power-grabbing any time.

As for the seediness of boarding houses as portrayed in Clarence’s what-if scenario, it’s been supplanted by the entertaining bed & breakfast scene in series like those written by Mary Daheim
 And what about the notion that the college degree so envied by George Bailey guarantees a significant post-graduation job offer and future success in life?  Books like Boomerang Kids:  A Revealing Look at Why So Many of Our Children Are Failing on Their Own, and How Parents Can Help, along with a plethora of fiction featuring educated slackers, can dispel that expectation once and for all.

Of course, it’s only fair to mention that two themes–angelic intervention and the romantic power of the high school reunion party–have definitely retained their fascination for readers and moviegoers over the decades. 

And Mary’s librarian chapeau?  It would be the height of fashion right now.

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