Friday, October 21, 2011

Frank Capra's "Meet John Doe" is Surprisingly Relevant

“Wake up, John Doe. You’re the hope of the world.”

--"Meet John Doe"

Yesterday, while home sick, I watched Frank Capra’s 1941 film “Meet John Doe.” I think I picked up the DVD in one of those bargain bins at CVS Pharmacy. It sat unwatched on my DVD shelf for about three years until yesterday, when it blew my mind.

The movie begins in a newspaper office where a bunch of reporters are getting “downsized.” It’s the Great Depression. In a final act of defiance, one reporter (the lovely Barbara Stanwyk) writes a fictional letter to the editor from a guy named John Doe. John Doe was recently laid off. He is outraged at the greed and injustice in the world. He vows to commit suicide by jumping off city hall on Christmas Eve.

The letter elicits a huge response of sympathetic readers, and Barbara Stanwyk is allowed to keep her job, so long as she continues writing as John Doe. The editor puts out a call for the real John Doe to come forward, and hundreds of unemployed, outraged people flock to the newspaper office. It is the Great Depression.

After interviewing a bunch of potential John Does, the editor and writer settle on a shy former baseball player, John Willoughby (played by Gary Cooper), to play the part. As the movie goes along, however, John begins to sincerely believe in his message, and people respond.

John Doe starts making a series of speeches about the importance of sharing and helping one another in difficult times. Thus begins the John Doe Movement. All over the U.S., John Doe clubs spring up to speak against the greed of big business and politicians, and the importance of love and goodwill toward one’s neighbors.

Watching the movie, I was floored. The John Doe Movement was very much like the Occupy Wall Street Movement happening right now. People in the movie holding signs saying “We are John Doe” are echoing the same sentiment of the people holding signs today saying “We are the 99 percent.” Meaning, we are the common people, and we matter.

In the movie, the John Doe Movement becomes manipulated by a wealthy newspaper owner, trying to use it to grab political power. In the end, however, the movement endures and the last lines of the movie are directed at this wealthy media mogul. An ordinary man says, “That’s the common man! Try and lick that!”

Meet John Doe is a movie that more people ought to see, especially considering the growing Occupy Wall Street Movement, and the growing feeling of outrage and unrest in America today.

This is the speech "John Doe" gives that sparks the movement.

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