If Michael Moore had arrived on the film scene as a conservative Republican activist in 1989, he might be heralded by Fox News today as a major American hero, and he might even be able to get a fair review in the so-called “liberal” New York Times.
Unfortunately for him and his message, he started making movies during the late 1980s, when the presidencies of Republicans Ronald Reagan and then George Herbert Walker Bush made them the target of his outsourcing ire. Moore first became famous for his 1989 film “Roger and Me,” a documentary about what happened to his home town of Flint, Michigan, after General Motors closed its automobile factories and moved to Mexico, where workers made much less.
Since then, Moore has been known as a critic of the “neoliberal” view of globalization, according to Wikipedia, although that term goes right over the heads of most of the working people in the US who should be watching his movies and learning something from them. That is the sad state of political dialogue in the good old US of A.
I mean, here’s a regular Joe, who could be comfortable drinking a beer with George W. Bush, who should be fighting side by side with the conservatives who oppose the big government bailout of Wall Street banks.
But because 20 percent of the country still believe, somehow, that Bush was an O.K. president, the audience that needs to see this movie the most, average working people struggling to make a living, especially in the South, will not see it because they already dismiss Moore as a “liberal” Democrat “propagandist.”
Although I did find some hope after screening “Capitalism: A Love Story” Friday night in a theater located in a Wal-Mart parking lot. That’s an irony considering how Moore takes on the retail giant in his film. (See the After Matter in the end for the hope).
In the film, Moore is his usual bumbling self, just an average “everyman” trying one more time to get into the General Motors headquarters in Michigan, where he is predictably turned away yet again. His now familiar shtick also inspires him to lease an armored truck and make a futile attempt to get the $700 billion in Bush bailout money back from Citibank, A.I.G., and other recipients to transfer it back into the US Treasury.
The best gag for me came near the end, when he stretches yellow crime scene tape around Goldman Sachs on Wall Street, tying it off on the Wall Street Bull (see the photo below).
Moore is also pretty good at establishing a theme for his story at the outset, although I think he falls short of driving home the point that capitalism and democracy are definitely NOT the same thing, which really is part of the problem we have even trying to have an intelligent conversation today on blog comments or TV.
Moore opens with surveillance shots of people robbing banks, then cuts to clips of an educational flick making the comparison to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire with our own rise and demise, with Dick Cheney cleverly as the emperor, not Bush.
Some of the best stories in the film with the most potential power to educate and excite an audience to rise up and do something involve real-life stories of families evicted from their homes.
For the record, he does offer some suggested solutions. Perhaps the New York Times movie reviewer stepped out for a cigarette during those parts.
He shows a bread factory in California that is set up as a democracy, not a plutocracy, where the workers share the profits and are eager to make the company successful.
He shows united workers taking over a door- and window-making shop in Chicago and winning concessions from management by staging a six-day sit-in.
He also unearths internal memos from insurance companies and predatory lenders showing how they actually plan to profit from workers by taking out secret health insurance policies on them and by ballooning their rates to force them into foreclosure, all in a scheme designed for a few to profit at the expense of communities – and the national economy.
Perhaps the most valuable bit of historical information that could help turn things around here will most likely get lost in the spin cycle shuffle, because the Rush Limbaughs and Karl Roves and Glenn Becks of the world already have the loyal right convinced that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an evil big-government liberal.
Never mind that his administration actually saved this country completely from the Great Depression in the 1930s using government spending to stimulate the economy, a story that is much better told in Ken Burns’ documentary on the National Parks than Moore’s film.
But by reminding us of FDR’s unfulfilled dream of a second Bill of Rights, Moore gives us something to work toward. Much like the US did when we rewrote the constitutions of Japan and Germany after World War II, a new American Bill of Rights would have guaranteed every American, yes, the “right” to a job, a home, an education, health insurance – and a paid vacation.
Instead, as Moore points out, a B-movie actor and a corporate spokesman named Ronald Reagan came along and broke up the unions. Then, through deregulation, which continued under Clinton and Bush, the Republicans and the Democrats gave away America’s “apple pie” to the rich, the oilmen, the drug makers, the bankers and, yes, the insurance company executives who are out there today spending a fortune fighting President Barack Obama’s national health care plan.
Some recent movie reviews have criticized Moore for not taking on Obama’s bailout, and for an overly patriotic portrayal of Obama’s election as a victory for “the people.” They must understand that this movie was written, filmed, edited and scheduled for release long before that. And besides, as you already know, Obama is still fighting for a national health care plan and was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, not for accomplishments already achieved, but for the “hope” he provides the world – in sharp contrast to his predecessor.
If Obama fails, or falls short, there is no doubt Moore will come after him in a future film. Moore didn’t let Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton totally off the hook in this one. He really is a nonpartisan critic for the most part.
Now, for one final explanation and criticism of the film. In the heart of it, Moore, who was raised a middle-class Catholic in the prosperous 1950s, goes to see his old priest and a bishop or two and gets them to say that capitalism is actually at loggerheads with Christianity.
It’s a classic “what would Jesus do?” moment, and I understand what Moore was trying to say and do. It’s not that unlike what Jimmy Carter and E.O. Wilson are trying to do by appealing to people of faith to become environmentally conscious and respect the “creation.”
More power to them on those fronts, but that’s not my idea of where the fight for our future will be won. I’m afraid the dogmatic religious right in this country is already locked into a blind vote for the Republican Party, and too uneducated to be taught respect for the planet. But they are a vocal minority, not a majority, so their views can, for the most part, be dismissed now – that is if the Democrats will stop pandering to the corporations, and help Obama change things enough to stay on top in the next couple of elections.
The real central message in the film, and the one we should all be sharing around on Facebook, is that democracy and capitalism are NOT the same thing. We have suffered for the past eight years under a president led by a spin-master who purposely tried to define American Democracy as run-amok corporate capitalism. “Liberty” to Bush meant chasing down Saddam Hussein in a spider hole. “Freedom” meant allowing a private corporate contractor, Halliburton, to rape and plunder and make off with Saddam’s gold.
It may seem like a cheap trick, but when Moore goes to the US Capitol and searches the original copy of the Constitution for any mention of words associated with capitalism, and can’t find them, that is an essential message that ought to be taught in our elementary schools.
Here’s where Moore falls short, and where I hope to remedy our dialogue in a documentary of my own in the not too distant future. American democracy was conceived in a revolution designed to fight monarchy and what writers such as Thomas Paine then called “mercantalism,” the monopolies of the British tea companies and such.
In other words, the original dream for America was an egalitarian society with a strong middle class, not so much ruling elites and peasants. That’s what most of the people came to these shores from Europe to escape. But that is back where we find ourselves after eight years of Bush, who ran the country like a king in charge of a multi-national company led by a pope.
Public enemy number one in some ways might very well be the government, when Republicans are in charge at least, but the real public enemy number one in this land of the not so free anymore are the mega-corporations. That’s what people need to begin to realize.
Once we get a health care bill passed, hopefully by Christmas, some of the activism on the right and left in this country needs to lean on the Obama administration to break up some of the monopolies, especially in the area of communications and media.
The right-wing rednecks around here are still screaming on their email lists about Obama, worried he’s going to get their guns by going after their Second Amendment rights. I keep wondering where in the hell they were back when, when we were the lonely voice in the wilderness around here actually fighting Bush and the Democrats while he obliterated all of our Fourth Amendment rights.
The phone companies are still spying on every American’s phone calls and email messages, but even the Democrats last summer went along with granting the telecoms such as AT&T retroactive immunity from lawsuits for their illegal spying.
I mean, what good are the guns – if the government knows you have them and monitors every move you make?
Some democracy, eh?
After the movie, I met a restaurateur right down the street who was raised in Trussville, and would tend to be a political conservative because of it, but he gave me some hope about the folks around here when he said he would go see the movie, mainly because he is concerned about what happened to the bailout money. He also feels screwed as a small businessman by certain corporate interests, including insurance companies and Alabama Power, which has a monopoly on the electricity business in these parts – and a government-guaranteed profit margin.
“I’m paying a $3,500 a month power bill,” he said, a rate based not on his power usage, but by the previous tenant in the building. When he asked them to actually read his meter and charge him each month for power he actually uses, they basically laughed at him, he said, and gave him the run-around.
Sometimes, in other words, corporate bureaucracy is worse than government bureaucracy. Sometimes, as in the case of Southern Company, which is supposed to be a quasi-government entity anyway, what you have is both. They basically run it like a corporation, but it runs the government. In the case of domestic spying and AT&T, at least according to some courts, the phone company is considered part of the government.