Documentary Sidebar : Michael Moore’s “Capitalism : A Love Story”

Posted: October 4, 2009 in movies, politics
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
"Capitalism : A Love Story" Movie Poster

"Capitalism : A Love Story" Movie Poster

You might think that with a purported “progressive” in the Oval Office and both houses of Congress firmly under Democratic control, Michael Moore wouldn’t have too much to bitch about these days.

But you’d be wrong. And thank goodness for that. Because in the current political atmosphere when liberal and otherwise left-leaning voters might be tempted to assume that everything’s okay and that now’s the time to rest on their laurels and enjoy the fruits of their “victory,” Moore’s message is actually more relevant than ever, and his latest film “Capitalism : A Love Story” shows that he’s not about to sit back and give the Democrats a free pass. He’s doing exactly what everyone else should be doing, namely holding these people’s feet to the fire, and he hasn’t mellowed one bit. In fact, he’s chosen now to unleash his most uncompromising, well-realized, and comprehensive assault on the robber barons of the late 20th/early 21st century and their paid henchmen in the political and media classes. The result is a polemic (sorry, TFG doesn’t really consider Moore a documentarian in the strictest sense and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that) that’s energetic, focused, and mad as hell with a smile on its face. Moore is the happy warrior of the working class and “Capitalism : A Love Story” is his magnum opus, the natural culmination of everything he’s been working towards all these years crystallized into one seamlessly flowing, easily-communicable message : capitalism sucks, it has nothing to do with democracy (or even the US Constitution), we’ve all been played for suckers, our country has literally been swindled out from underneath us, and it’s well past time that we fought back.

And you know what? He’s absolutely right. I may disagree with many aspects of Moore’s proposed solutions, but in terms of identifying the problem he’s spot-on. Runaway Wall Street greed has resulted in a pronounced and rapid deterioration in the quality of life of average Americans, and the honest working man and woman have been left in the dust as the already-filthy rich have fattened their coffers way beyond the dreams of avarice.

Michael Moore doing what he does best

Michael Moore doing what he does best

Moore starts out his latest offering by showing us the human toll that the recent foreclosure mess has taken on people before segueing into his by-now-typical paean to life in the 1950s America he grew up in where one income was more than enough to buy a house outright, send your kids to modest private or parochial school, pay for their college when the time came, take a nice little vacation every year, and have enough left over to enjoy one’s golden years in relative comfort.

Then we go back to the modern day, and learn that pilots are only making $19,000 a year, the unions that once helped fight for our customary way of life have been decimated, whole cities lay in ruin due to factory closings, and Wall Street tycoons are laughing all the way to the bank (that they own) as their complex derivative games turn the stock market into a giant casino that the taxpayers they’ve spent the last few decades ripping off cover the losses for in the form of all these insane “bailouts” that have been rammed down our collective throat in the last year or so.

Nobody comes away from Moore’s equal-opportunity assault clean, with prominent Democrats like Chris Dodd exposed as charlatans and stooges for the predatory capitalist class every bit as much as Republicans. Coming in for special criticism is Donald Regan, secretary of the treasury and later chief of staff for Ronald Reagan (the footage where  Regan, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch,  tells his supposed boss to “speed it up” without even adding the customary “Mr. President” to the end of the command as Reagan is addressing the crowd on the Wall Street trading floor is priceless and lays bare in the most stark terms possible who’s really giving the orders in Washington these days) who slashed taxes for the wealthy while slashing regulations on the financial sector, Robert Rubin, Clinton’s former treasury secretary who deregulated the industry even further before going on to make $115,000,000 running Citibank, and Hank Paulsen, former Goldman Sachs CEO and Bush treasury secretary who arranged the current “bailout” fiasco.

Not getting in the door, as usual

Not getting in the door, as usual

Yes, there are a few honest folks in Washington who do their part in laying the scam bare and sticking up for the interests of ordinary working folks in the face of teh Wall Street juggernaut. Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, in particular, would probably be elected President if everyone saw this film. But they’re few and far between and Moore makes it clear that if we want to end this cycle of legalized theft, we need to do it ourselves.

To that end, the final third of the movie is actually a somewhat uncharacteristically optimistic portrayal of some positives that have taken place in recent months : a high-tech robotic equipment company and a bread-baking corporation that are run in truly democratic fashion where the workers all have an equal voice in how the company is run and all take home an absolutely equal share of the profits are both making money hand over fist. A group of concerned neighborhood activists in Miami banded together to prevent a family from being foreclosed on and refused to move for days, causing such a stink that the bank eventually walked away in shame. The sherriff in Wayne County, Michigan, where Detroit rests, has refused to serve any more foreclosure notices. Workers at a door and window company in Chicago locked themselves into their factory when they received three days’ notice that they were all being fired without pay, and after a six-day sit-in they all received $6,000 severance packages.

Sure, along the way Moore serves as our guide as usual and gets up to his usual antics of trying to get into various corporate headquarters and being refused entrance (the scenes where he’s driving an armored car around Wall Street and backing up to places like Goldman Sachs and Citibank and asking for our money back are classic Moore — when no one budges he tries to get inside to make a citizen’s arrest of their boards of directors with equally predictable results), but these antics come pretty late in the game, and rather than making himself the star of the film as has been a frequent and entirely justified criticism of his previous work, in “Capitalism : A Love Story” Moore does a much better job of letting the ordinary folks involved in his portrayal of contemporary America and their stories serve as the real centerpiece of the film. He’s more a tour guide than he is a protagonist, and the movie is all the stronger for his decision to take more of a back seat to his subject matter.

How about some of that bailout money back?

How about some of that bailout money back?

The usual redundant criticism from the usual corners will certainly all be heard in the days to come — that Moore has gotten rich himself by criticizing the wealthy, that his films are one-sided, that he’s out to push an agenda, that he’s a shill for the Democratic Party. The last is refuted pretty easily throughout the course of the film (he’s even notably ambivalent about Obama, excited by the prospect that his historic election represents while fully cognizant of the fact that his largest comparing contributors were all Wall Street giants—he seems to take the pragmatic and understandable view that Obama may want to do the right thing, but that if we don’t demand it, he’ll opt for the politically easy route of pleasing the folks who paid for his ticket to the top instead), and the rest just plain don’t matter, pure and simple. If folks on the other side of these issues want to present their side of the story, they have the entire media apparatus and most of the government in their pockets and are free to do so. In fact, they do 24 hours a day , seven days a week, in what is laughably called “news” programming.

Simply put, Moore is not merely giving us one side of the story. He’s giving us the other side of the story, the one we know to be true from our daily lives but never see reported by the networks.  And he succeeds where so many other left-leaning journalists fail by actually employing a technique that the right uses very well : placing things not in cold logic and concrete numbers but in real, human, emotional terms. He speaks to the head only after he’s proven what the heart already knows to be true. It’s not about the facts and figures with Moore, in the end it’s about the people. This movie plays at the heartstrings, sure, but in the present political climate of town halls and tea parties, it’s refreshing to see purely emotional politics put in service to issues that speak to the better angels of our nature (and yes, I hate that term, too) rather than baseless, irrational, divisive fears.

Mr. Moore goes to Washington

Mr. Moore goes to Washington

As for the most lame-brained fall-back argument his critics employ against him, “If he hates America so much, why doesn’t he just leave it?, ” Moore delivers a poignantly simple rebuke at the end that is the film’s best line and maybe the best line you’ll hear in any movie this year : “I refuse to live in a country like this anymore. And I’m not going anywhere.” After over two hours of succinct and harrowing accounting of our present crisis laid out in terms anyone can understand and far too many people can relate to, it’s enough to make you want to pump your fist in the air. And then roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Given that’s exactly the reaction Moore wants, it’s only fair to conclude that “Capitalism : A Love Story” is an unqualified success —  his best and most accomplished work and a movie no one should miss.  We already know that, given the nature of our highly divided Union these days, Moore will essentially be preaching to the converted with this film and those who would benefit the most from hearing his message will be nowhere in the audience. Our task, then, is to convince others of the truth in what Moore is saying in our daily lives, to take his message to unfamiliar quarters and present it in a way they can relate to without feeling alienated and/or somehow threatened by “socialism” (a position Moore never actually advocates, instead stressing that democracy—real democracy—is the best antidote to capitalism). It’s a daunting task, to be sure, but it’s one we have to undertake if we want to bring about change we really can believe in.

Next time out, we’ll return to our little halloween countdown, but for now, we all need to get off our butts, get out and see this movie, and then get down to business.

  1. Great work guru!. Sequential thoughts:
    1. Moore: Enough with the 50’s already! And now the early 60’s (a la Mad Men) too! Plenty of things sucked back then. And those that didn’t were mostly unique circumstances due to WWII. There is no such thing as the Garden of Eden (Eatin’ yes, Eden, no).
    2. TFG: you support the “Mr. President” crap? Are you a royalist or something?
    3. Alan Grayson, is the current progressive darling, but your own Keith Ellison is superb. Here’s one you might not know, Tammy Baldwin, Madtown and environs, WI. But there are some great Reps (and even a few Senators). I wish people like Moore wouldn’t peddle this DYI BS. It’s a representative democracy, we need to elect more progressive members of Congress. That’s what it takes.
    4. Here, here to emotion! We’re emotional decision makers, we only justify after the fact rationally. Wellstone had it. Is there anybody now even close?
    5. Democracy and capitalism are huge catch-all concepts and not opposed to each other, but orthogonal (how ya like me now?). Real democracy curing capitalism is an empty slogan. It sounds great, but means nothing.

  2. trashfilmguru says:

    To your points—
    1. Moore does admit a lot of stuff sucked back then and the fact we had a booming industrial base is due to the fact that we had bombed our competition to smithereens. He says so in the film, in fact.

    2. No, I don’t care about that “Mr. President” crap, but the reason I brought it up is that Regan not using it when addressing Reagan really does show who was giving who the orders to whom. He says right in his ear “speed it up,” like he was talking to a subordinate employee. Which he was.

    3. I don’t think DYI is BS at all. We’re better off representing ourselves. Even the best legislators can be bought. We need more direct democracy, man.

    4. No, there isn’t. Maybe this guy Grayson, I don’t know. Bernie Sanders? Possibly.

    5. I think you’re wrong. Because one is not “opposed” to the other doesn’t mean one can’t fix the other’s problems. Besides, no one’s talking about democracy’ “curing” capitalism, but replacing it.

  3. trashfilmguru says:

    Thatw as a very good review, thanks for the link!

  4. chaz michael michaels says:

    i’d point out that you blokes are arguing over a false perception. perhaps the guru “gets it” but what you have in the u.s. isn’t actually a democracy anymore. unchecked capitalism through the help of corporate personhood has fairly quickly hijacked any semblance of democracy you had. thanks to the mechanisms which allow your lobbyists to influence policy and corporations to control your information, no decision gets made that isn’t in the interests of your corporate ruling class.

    what would you call this type of governance?

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Moore calls it a “plutonomy” in the film — actually, he doesn’t call it that, Bank of America calls it that in their own internal memo. Nice job of trying to make yourself look British, by the way.

  5. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    I had a butchers at this site. It’s quite the dogs bollocks! The “Norwegian Shooter” seems a bit arse about face…. Horse for courses I suppose but the bloke likes to talk a load of codswallop!

    Anyway, keep your cock up, add some pommy reviews and the site would be tits.

    Cheers mate.

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