Democracy And Capitalism: It's A Love - Hate Relationship For Michael Moore
Michael Moore has wrestled with Congress, insurance companies, the National Rifle Association, General Motors, and various players in the “military-industrial complex."
But Goliath has never been this big…
In his new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story” which opened nationwide on Friday, Michael Moore (playing David) “volunteers” to save his tribe by taking on the behemoths that sit atop our economic system; i.e. the banks and mega-financial services corporations – companies such as AIG, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs – who many believe are responsible for the global economic disaster that erupted into public view 18 months ago.
Unlike the bible story and countless movie and television depictions of this classic battle, viewers of Moore’s film won’t know who wins until long after the end credits roll.
Moore chooses to throw down a heavy gauntlet; essentially begging Americans to join him in saying “no mas” to rampant greed and power politics as epitomized by the unholy alliance between the Board of Directors of Goldman-Sachs and the executive branch of the federal government and the Congressional surge in September and October of 2008 to give the aforementioned corporations and their ilk close to a trillion dollars of taxpayer money in order to save their “troubled assets.”
Troubling to fans of Moore’s films, no doubt, will be the realization that if Americans don’t respond to his call to action, the filmmaker may take his bat, glove, and ball and go home. And what will we do without Moore’s brand of crash the gates, guerilla street theater, agit-prop style documentary making?
[Editor’s Note: Open Media Boston and I.B.I.S. Radio were poised (and scheduled) this past week to ask Moore about this and other aspects of the film, but were passed over for other media entities when it became clear that 144 interviews in a day actually is impossible for a human being to perform. (Reporters were told they had 7-10 minutes with Moore; that’s 6 per hour times 24 hours.) A sincere thank you to Jennifer Matthews of Allied Integrated Marketing of Boston for trying to land us an audience.]
But the question of what actions will be necessary and sufficient to take America back from the wealthy class, never really gets asked nor answered in “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
So why should people see this film?
Because as many citizens as possible should view the devastating effects of home foreclosures on families throughout this country. Because people need to see what happens when municipalities cede public service functions to private for-profit corporations (like the privately owned reform school in Wilkes Barre, PA that made a deal with a juvenile court judge to “buy” wayward kids and warehouse them long past a reasonable sentence.)
Because every American voter needs to hear the Congresspersons interviewed in Moore’s film who describe how Bush administration officials - and the leadership of the Democratic Party, such as Chris Dodd and Barney Frank – frightened their colleagues into voting for the bank bailout with tactics including admonitions that “martial law [presumably to quell a violent revolution of the masses] might be necessary” if the bailout money was not approved.
Because all of us, including you and me, need to reconsider our consumption fueled lifestyles, buying warehouse sized portions of stuff we arguably don’t need and trashing tons of waste in overstuffed landfills. Where our very existence revolves around a mythology that says the federal government can (and should) magically come up with the money to fight two wars and keep private banking corporations from going out of business but not to subsidize every student who wants a college education or sick person who needs a life saving treatment or homeowner who needs a refinanced mortgage in order to stay in their home.
Americans literally “buy” this mythology because our institutions and our parents teach us from a young age that no viable alternative to capitalism exists. It’s drummed into us that money is finite and it’s better to allow elected officials to make the tough choices about priorities. Because, after all, as the quote attributed to Winston Churchill goes, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”
The problem, according to “Capitalism: A Love Story,” is that we’ve confused capitalism for democracy, and it’s not just an existential problem. As unemployment spikes up through double figures, and the planet’s ecosystems deteriorate, and the wealthiest few people control more and more of the world’s assets, it becomes a tangible matter of life and death.
The film makes a powerful impact through Moore’s depiction of an industrial infrastructure - for a time providing stable lifelong employment for many Americans – that has been dismantled in the corporate quest for short term profits and the destruction of unions.
But Moore diminishes the power of his argument when he veers off into several of his ubiquitous filmed street displays.
During the movie’s opening salvo and in subsequent scenes Moore uses surveillance video of actual bank robberies and the poignant stories of evicted families in Lexington, NC and Peoria, IL as a way of equating capitalism with criminality. While loyal fans of Moore’s street brouhaha probably will find it funny, I think the film unnecessarily becomes diverted from its mission by the director/producer’s insistence on donning Superman’s cape and becoming a junkyard dog.
In this latest example of Moore’s crusading “watch me, I’m marching up to the front door of a large corporation and demanding to speak to the CEO” off Broadway theatrics, Moore and his camera crew travel to the Detroit, MI offices of General Motors where (unlike his first feature, the 20 year old “Roger And Me”) he doesn’t even make it through the parking lot before being stopped by a security guard and encircle Wall Street buildings in New York City with yellow “Do Not Cross” police tape.
Frankly, this photogenic sort of activism was much more powerful when housing advocates from the Boston-based City Life / Vida Urbana organization recently stretched police tape across the front entrance of an about to be foreclosed upon triple-decker in Roxbury. Moore just looks ridiculous doing it.
He also seems off track when he drives an armored car up to the front entrance of AIG in New York and demands the company give its TARP funds back to the American people. Not quite, but I almost empathized with the security guard and police officer whose job it was to keep the boisterous filmmaker out of the building.
On the other hand, when the film shows what an actual union was able to do to gain some dignity (and severance pay owed to more than 200 laid off workers) for its members, Moore succeeds in demonstrating there is an alternative to the sort of bottom line, shareholders win and damn the workers economy accepted by most Americans.
In the struggle over the Republic Window and Door Company of Chicago, Moore paints a picture of workers, elected officials, the media, and labor-friendly supporters across the country working in concert to defeat a greedy business owner to save the factory.
As he should, Moore holds this victory aloft (purchased by a CA based “green” manufacturingcompany earlier this year, so far Republic has only been able to re-hire a few of the former workers) and another worker owned manufacturing firm, as examples of how a truly progressive economy can flourish. But he never explains how to bring this communitarian ethic to bear on really big companies, employing thousands of workers.
As much as Moore and the rest of us want more democracy in the workplace, to counteract what Moore and other critics of corporate culture rightly depict as the dictatorial nature of capitalism, there needs to be a plan. Something say, between survival of the wealthiest and subsistence living.
In “Capitalism: A Love Story” Michael Moore gives us well timed righteous indignation, but leaves the really hard labor of figuring out where to go from here to others.