Michael Moore: A Fighter Not A Lover
Michael Moore's new film, "Capitalism: A Love Story," is a scattershot attack on
capitalism with some compelling moments but little structure.
(Creative Commons Licensed)
Michael Moore trudged down the aisle of the Bruin Theater in Westwood, instantly recognizable with his bad posture, sports jacket and impossibly small red baseball cap. He was on time. The person who was supposed to introduce him, however, was late.
Moore grabbed the microphone, annoyed. "The guy who was supposed to introduce me isn't here, he's late, so, do one of you want to introduce me?"
Dozens of baffled audience members raised their hands. Moore called on Andrew Calder, a scruffy man in his mid-forties. Calder took the mic and nervously chuckled.
"Aahh... a lot of critics of Michael Moore criticize him as a documentarian. But I've always seen him as a comedian, who sheds light on certain issues."
When Calder was finished, Moore took the microphone back. "That sucked," he said.
The audience burst into laughter, but Moore was serious. He used Calder's introduction as a jumping off point to attack his own would-be attackers: Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, and so on. He called them "thugs" who "can't debate [him] on the issues." Moore asserted that his movies are factual; that he hired the New Yorker fact-checking department to make sure Fahrenheit 9/11 was above board.
"All the fucking abuse I have to take..." he said wearily.
It was an interesting glimpse at how Michael Moore sees himself. Not as a Jon Stewart-like satirist, but as a truth-teller, persecuted by the powers that be. A fighter.
"Capitalism: A Love Story" starts out with an electrifying montage of security camera bank-robber footage, cut perfectly to Iggy Pop's version of Louie Louie. It's fun, ironic, even cool. It's also the high point of a movie that's confusing, scattershot, at times hilarious, and of course, one-sided.
Clocking in at just over two hours, the film bobs and weaves from subject to subject, barely bothering to make segues. A section on plant closures gives way to a corrupt juvenile-detention-center-for-profit scandal. We then jump to the shockingly low wages of airline pilots, and then to a bit on a scheme employers have to take out life insurance policies on their employees called, hilariously, "Dead Peasants Insurance." When Moore starts pestering security guards, it feels like Springsteen playing Born in the U.S.A.- predictable but almost obligatory.
Some of it's fun. Some of it isn't. The filmmaker who once showed a woman beating a rabbit to death with a lead pipe has no qualms showing a crying family getting evicted. He refers to the 2008 bailout as a "financial coup de tat," and explicitly suggests (without evidence, obviously) there was some sort of dark conspiracy behind the second, successful, bailout vote.
President Obama is portrayed in the film as the conquering hero, representing the will of the people, "bottom" 95 percent that own less than the top 1 percent. Moore seems inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that Obama's banking policies have been almost identical to Bush's.
Most of the film seems less like an indictment of Capitalism as an economic system, than an expose of some of its darker sides. The Dead Peasants thing is pretty dark, but there's nothing really wrong with it, right? Unseemly, yes, but not unethical. Most of Moore's proposals seem like your boilerplate left-wing stuff: higher taxes on the rich, single-payer health care, protect unions, jobs, industry, and so on.
But you have to give Moore credit, he comes out and says it: "capitalism is evil." He actually says this in the movie. And that it must be eliminated. That's right, eliminated. (Read an alternative review of Moore's film here.)
In a Q&A afterward with Arianna Huffington, Moore laid his plan out on the table:
"I think that this economic system that we call capitalism is wrong, and I'm not looking at regulations... We're in the 21st century, aren't we smart enough to come up with a new economic system that just goes back to the old values of democracy and moral ethics that we were all raised with. And I'm not an economist, I don't have a blueprint of what that means, but I hope that somebody will be stimulated into thinking about this, cause that's the direction we need to go."
Moore didn't elaborate on this new form of non-capitalistic democracy, but he did make vague reference to Thomas Jefferson and his distrust of central banking, so one can assume that Moore's vision is one of a bunch of farmers without credit. He seemed less like a Marxist than simply a Luddite.
Huffington compared Moore to Cassandra: "She spoke the truth, and it was a hard truth to hear." And indeed, Moore's last couple movies were, in retrospect, ahead of their time, if not quite prophetic. As Moore himself pointed out during the discussion, Fahrenheit 9/11 preceded the sharp decline in Bush's approval ratings, and Sicko preceded the current health care debate.
On the other hand, it feels as though "Capitalism: A Love Story" (the title functioning as a punch line to a joke that's never told) is about ten months too late. The TARP money is being returned. Gone are the days where we worry about a Mad Max-like collapse of the banking system. We're back to the more earthly concerns of public options and carbon taxes. Capitalism, if not employment, seems to be resurgent.
One can't help but wonder if Moore even has a place in a world with the Democrats in power. His one Clinton-era documentary, "The Big One," an unfocused takedown of Corporate America, is completely forgettable. Moore is most successful when he's being persecuted. At the moment, that role has been taken by President Obama.
After the screening, I wrote to Andrew Calder and asked if he was surprised at Moore's reaction to Calder's introduction.
"Well yes..." he wrote back, "but then again, isn't it exactly this that keeps him in the fight: the assumption that anything said is an attack against him?"