Editor-in-Chief, Air America Media
September 23, 2009
Will Michael Moore's Capitalism Be A Game Changer?
Every time I see a new Michael Moore movie, America looks a little different to me. I feel an odd mixture of hopefulness, anger, and spiritual fatigue. I just saw Moore's latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, this week and it's deja vu all over again.
If you believe Michael Moore and the folks featured in this jawbreaker of a film, last year's financial crisis was a coup d'état arranged at the highest levels of government--a carefully planned give-away to the friends of Dick and Dubya who got to shake down America for all it was worth and then some.
If you believe Michael Moore, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was poised to put America on the road to a just and equitable society with a second bill of rights (there is never before seen footage of FDR's famous speech), but died before he could make it happen.
If you believe Michael Moore, religious leaders think corporate America is an unmitigated evil, few lawmakers in DC are not on the take, and we're all chattel in something larger than life, and so obvious as to be invisible.
If you believe Michael Moore, there may soon be a popular rebellion against the rich in the United States of America.
Capitalism: A Love Story deftly limns the story of an economic system in decline. The film opens with footage of an old movie about ancient Rome just before it fell juxtaposed against contemporary shots of America and the spoils of economic empire.
A bank memo to top investors of a leading bank refers in bland terms to the plutonomy of America where the few become unimaginably wealthy at the expense of nearly everyone else. Various tales of corporate malfeasance march across the screen as Moore narrates with a carefully cordial sarcasm.
The human wreckage covered here is intense; there are foreclosed homes galore; the prison in Pennsylvania that turned the peccadilloes of children into a lucrative swindle pulled off by a crooked judge and an entrepreneurial politician; publicly traded corporations taking out life insurance policies on employees (unbeknownst to them) and collecting millions on so-called "Dead Peasant" policies; airline pilots so poorly paid that they have to wait tables at a greasy spoon to make ends meet, or accept pubic assistance. The parade of economic cruelties inflicted on the many by the few are painful to watch, a perfectly executed Peter Finch caterwaul that will end with moviegoers screaming out of their bank-owned car windows, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
The carrot that capitalism holds out--its best propaganda--is that everyone has a shot at financial success. It is a great piece of marketing for a system that, as Moore points out, is 99.99% closed to the masses. He drives this fact home hard, in the hope, it seems, that it will inspire popular revolt.
But while the reality is grim, there is hope. Scenes from a co-operatively run bread company are alive with hope and suggest a solution to the capitalism problem. Moore's detractors tend to miss it, but all his films provide a solution.
Want to fix this? Watch the movie. Demand regulations--a level playing field created by education, health care, and the rest. Stand up for yourself.
The employees at Republic Windows and Doors manage to garner enough national media attention to force the Bank of America to pay out severance. There are other examples that shine through the war haze of corporate America's assault on honest, hard-working people.
Joe the Plumber makes an appearance in his role as McCain/Palin booster in the great lukewarm battle against dog-whistle communism, community organizing, the Democratic Party, and the notion that anyone might need a little help from time to time. He can't beat back the great threat: regular Americans banding together to spend the one form of capital they have more of than the top 1% of the nation's wealthy plotocrats. (That would be votes.)
It doesn't matter if it's the friends of Dick and Dubya doling out war contracts or the friends of Countrywide Financial Corporation, a home equity lender who gave Senator Christopher Dodd--an outspoken critic of the bailout--grabbing one of many bipartisan lawmaker specials: sweetheart loans worth millions. Moore is relentless in his search for the root cause of the capitalism problem. It's a huge job--perhaps even an impossible one--and he performs it well.
The film picks up steam. Obama gets elected. Two weeks later, Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans halts evictions and foreclosure sales in Detroit, which in February was experiencing some of the harshest fallout from predatory loans in the nation and asks if we live in a third world country. Revolution is in the air.
A home is repossessed by the dispossessed. Nine patrol cars arrive. Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio pleads with Americans not to leave their homes. She tells folks to demand the bank produce the signed mortgage, and if they can't, not to hand over the keys. "Stop being treated like chattel," she says.
While the sight of Moore unrolling crime scene tape around Wall Street is amusing, the words he utters somewhere along the way resonate: "I refuse to live in a country like this," Moore says, "and I'm not leaving."
It remains to be seen if the rest of the country feels the same way.