Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Nog Takes on Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore's new film begins with surveillance footage of various robberies which serve as a metaphor for his view of capitalism: it has swindled many Americans quite literally out of their money and also tricked us into believing that capitalism is compatible with democracy (and with Christianity, as we see in a section where numerous Catholic officials are quite willing to term it "evil"). The film is broad in scope, taking us through the collapse of industry and labor unions during the Reagan era but zeroing in, quite naturally, on the recent collapse of the banking industry and the government bailout. Viewers know what to expect from a Moore film, and it's all firmly in place here. The incorporation of corny stock film footage to parallel recent events still works pretty well, as do the touching human stories that emerge of people crushed by the system. Moore's various pranks, however, feel increasingly strained. Like Sascha Baron Cohen, he suffers from the problem that his best targets all know to avoid him. In fact, the jokes now depend on the fact that he will predictably be barred entrance from the CEO's he wants to tangle with. Luckily, he seems to increasingly devote less time to these stunts in recent films, keeping much of the focus deadly serious. As with much of Moore's work, we circle back to the problem that corporate influence leads the government to abandon the best inteests of the people, keeping a small few very wealthy and the rest at the mercy of the system (in perhaps the most sickening examples, we see corporations using something they term "dead peasant" insurance policies to profit off the untimely deaths of their workers). Moore posits an alternative to capitalism, as he must, in the form of employee-owned businesses with equal shares that do not center around capitalism's "profit motive," but the film itself admits that even many of the people who have been hopelessly fucked by the system still cling to the notion that one day they'll eventually move up (which requires keeping capitalism firmly in place). In the film's final half hour, Moore finds the film's true heroes in the recent group of Chicago workers who commandeered their factory after being let go, determined to hold out until they received what was owed them. They succeeded, and Moore's film, perhaps more optimistic than much of his other work, ends with the call for what is essentially a "worker's revolt." But I'm not entirely convinced that he believes this can really happen. And what kind of movies would he make if it did?