The Necessity of Michael Moore, Part 3:
For the Rude Pundit, no matter how well-informed he fancies himself, there's always an "oh, shit" moment in a Michael Moore film. Before the rise of Blogsylvania and our information overload, his early works are loaded with them. If you saw Roger and Me twenty years ago, you sat there slack-jawed, wondering what fucking country he was talking about while knowing that he was talking about ours.
America has always been his subject, and there are few people who have loved this country as much as Michael Moore. But while most Americans love this nation as if it's their hometown football team, he loves it like you love your child. That means that, while he may be ready with the praise, he is ready to scold it and correct it and try to make it better as it grows. For what else do we want for our children than for them to be confident, happy, and secure adults?
And that's why when, in Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore reveals the 2006 Citigroup memo that was sent to its top investors, openly discussing the world as a "plutonomy," being run by the wealthiest one-percent, the Rude Pundit felt a sinking in his gut, not because it was a real surprise, but because it was like seeing your parents fucking. The memo also details the threats to the power of the plutonomy, like labor unrest or elections, that are being monitored by Citigroup, in case those materialize to harm the wealthy. The game is rigged, motherfuckers, and the rules say that you don't even get a turn.
It's those moments when you realize why we need Michael Moore. There's few people out there who, despite the ridicule and attacks, can stand up and tell us what we don't want to hear and who can still command an audience that will listen. For those who haven't seen it because you think it's just the same old Moore tactics, you should know that, despite what you see in the previews, there's very few of those typical wonderfully uncomfortable moments where Moore confronts people in power. And the ones that are in there are purely, intentionally symbolic; they exist to point out just how much we are outsiders to our own economy, how it truly is us versus them. There is no cathartic trip to Cuba.
Instead, Moore layers stories of people being displaced from their homes, of the "Dead Peasant" life insurance policies, of the pay of airline pilots, with American history, squarely placing the blame for the greed that has led the nation to this current moment of crisis at the feet of the Reagan administration, which, truly, is where it belongs. The shit that Moore finds is sometimes stunning, as in the much-written-about footage of Franklin Roosevelt calling for a second Bill of Rights that would guarantee that all Americans are treated fairly by the economic system, with health care, housing, and fair wages.
See, FDR and the Founders understood and Moore understands that nations need to change and evolve according to the circumstances of the world and the needs of the population, that great transformations are inextricably linked to growth and progress, and that the powerful need to occasionally be slapped down. When you hear the tea bag protesters lament that "this is not the America I know" or that they "want America back," what you are really hearing are the mad bleatings of people who don't actually love the nation. They love their shit and are afraid they won't be able to buy more shit or that someone will take their shit, even though it's more than likely that the shit was bought on credit. It's stubborn and childish. To love America is to know that it has to grow up.
Capitalism: A Love Story is Moore's least hopeful film. Indeed, despite the fact that people in the audience applauded at the end, the Rude Pundit left the movie theatre feeling more despair than usual for a Thursday night. It wasn't because the few stories of people triumphing over corporations seemed like complete anomalies. It wasn't because he thought that Moore was a bit too optimistic about Barack Obama. And the way Moore brought religion into the mix made a strong case for faith and the role of Christianity in America, one that could wrestle it away from the evangelicals' bullshit.
No, the Rude Pundit felt despair because he honestly didn't know what to do anymore. Moore's film is an indictment of our complacency about and acquiescence to the unacknowledged accretion of power in a few hands beyond, in many ways, what dictators, tyrants, and conquerors dreamed, beyond what Carnegie and Morgan might have ever thought possible. To bottom line it in a nuts and bolts sense, if, after giving banks hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars at once on the threat that they might go bankrupt, we are actually still arguing over whether or not we can afford a small fraction of that per year for a government-run health insurance plan, then who the fuck are we?
Moore ends the film on a moment of activism. He's putting crime scene tape around AIG and Citibank and Wall Street. But he's doing it alone while people in the street just look on like he's crazy.
(Part 1 of this series was about Fahrenheit 9/11. Part 2 was about Sicko.)