Liberals to Moore: ‘Thanks, but we got this’
Walking into the theater to see Michael Moore’s latest effort, Capitalism: A Love Story, I passed a sole protester on the sidewalk carrying a sign saying “Capitalism is Killing Us”. After I left the movie, the protester – or I guess, supporter – was still out there chanting by his lonesome, and I noticed how much the unkempt, slightly ‘off’ seeming, man reminded me of Moore himself these days: a lone nut, shouting into the void, accomplishing nothing but embarrassment for those who might actually agree with the message.
“I am tired of feeling like I’m doing this alone.” – Michael Moore
That quote is the unintentionally revealing tip of an ego iceberg lying below Moore’s public persona of Mr. Aw-Shucks Everyman. Moore clearly sees himself as a liberal Atlas, shrugging under the weight of a ungrateful world. Yet, for all his self-regard and all the attention his work gets, Moore has really only made two films worth watching in his twenty year career: Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine. They were the only ones where the inquiry felt honest, where the results of the experiment didn’t seem rigged from the outset, and where the laugh-to-groan ratio was still somewhat reasonable. One established The Formula and the other perfected it, but the common thread between the two was that it was used sparingly and thoughtfully. But every other time out, Moore’s leaned on it like a good leg, with Capitalism being the laziest use of it so far. In fact, The Formula is about all there is to his latest:
Laughably Earnest Stock Footage from the Fifties: Check
Cow Eyes of Concern + Soft Voice of Empathy During Interviews: Check
Painfully Long Sequence Where Moore Attempts Entrance Into A Corporate Headquarters: Check
Use of Corny, Low-Rent Graphics: Check
Wildly Disparate Phenomena Linked By Questionable Connections: Check
When O Fortuna started up under a graphic of Reagan, I knew we were in trouble. Sadly, the shockingly hackneyed music choices are far from the film’s worst problem. Moore’s greatest weakness has always been forcing dubious links between otherwise relevant arguments, and Capitalism is different only by degree. The film’s haphazard, stream-of-consciousness structure resembles nothing so much as a drunken harangue. A sequence about an ill-advised privatization of a juvenile detention facility segues into footage of Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger testifying to Congress about the abysmal wages of pilots. It took me a while to realize that the only connection was that a boy unjustly detained at the facility wanted to be a pilot when he got out. That kind of random free-association is typical of late-era Moore; dozens of dots with no connections, tons of heat and very little light.
If I seem overly angered by what, in the end, is just a movie after all, it’s because I feel Michael Moore has wasted not just millions of dollars and two hours of my time. He’s wasted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are at an unprecedented moment in history right now: where the corrupt and immoral economic superstructure we live under is actually up for debate; a time when people are finally questioning why their toil and time should be subordinated to the whims of what appears to be little more than a crooked casino. He could have used the near-universal revulsion at the Wall Street bailouts to preach to someone other than a now-bored choir.
But, while Moore does take the Democrats in Congress to task, he gives an unforgivable pass to the Dem presidents, and thus, completely loses any claim to intellectual integrity. I don’t care if he’s ‘objective’ – I just want him to be honest. We go straight from Reagan to W. in his indictments of those responsible for the financial crisis – apparently, Clinton’s signing of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act must have been a mass hallucination. And while Geithner and Summers are appropriately taken to task, the guy who actually appointed them is treated to a gushy montage about his election without a word about Obama continuing to hand the keys of the kingdom to Wall Street.
The greater sin, though, is how Moore squanders a teaching moment about modern economics. He rails against capitalism without really defining it or any alternatives, in the process giving credence to the misconception that everyone that cares about inequality is an economic illiterate. He makes no concession to the fact that the U.S. is, in fact, a mixed economy, nor does he correct the common American conflation of socialism as practiced by Mao and Lenin and social democracies, as practiced by nearly every first world country other than us. At a time when we’re starving for ideas and explanations, Moore has only images and emotions to offer – and not even entertaining ones at that.
All throughout Capitalism: A Love Story, I kept thinking of a Jay-Z song off his new album, Blueprint 3. No, not because Jay-Z is one of the more unapologetic capitalists out there, but because the lyrics to ‘Thank You’ summed up quite well what I think a lot of liberals feel about Michael Moore these days:
“Do me a favor – don’t do me no favors. I’ll handle mine”.
Go ahead, Mike. Take that break from documentaries that you’ve been threatening. I think we’ll be OK down here on Earth.