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Oct. 5 2009 - 1:38 pm | 14 views | 2 recommendations | 12 comments

Liberals to Moore: ‘Thanks, but we got this’

mike

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    I thought the health-care movie was really good, except I hated the last part about Cuba, which was typically gimmicky.

    I was very disappointed and bewildered by the Capitalism movie. This was a time when Moore could have made a movie that made a difference, that helped people come to a new understanding of our system or ways to address its problems. Instead, he was at his most gimmicky and simplistic. And he chose the oddest things to focus on. And his choices about what to skip over were very odd, too.

    So, he ends up making true believers like me go, well that was a waste of time. And giving conservatives prone to dislike Moore plenty of ammunition for ignoring or dissing anything he does.

  2. collapse expand

    Yeah, I should watch Sicko again. I remember being underwhelmed at the time, but I’ll admit my verdict is probably overly harsh and dismissive in the post.

    “And he chose the oddest things to focus on. And his choices about what to skip over were very odd, too.”

    Exactly. The examples he picked were bizarre, and a lot of times more a case of simple criminality rather than capitalism, per se. He could have really spent some time on detailing the circumstances when capitalism by itself is a poor fit for certain problems (health care, retirement, education, defense, etc), but he just decided to quote some priests saying it’s evil and call it a day.

  3. collapse expand

    After the 2004 election, I remember someone pointing out in one of the numerous right-wing victory laps of the time that the $222m gross that Fahrenheit 9/11 earned was a lot less than the $370m Mel Gibson raked in for ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ An interesting data point.

  4. collapse expand

    Great post, especially the parts about the iceberg of ego and the fact that he skims over Obama hiring Geithner and Summers after accusing them of helping to create our financial mess. I went to the DC premiere and noticed how without real substance Michael Moore’s comments were – and his handlers didn’t let him take more than a couple of superficial questions.

  5. collapse expand

    Get ‘im JC!! Your editor’s eye is appreciated and enjoyed… I’m probably going to skip this Moore film; how can you call our current system capitalism anyway? I agree with Arianna dahling anyway. What we have isn’t capitalism, it’s a corporatocracy!!

  6. collapse expand

    Not sure which fantasy world Mr. Childers lives in: the one where the masses are always persuaded by the clearest, driest, most factual argument, or the one where an intellectually curious population is continually seeking to broaden their knowledge base and change their mind about important issues.

    Either way, they’re the only scenarios I can think of where his criticism of Moore’s film makes any sense whatever. I’ve got a couple of recent American wars that clearly illustrate the difference between being correct, and being persuasive. Moore prefers to be in the latter camp, and personally, I wish there were a few more like him on the left.

    While arid intellectuals lament some imagined age of reason, more pragmatic folks are out there actually convincing people, inspiring people, or, in the case of the right, frightening people into action.

    The real world is not a debate club adjudicated by some wise and tweeded greyhair. It’s an anything-goes wrestling match. In that arena, I’ll take Moore any day. Besides, I’ll bet he looks pretty scary in a Sumo outfit.

  7. collapse expand

    I appreciate the “Mr.”, outlier. The numerous strawmen, less so.

    I must have missed the part where I said I wanted Moore to be drier or that the American public is highly rational. As far as wanting him to be “clearer”, I didn’t say that – but I don’t really see how making an argument less clear would make it more persuasive.

    My point is that Moore is increasingly less entertaining AND less persuasive. His jokes are getting lamer at the same time that his arguments are getting weaker, and it’s probably not a coincidence. The random, poorly structured segments fail as agitprop and entertainment, and if you think Moore has ever convinced anyone but the already converted, I’ve got some Kerry ‘04 T-shirts I need to unload.

    Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher, and a ton of other people are out there proving you can be funny and factual. We didn’t need Moore as much anymore, but his ego clearly didn’t get the memo. The only thing he ‘inspires’ anymore are groans.

  8. collapse expand

    I love how the ‘plot’ of Roger & Me revolved around how he couldn’t get an opportunity to question Roger Smith, but nowhere in the film does he note that he actually _had_ an interview?

    http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117933050.html?categoryid=1263&cs=1

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