I’ve always felt a frustration with progressive artists and celebrities at their seeming hesitation to call a spade a spade. In other words they have a tendency to stop short of naming the system (i.e., capitalism). The culprit is always just Wal-Mart, or it’s Bush, Fox News, the health-insurance industry and other “bad apples.” So when I first saw the trailer for Michael Moore’s latest film Capitalism: A Love Story I was elated. “Finally,” I thought “a movie that’ll point out it’s the whole damn tree that’s rotten!”
My glee however was followed by an abrupt skepticism. Is Moore actually going to take this whole rotten system head on, or just give it a slap on the wrist? Is he going to give us a sense of direction, or get us riled up then leave us not knowing what to do next, sending us inevitably to a state of powerlessness (albeit informed powerlessness–almost worse!).
My anticipation and curiosity has been building since I saw the trailer for the film several weeks ago, so naturally I jumped at the chance to catch an early screening.
The opening credits flash between stock security footage of armed bank robberies, which could be taken as a double entendre. Symbolism for the desperation with which the free-market leaves us, and a metaphor for how the free-market leaves us so desperate. These are consistent themes throughout the film.
I won’t give away too much since the movie isn’t officially released until October 2nd. But I will say this: the film will please and exceed the expectations of even the most optimistic movie goer. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is his best flick since Roger & Me. Capitalism leaves very few stones unturned, while entertaining the audience (Moore let’s his talent to educate through humor flourish). The movie is relevant, accessible and moving (I’m not afraid to admit there were several times I felt choked up–especially the moments when people win change!).
Even a self-described anti-capitalist of over six years like me was shocked by the tales of the absolute inhumanity of our economic system. Moore shares stories of corporations that took out “Dead Peasant” life-insurance policies on their employees (one company was able to get over five million bucks from the death of one employee).
He also enlightens us with a little known tidbit of Presidential history. Capitalism includes never before seen footage of FDR proposing a “Second Bill of Rights,” which included the right to have a well paying job, housing, health care and a good education.
The movie certainly doesn’t escape criticisms. Moore seems to kind of celebrate Obama as a fighter for the everyday person, while laying into Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, who Obama appointed following his election.
Moore makes a brave move in Capitalism to do what the Left has been unable to do, weave anti-capitalism into a narrative that speaks to traditional American values. “If America is a democracy,” he asks, “why do we go to a dictatorship everyday in the workplace?” He follows this question up with profiles of two American cooperative workplaces–owned and democratically managed by the workers themselves. He also tries to find the words “profit” and the “free-market” in the US Constitution. Instead he finds the words “We,” “union” and “welfare.”
This is what I take most from the film. Moore plays a valuable role in the progressive milieu as someone who can plant seeds among hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people. However, he can only do and say so much. The folks in the grassroots, have to treat those seeds to make them blossom. In Capitalism Moore starts to take on the responsibility of building a narrative that speaks to American values and points toward the need for an economy that is fundamentally just and democratic. Progressives have to pick up where this movie leaves off. Continuing to build that narrative, spreading a more coherent vision of an alternative, and facilitating people into taking action to create real change and build a fighting Left movement.
Moore’s Capitalism will move and inspire those who are already committed to making change and the fight for a better world. For others, I think it will enlighten and surprise. It’ll definitely entertain both crowds (did I mention the movie is actually really really funny?). And it’ll sure as shit terrify the hell out of teabaggers.
Some related links:
- Participatory Economics – A vision and model for just and democratic alternative to capitalism.
- Reimagining Change: A Guide to Story Based Strategy
Also, there are several reviews of the movie already out. I like the one from Labor Notes (by Jane Slaughter) in particular.