Capitalism: A Love Story

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Capitalism: A Love Story by Michael Moore. Comes out October 2nd.

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.

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Republic Windows and Doors workers staging a sit-in strike. Moore shares this moving story in the film.

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:

Also, there are several reviews of the movie already out. I like the one from Labor Notes (by Jane Slaughter) in particular.

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16 Responses to Capitalism: A Love Story

  1. Steven Harris says:

    The problem with Moore is that he always seems too tongue-in-cheek. It is easy for corporations and governments to laugh off his accusations because he doesn’t ever appear entirely serious himself. But then, capitalism always seems to hold the moral high-ground against those who oppose it. We’re freakish minorities who are stirring up trouble, as far as most of the world is concerned. And apparently the alternatives have proven to be unsustainable because the Soviet Union collapsed and China is becoming more and more ingrained into the world economy. Nobody stops to remember that the Soviet Union and the so-called People’s Republic of China were not run on socialist or communist lines at all. Just different forms of dictatorship, really. Rant over. I will watch this film but I don’t expect the world to be changed by it.

  2. Sane Individual says:

    I love ya man; your a smart kid, (thankfully) know your history pretty well, and you honestly try to have conversations with others to spread those idea’s around. But, one question; why take you seriously?

    I don’t disagree with anything you have said in this article, believe me. But dude, be honest, take down capitalism? how can YOU say that? You participate in it as much as anyone else on this earth. You work at a fur shop!! You go to school! You wear uber cute glasses you buy at some thrifty cutsey store, get your hair cut up all nice, wear cute clothes, etc etc. You gonna mark the beginning of your “revolution” by an announcement on your TWITTER account?!

    I would also like to add that many of the little “revolutionaries” also give Michael Moore MAD shit, because he stops short of inspiring deep change; even though he actually spends his time doing SOMETHING that does not involve updating his fucking status on twitter, to let his friends know… whatever the fuck you do with twitter!

    Like I said before, your a smart guy, and you got good ideas. But your planned “revolution” posted all over the internet won’t do anyone any favors; if you were any kind of serious the feds would be all over your shit; you know the internet is not so damn free anymore! As if I expect to see the spark that ignites the new war against capitalism begin with a bunch of kids in designer clothing, with their blackberries in hand to let their friends know whats going on.

    If that’s what the “revolution” is going to look like, your not going to have me on your side or covering your back; its a joke. If it WAS NOT, you would have a very serious ally on your side~

  3. I’m not sure that Twitter is the best example of a cornerstone of capitalist infrastructure (or the basically dead-in-the-water fur industry). It’s not like I’m a director of Goldman-Sachs. I don’t own sweatshops. I think that’d be a little bit more worth criticism. I get the feeling like you’re saying that I’m not honest about revolution because I’m not a scrubby-looking luddite.

    You’re right that I “participate” in capitalism insofar as I have a job (two, in fact) and consume various goods. I’m not exactly sure what the alternative is. I suppose I could move to a hut in the woods? But I suspect the Feds really start to watch you then.

    If ideas are to get spread around than using things like Twitter, Facebook, blogging and the internet is one of the best tools we have. I also think that people who are serious about making change shouldn’t waste their time being afraid of the Feds finding out–ideally they do find out, sooner-or-later. Change isn’t made thru fear and intimidation.

    So I’m curious than, what *does* a revolution look like, to you? What does a serious revolutionary person do? If I’ve got it wrong, than what should I do?

  4. Oh, also in response to Steven. You’re right that the movie doesn’t change the world and I don’t think folks should expect it to. But I do think that things like this movie (as well as other forms of art) play a role in helping to spread an awareness or a consciousness that can help move people into action.

    I don’t believe that change happens because folks at the top decide to *let* it happen. Change occurs when the people at the bottom act to not give the people at the top a choice in the matter.

  5. Steven Harris says:

    “I don’t believe that change happens because folks at the top decide to *let* it happen. Change occurs when the people at the bottom act to not give the people at the top a choice in the matter.” True, as Marx himself recognized. What none of us have been able to work out since Marx, however, is quite why the people at the bottom are mostly disinterested in revolt. The one’s most concerned about the way capitalism affects us all are disaffected bourgeois classes, not working class people. And let’s face it, oin a world of Twitter, of cheap personal computers, iPods, wide screen LCD tvs, etc, where exactly is the revolutionary class Marx once imagined – the class with ‘nothing left to lose’? we all have something to lose, which is why capitalism wins.
    As for taking part in capitalism cheapening someone’s intended revolt, that’s a little like saying that because we breathe air we shouldn’t go scuba diving. Of course we are caught up in the cultural hegemony into which we are born. That’s no crime. Failure to wish the world different is the problem most people seem afflicted with and at least you’re trying to spread a message, Aaron, unlike a lot of comfortable, lazy thinkers out there.

  6. Thanks Steve! I think Gramsci had done a lot of thinking around exactly the question you raise. Why are the folks who suffer the most frequently the ones who most rabidly support the status quo?

  7. Evan Winter says:

    Why do we use facebook, twitter, myspace if not to spread a message? If a system exists should we not take advantage of it? Aaron you’re right on. No one should bash your beliefs because you use social networking as it should be used–as a tool.

    Right on brother.

  8. Patrick says:

    And it’s important not to conflate the U.S. working class with all working class people worldwide: there are a lot of people oppressed by capitalism and empire who are quite opposed to that fact and are actually doing tons of stuff about it (Latin America and South Asia come immediately to mind).

    As for why those with Twitter, iPods, and widescreen LCD TVs aren’t revolutionary, Debord’s work on the spectacle is a good reference point. 🙂

  9. Jeff Jackson says:

    I’m not sure what Sane Individual is so bitter about. He’s mad you work in a fur shop? Being a vegetarian I have my own objections to that, but really I have no idea how that is at all fueling the corrupt capitalist system in which we live. From what I understand, the fur shop at which you work is privately owned (it’s a family business… part of your family in fact, right?). What the hell does Sane Individual want? For all of us to live off of nature and have no economy whatsoever? As cool as the Native Americans were, they’re still not cool enough for me to want to replicate their society and live in it.

    I don’t know who Sane Individual is so I’m left to guessing what kind of a person he is, but basically it seems that he is angry that you’re going to school, you make money, and you’re well kept. From that, it’s safe to assume (unless he’s a hypocrite) that he is anti-education (Sure, the education system is fucked, but offering an alternative rather than just criticizing?), he makes no money, and he looks like a sack of shit. ?? Sane Individual, how do YOU expect to start a revolution being as scrub-like as your comment makes you sound? Do you actually make your own clothes, grow your own food, and live in the woods? It doesn’t seem so – you have access to a computer which is (assuming you’re local) powered by the monopoly DTE and most likely gaining access to the internet by an even more terrible corporation like Time Warner of Comcast.

    There is no other way of starting a revolution other than changing people’s minds and enlightening them – both of which are accomplished through documentaries such as Moore’s and through conversations such as the ones Aaron entice.

  10. Jeff Jackson says:

    Hey Aaron, not that I’m implying that your hair is awesome or anything (I mean, it’s pretty awesome), but theoretically (not that you do), isn’t paying a hair stylist generously perfectly acceptable in terms of promoting a more sane and just society? Since when is it bad to have a craft (cutting hair) and charging for it? If anything, that’s the type of capitalism that still works – it’s a person to person transaction and the cost is exactly how much it should be, however much the hair stylist thinks his/her work is worth. The only bad part about getting really expensive hair cuts is the hair products they might use and from where the scissors may have been manufactured.

  11. Erik says:

    @Steven: I agree with you about a lot of Moore’s work, but this film really is quite different. It is a fairly systematic analysis of the problems *underlying* all the other things he’s made movies about. I was quite skeptical going in, and really excited coming out. Not to be a total nitpicker but your last clause “but I don’t expect the world to be changed by it” is kinda the problem with a lot of people. The passive voice. The expectation that a movie (or book, or speech, or march) in itself can change anything.

    @Sane. Yes, we should discount everything Aaron says because he uses twitter. Nice reasoning. And we should not take Michael Moore’s ideas seriously because he’s fat, right?

  12. Steven Harris says:

    Fair point, Erik, about the passive voice. I’m middle aged and feel less revolutionary than I once did. Perhaps it shouldn’t be this way but it does come to most of us. And yet the world can and does change every single day, in lots of ways. Just feel I am waiting on younger, more energetic folk now, to kick start THE revolution. My revolution is still in my head. Maybe I should be glad it’s still there at all?

  13. Erik says:

    Steven, I feel the same way. I am 37 and I feel I have to find different ways to be involved than I did in my (relative) youth.

  14. Steven Harris says:

    Glad I’m not the only one.

  15. Pingback: Capitalism: A Love Story | A Memorable Fancy

  16. Arif Ishaq says:

    @Aaron: on why the ones who suffer most, most rabidly support the status quo, I have _read_ Reich’s Mass Pyschology of Fascism (http://www.whale.to/b/reich.pdf) and I think he does have some ideas as to why.
    But in order to really understand what he’s saying and be able to explain it to others, you porbably have to study it and I haven’t had the time to do it yet.
    I think this is a very important aspect that must be addressed if we are to make any headway. In Italy, after the crocodile-tear mourning for six soldiers killed in Afghanistan, yesterday, posters appeared on all main streets of Rome with the words: “The German soldier stupified the whole world. The Italian soldier stupified the German soldier.” I haven’t yet heard a squeak from anyone over it.

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