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No Love for Capitalism


 
Colleague Johnson calls Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story “arguably the best thing he’s ever done.” I disagree.
Let’s start by conceding that Michael Moore is the most gifted propagandist of his generation. He understands the power of documentary film, its emotional and cognitive grammar, in a way that film makers with similar political views do not. He is fearless, single-minded, and capable of tremendous empathy for working class Americans – notwithstanding his financial success and his reputation as being a colossal asshole in person.
Everything Michael Moore does is by turns enlightening, infuriating, exasperating, and entertaining, and Capitalism is no different. Also, the usual Moore structure is here: The Victims – usually poor families from the midwest crushed by the System; the Villains – the agents of the System, from the low-level bailiffs or cops or security guards right up to the Dr. Evil types at the top; and the System itself, an interlocking set of institutions, agencies, and shadowy interests that conspires to keep the Victims down while enriching and empowering the topmost Villains.
The way Moore’s films work is that he shows you some victims in a confrontation with low-level villains. Then he pulls back and tries to show how this confrontation is the product of the system, which is itself controlled by a cabal of plutocrats who maintain their status by ensuring the population is kept in a constant state of fearful immiseration, which is set off by cheap mass-marketed amusements. Then he marches off to confront the plutocrats, and is outraged when he’s denied access.
It’s a structure that has served Moore well from the very start, but unlike his previous films, especially Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 which, no matter how outrageous, were never dull,  this is the first one that bored me, for long stretches.
The best parts of his films are the ones that focus on the individual tragedies of the American condition, shown through the eyes of his chosen Victims: And so we meet a woman whose husband died at 41, leaving her bereft but enriching his employer, who had secretly taken out a life insurance policy on him. Or the family whose farm has been repossessed, and – as a final indignity – are paid by the bank to clean up the house they’re being kicked out of.
The problem is there isn’t enough of this in here – the man who has established himself as the foremost chronicler of America’s underclass has managed to make a movie about capitalism that doesn’t really have many people in it.  Another problem is that the stunt confrontations with the top-level Villains – the CEOs, the bankers, the gleeful corporate vultures – are almost entirely absent. There are some half-hearted attempts at making citizens arrests of Wall Street bankers, but when it comes to serious facetime, Moore has struck out.
So instead, what we are left with is a long, dull, and superficial account of the housing crisis, the bailout, and the uncomfortably close relationship between Wall Street and Washington, especially through what has become known as Government Sacks. The thing is, this material is too fresh and too familiar; to anyone who has been paying even casual attention over the past year, the gaps, errors, and misdirections in his narrative are glaring.
The stuff that Brian Johnson mentions — the  revelations about “dead peasant” insurance, or the secret “plutonomy” memo – really is juicy, but Moore doesn’t ask the obvious followup questions, the ones that would actually edify the audience.  Why would a company buy insurance for its employees? Why is it legal? Is it really a source of “profit”? Moore doesn’t tell us, because he probably doesn’t really care. Why spoil a good story with facts?
Johnson calls this the most sophisticated film of Moore’s career. I call it the laziest.

Colleague Johnson calls Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story arguably the best thing he’s ever done.” I disagree.

Let’s start by conceding that Michael Moore is the most gifted propagandist of his generation. He understands the power of documentary film, its emotional and cognitive grammar, in a way that other film makers with similar political agendas do not. He is fearless, single-minded, and capable of tremendous empathy for working class Americans – notwithstanding his financial success and his reputation as being a colossal asshole in person.

Everything Michael Moore does is by turns enlightening, infuriating, exasperating, and entertaining, and Capitalism is no different. Also, the usual Moore structure is here: The Victims – poor families from the midwest crushed by the System; the Villains – the agents of the System, from the low-level bailiffs or cops or security guards right up to the Dr. Evil types at the top; and the System itself — an interlocking set of institutions, agencies, and shadowy interests that conspires to keep the Victims down while enriching and empowering the topmost Villains.

The way Moore’s films work is that he shows you some victims in a confrontation with low-level villains. Then he pulls back and tries to show how this confrontation is the product of the system, which is itself controlled by a cabal of plutocrats who maintain their status by ensuring the population is kept in a constant state of fearful immiseration, which is set off by cheap mass-marketed amusements. Then he marches off to confront the plutocrats, which is where the fun usually starts.

It’s a structure that has served Moore well from the very start, but unlike his previous films, especially Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 which, no matter how outrageous, were never dull,  this is the first one that bored me, for long stretches.

The best parts of his films are the ones that focus on the individual tragedies of the American condition, shown through the eyes of his chosen Victims: And so we meet a woman whose husband died at 41, leaving her bereft but enriching his employer, who had secretly taken out a life insurance policy on him. Or the family whose farm has been repossessed, and – as a final indignity – are paid by the bank to clean up the house they’re being kicked out of.

The problem is there isn’t enough of this in here – the man who has established himself as the foremost chronicler of America’s underclass has managed to make a movie about capitalism that doesn’t really have many people in it.  Another problem is that the stunt confrontations with the top-level Villains – the CEOs, the bankers, the gleeful corporate vultures – are almost entirely absent. There are some half-hearted attempts at making citizens arrests of Wall Street bankers, but when it comes to serious facetime, Moore has struck out.

So instead, what we are left with is a long, dull, and superficial account of the housing crisis, the bailout, and the uncomfortably close relationship between Wall Street and Washington, especially through what has become known as Government Sachs. The thing is, this material is too fresh and too familiar; to anyone who has been paying even casual attention over the past year, the gaps, errors, and misdirections in his narrative are glaring.

The stuff that Brian Johnson mentions — the  revelations about “dead peasant” insurance, or the secret “plutonomy” memo – really is juicy, but Moore doesn’t ask the obvious followup questions, the ones that would actually edify the audience.  Why would a company buy insurance for its employees? Why is it legal? Is it really a source of “profit”? Moore doesn’t tell us, because he probably doesn’t really care. Why spoil a good story with facts?

Johnson calls this the most sophisticated film of Moore’s career. I call it the laziest.


 
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No Love for Capitalism

  1. "He is fearless, single-minded, and capable of tremendous empathy for working class Americans"

    If he had any empathy at all for working classes he would not be making movies that are anti-capitalism. I would rather be poor or working class in America than poor/working class in about 95% of the countries around the world.

    "Or the family whose farm has been repossessed, and – as a final indignity – are paid by the bank to clean up the house they're being kicked out of."

    I would have to see movie to know more about this particular situation but whatever happened to the nobility of labour. I don't see how indignity enters the equation when you are being paid to do work. Would it be better for bank to pay someone else to clean house? Doesn't the family who had farm repossessed need money?

    • Yeah, that sounds f-ing noble

    • I am loathe defend Moore, but I feel it necessary to point out that emphathy for American poor is no less justified just because American poor are richer than the rest of the world's poor.

      Also, it would absoltely be an indignation to become the hired help in one's own previously owned home.

      • One could avoid the indignity by saying 'no'.

  2. Haven't seen the film, but have seen enough of his work to know the formula – and the massive distortions in his arguments. Which, I suspect, is why you don't see much facetime with CEOs, bankers, etc… Because they also know his penchant for jackassery.

    The real truth about this movie might be that Michael Moore is an idiot (old truth) and that most of the world is now coming to that very conclusion (new truth).

    His is little more than Ann Coulter in a different medium.

    • No way! Veracity aside Moore at his best is entertaining and fun. The little i've seen of Coulter didn't want to make me see more, that's for sure.

      • Ann Coulter in the sense that his arguments are, at best, incomplete. I only reference her so I'm not accused of being a leftist hater. She's an idiot, he's an idiot.

        Moore as an entertainer…well, I suppose in a sense he is. My problem with that, however, is he passes himslef as some kind of public intellectual. It's kind of like why I enjoy Jon Stewart (he is only an entertainer and he knows it) and why I don't like Bill Maher (he is only an entertainer and he doesn't know it).

        • I don't think Moore could ever aspire to be an intellectual on any level. His strength is on taking a "Joe Lunchbucket" approach to every issue. That is why he wears baseball caps, windbreakers and jeans. It is their uniform.

    • Except that Michael Moore makes himself the story. The directors of documentaries used to stay behind their cameras and… you know.. document. Moore has turned the documentary director into the hero and the subject. He makes it impossible to watch his films and detach his persona from the issue. He is the story.

      • The directors of documentaries used to stay behind their cameras and… you know.. document.

        So now they don't. So what.

        • So now they've made themselves the stars and the story? I thought that point was pretty clear in my first comment? Have you forgotten that it was a reply to your insistence that "Micheal Moore is not the story."??

        • So now they've made themselves the stars and the story. I thought that point was pretty clear in my first comment? Have you forgotten that it was a reply to your insistence that "Micheal Moore is not the story."??

          • If Micheal Moore was the story I'm quite certain he would have called it "Michael Moore: A Love Story". But he isn't and you're only pointing at his storytelling style.

          • No that is wrong.

            If Michael Moore wanted to be absolutely over the top didactic and slap-you-in-the-face with obviousness he would name his film as you say. Instead he chooses to be one small step below that.

            Michael Moore puts himself at the centre of all of his films. Anyone who can't see this is pretty oblivious. He makes himself the story. He's not the only story, there's also whatever subject he is investigating but the subject of Michael Moore is never to be lost on the viewer. This makes it very easy, and justifiably so, for the citics of Moore's films to focus on Moore rather than the issue of the film.

            I have no doubt Moore cares about the issues he presents in his films, but he cares about himself just as much – based on Potter's review here, it sounds as if in this one he cares about himself even more.

          • No that is wrong.

            If Michael Moore wanted to be absolutely over the top didactic and slap-you-in-the-face with obviousness he would name his film as you say. Instead he chooses to be one small step below that.

            Michael Moore puts himself at the centre of all of his films. Anyone who can't see this is pretty oblivious. He makes himself the story. He's not the only story, there's also whatever subject he is investigating but the subject of "Michael Moore" is never to be lost on the viewer. This makes it very easy, and justifiably so, for the citics of Moore's films to focus on Moore rather than the issue of the film.

            I have no doubt Moore cares about the issues he presents in his films, but he cares about himself just as much – based on Potter's review here, it sounds as if in this one he cares about himself even more.

    • Someone forgot to tell Michael Moore this.

  3. "I disagree."

    Oh, big surprise here.

    I haven't seen it, so I won't comment specifically. But the conformity of opinion of Michael Moore's critics (and you are *not* his audience) has become dull and predictable and not a little redolent of career envy.

    • Possibly – here's a thought – his critics are in agreement regarding the extent to which he's a fact-averse, dishonest hack because he is, indeed, a fact-averse, dishonest hack. You expected this criticism to come from any-ends-justify-the-means supporters, maybe?

  4. Michael Moore does comedy/documentaries – he makes big money at it, but he also pays full health care coverage for his employees and pays them really well.

    People can go and watch and decide for themselves.

    I don't agree or disagree with everything he says – I agree with some and disagree with others – as most people do.

    Your reaction is a little overdone.

    • I'm not sure how "Michael Moore's union film crew has a good benefits package" is relevant to, well, anything.

      • Not relevant? Good grief…………..he's bashing big corp and wall street for not looking after the little people.

  5. The basic facts of the meltdown are that entire classes of economists predicted it (Austrian) dozens of traders called it yet every MSM publication denies the perverse relationship between the SEC, the DTCC and the theives in the naked shorting hedge fund racket.

    It seems the only rational explanation given the facts verified thus far is that someone somewhere wanted to rock the financial boat.

    That Moore chronicles the aspects of that crime in the formula that has been successful in the past should surprise no one. That pundits are shooting the clearly misguided messenger while ignoring the EASILY verifiable facts of one the greatest financial and moral crimes in history speaks volumes about whose side" the MSM is on.

    That the system crashed is undeniable. Why the system crashed seems to be unreportable. As Canadians who rely on good political relations and a strong trading relationship with America we are navigating perilous waters. I must tip my hat to our prime minister and his government for their extreme pragmatism in the face of perilous events.

    • "hat pundits are shooting the clearly misguided messenger while ignoring the EASILY verifiable facts of one the greatest financial and moral crimes in history speaks volumes about whose side" the MSM is on."

      I wouldn't accuse Andrew Potter of that though. It's more the issue that Capitalism; A Love Story is an affront to his artistic sensibilities and an easy target for the new generation of enfants terribles philosophers/culture critics who find the trillions of dollars of theft from the common wealth too complicated and unstylish to be interesting.

      • Actually, my objection is that Michael Moore finds it too complicated to bother trying to explain it.

      • I don't know of Minsky, but am familiar with Von Mises and his ablest spear carrier Murray Rothbard, both would argue to the death the Keynes is the PROBLEM to overcome, not the solution to emulate. Also the Austrians have always argued that the excessive market interventions by outfits like the Fed will lead to what we see today. Also their extreme crtitques of recent US policy, at the time the problem was occurring, based on their theories of market operations and on what Von Mises called Praxis were bang on.

        What are the policy makers and market watch dogs doing? Running from the obvious and discarding an analytic tool which seems to explain observed events in a predictive and descriptive fashion.

        • It's not easy being wrong while claiming to be right. But life does go on.

  6. "Let's start by conceding that Michael Moore is the most gifted propagandist of his generation."

    Seriously? Andrew, whose propaganda reaches and affects more people? Michael Moore's handful of documentary films or the daily ravings of Rush Limbaugh? How about Glenn Beck? Michael Savage? Sean Hannity? Charles Krauthammer?

    Your "concession" is ridiculous.

    • I think Potter may be referrig to Moore as a "the most gifted propagandist" in terms of style not effect.

      • hmm – fair enough, that would be a legitimate way to look at things.

        Though I think a true propagandist is all about the effect :)

  7. I hate to be that guy, but I believe you mean Government "Sachs" not "Sacks".

    Unless you meant to say the SEC is like a high-end retailer, in which case it would be Government Saks, and you'd be talking about how 5th Avenue is much too close to Washington. I hate how Washington is now being run by 5th Avenue!

  8. "Let's start by conceding that Michael Moore is the most gifted propagandist of his generation. He understands the power of documentary film, its emotional and cognitive grammar, in a way that other film makers with similar political agendas do not."

    This is the most important sentence in this article. Moore uses any number of a true propagandist's tools when making his arguments about a certain issue. After watching FAHRENHEIT 9/11, I lost an awful lot of respect for his points of view. Yes, there were likely truths in what he presented but these were so buried beneath emotional blackmailing, extreme bias, and plain propaganda manipulation of the facts that it was difficult to sort out the 'trees for the forest'.

    As a propaganist, his technique would make proud the hearts of those who used the techniques for evil purposes. Though I don't compare him, morally, to those like the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the Stalinist propagandists in Russia and, for that matter, some of the spin doctors in our own governments, he would make them smile as they watched his technique in action.

    A superb example, in FAHRENHEIT 9/11, was his ever closer intercutting of scenes of the quiet, peaceful, child-filled streets of Baghdad with scenes of the mighty American machine (with an ominously frightening & foreboding music in the background) coming to wreak destruction upon all of those innocents. I was amazed to see in action all of my university studies on the subject.

    Be it a fault of mine but, whenever I run into overly biased stuff like that, from any source, I tend to shut it out and go on my way.

  9. May I point the reader to Bob Burg's thoughtful blog entry on this subject here:
    http://www.burg.com/2009/10/the-real-reason-i-won

    Bob correctly points out that it is not "Capitalism" with which Michael Moore has the issue, but "Corporatism".

    To further educate oneself the reader might also follow Bob Burg's excellent series of articles on the nature of Capitalism here:
    http://www.burg.com/2008/12/capitalism-vs-sociali

    For the sake of clarity of thought, we must check our definitions, assumptions, and premises. The very areas in which Michael Moore is inept.

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