With 24 years of film-making straining against his belt, the notorious Michael Moore ends America’s love affair with capitalism …and it’s going to be a messy breakup.
Disclaimer: this was an article that I wrote for school about 3 years ago. I wanted to upload it here because I like it and didn’t want it to get deleted from my harddrive.
Welcome to the United States of America – land of the bankrupt and home of the swindled. At least this is how the outspoken documentarian Michael Moore sees it. Capitalism: A Love Story will be among the selection of Michael Moore documentaries to be shown at this year’s Currumbin Film Festival’s “Going Doco” day. The pioneer of ‘movumentaries’ is contesting capitalism. No, this is not propaganda from the USSR. This is coming from the all-American, earnestly patriotic, Michael Moore. Whether you love him or hate him, Moore presents an undeniably entertaining and eye-opening insight into the fat-cat capital of the Western world. Much like a romantic-comedy, Moore spins a tale filled with comedy, sarcasm and calamity. To the untrained eye Moore’s approach may appear scattered but let there be no doubt in your mind that our left-wing friend knows exactly what he is doing.
Moore’s story is set in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis: the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The film examines the downfall of the apparently failing capitalist system in the USA. Beware naïve viewers. Moore’s idiosyncratic style scrutinizes Reaganomics, corporations, Wall Street, the US Treasury, the morality of the free market and, overall, capitalism’s erosion of democracy in America. Despite being released 4 years ago, Capitalism: A Love Story addresses issues that still effect American society and, arguably, Australia’s society too. A universal aim in Moore’s documentaries is to challenge the status quo in America. Whilst some may shrug this off as a typical left-wing agenda, Moore’s message should resonate with Australians. For example, the boom in mining has brought with it astronomical amounts of money and unparalleled power to moguls like Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer. The relationship between the industry and legislation reiterates the relevance of Moore’s argument that capitalism undercuts democracy. Despite the American case study, in regards to the Western world, Michael Moore definitely has some bite to his bark.
Never one to stray far from his anti-establishment roots, Moore dedicates much of the documentary to the concept of America as a plutocracy. Don’t believe it? According to the analysts of the world’s largest bank it is true. Moore brings the notorious Citigroup “Plutonomy Reports” to light, which now are shielded from Internet view, thanks to Citigroup’s lawyers. Nevertheless, the report (and considerable use of eerie music) supports Moore’s initial assertion that Wall Street is deteriorating the accountability of American democracy. By playing on viewer’s misgivings, Moore shows democracy to be redundant as the richest 1% control the fate of America. Exposing viewers to the underbelly of plutocracy in the USA accentuates Moore’s socialist tendencies. “…I want [my audience] to be engaged in their democracy. I want them to get off the bench and become active.” In essence, Moore makes a call to action, designed to empower and enlighten the waning middle class. President Ronald Reagan also comes into Moore’s line of fire as he quashes hopes that the trickle down, of ‘trickle down economics”, will finally reach the working class. Moore represents Reagan as a puppet of Wall Street due to his implementation of Reaganomics. According to Moore this was the beginning of the reign of “government Goldman [Sachs]”. With the use of archival footage and patronizing narration, Moore shows Reagan as being controlled by Donald Regan. Moore believes that the ex-Merrill Lynch CEO infiltrated legislation with ulterior motives. The cunning editing challenges the naïve belief that government always does what is best for the majority. Moore complains that capitalism rolls the political system and economic system into one. With banks advocating plutocracy and corrupting the government, it seems there is no hope for democracy. Moore’s characterization of capitalism, and therefore plutocracy, as a scam of the rich, and democracy as the voice of the people, could not be clearer. The intertwining of politics and economics highlights Moore’s belief that America is more plutocracy than democracy.
Ultimately, the victims of this “get rich quick” scheme are the citizens of America. Moore constructs a sympathetic image of a poverty stricken working class. During an expose on the “dead peasants” insurance scandal, Moore’s nice guy act comes into play. He manages to produce personal, poignant interviews on the most taboo topic in western society – money. Moore’s footage of families callously thrown out of their homes and being robbed of life insurance money strikes a chord in the audience. This supports Moore’s left-wing belief that the working class deserves to be empowered. It is tough to see why not: courtesy of Moore’s relentless foregrounding of the working class’ struggle. This sequence is the pinnacle of his assertion that capitalism is impoverishing typical Americans. No victim blaming here. But the always-patriotic Moore believes in the power of the people. Hope comes in the form of footage of a family reclaiming its home and a factory strike. The family dispels a “mortgage guy” and factory workers reclaim their rightful severance pay. It is clearly an illustration of David versus Goliath – starring the working class as David, whilst the banks are Goliath. This sequence and typical underdog representation upholds Moore’s anti-establishment beliefs. Moore ultimately wants change in his country through the application of democracy. That is, a democracy that is not crushed by capitalism. Moore’s illuminating tone serves to educate Americans in hopes of igniting participation in the democratic process and thereby, eradicating plutonomy.
Whilst to some Wall Street may be a symbol of prosperity, to Moore, it is the quintessential villain in his love story. According to Moore, Wall Street is rampant with robbers and is responsible for coup d’états. His coverage of the infamous Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 questions the credibility of the banks. With his hard-hitting journalist hat on, Moore uses an interview with government watchdog, Senator Elizabeth Warren, to show American banks cheating citizens of America. Moore suggests that the banks ruthlessly exploited American taxpayers. The editing and sardonic narration in this scene suggests the $700 billion bailout has funded $50 million private jets and $6.8 billion worth of bonuses – siphoning more money for the super rich at the expense of the middle class. Capitalism: A Love Story positions viewers to see the big banks as the enemy, and it would seem justifiably so. With millions losing their pensions and homes, it is hard not to think of the financial industry as an “insane casino”, as Moore puts it. Moore’s anti-corporation views position the audience to see Wall Street as a greedy and decadent institution. His philosophy that “too big to fail” does not mean “too big to jail” pushes viewers to question Wall Street’s shamelessly greedy nature. Moore’s scathing examination of Wall Street challenges the exploitative nature of the American economic system and its corruption of democracy.
Capitalism: A Love Story is faster and punchier than many Hollywood blockbusters. Even if Moore’s left-wing sentiments are not appealing, it is still a documentary with much merit. Moore’s representation of capitalism brings the runaway train to a screeching halt. Holding Wall Street and government Goldman accountable for their failings can only empower viewers to question their society. If anything, Moore wants people to be active members of society and form an opinion. Whilst a Michael Moore documentary may not be the most objective forum, it educates, informs and, perhaps more importantly, impassions its audience to begin an interrogative conversation. Moore’s claim that capitalism undermines democratic accountability is certainly not ludicrous. The increasing entanglement of the mining industry and parliament in Australia is an example worthy of Moore’s idiosyncratic dissection. With wit, comedy and tragedy by his side Moore shifts the capitalist paradigm of the supposedly free Western world. Watch Capitalism: A Love Story and take heed, as Moore’s world of plutocracy may not be as far away was one would think.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009): 10/10