by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - October 19, 2009) Michael Moore is somewhat slovenly and unkempt. Even were he to don a tuxedo, one would feel he got it second-hand from some rag-and-bone man. Because of his bluntness and dubious taste, he is easy to disparage. But for me, Moore is the closest thing we have to a contemporary Tom Paine and one of the few liberals who not only speak truth to power but actually get out there and dirty their hands tossing manure at his adversaries.
Capitalism: A Love Story is a pertinent, persuasive, and blunt analysis of the way that a small, affluent, and greedy minority has succeeded in dominating 95% of the American population. The "love story" element of the film is pure tongue-in-cheek. For Moore, the greed of capitalists and the "love" of their domination over us poor suckers is what enables the romance to flourish. No one is spared from Moore's whiplash. Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, Henry Paulson, all emerge in the film like fugitives on a post office bulletin board. To watch the film and then relate it to current events is to appreciate the candor of Mr. Moore's revelations, which, despite the fact they have been proselytized by journalists and theorists, seem to have left little mark on citizens grown accustomed to the false shibboleths that are at the bed-rock of American democracy.
Once the recession really hit in '08 and early '09, Washington's first impulse was to rescue the Wall Street interests that, it was abundantly clear, were largely responsible for the economic fiasco. As billions in bailouts were doled out to the most favored financial institutions -- in most cases to the very executives responsible for causing the blight -- millions of Americans lost both their jobs and their houses, not to mention their dignity. When slight signs of recovery were bruited, those optimistic words referred not to the millions who had lost their jobs but to the recovery of banks that had benefited from the government's intercession. Again, the state of the union was measured not by those who suffered the most severe losses but by that small, well-heeled minority who inflated their bonuses and squirmed out of that very financial quicksand that sucked in hundreds and thousands of working people; what you might call "middle class America" although labeling them simply the "victims of corporate greed" would be a more accurate description.
One of the great virtues of Moore's documentary is that it provides the historical basis for the catastrophe that, despite optimistic forecasts, still envelopes the nation. Clearly, the election of Ronald Reagan, captive of the nation's corporate interests and guardian of Wall Street sovereignty, was the first lurch in the fatal direction and once the supremacy of corporative domination was established, it remained protected by every succeeding president as if it were a principle in the presidential oath of office. Had it been properly disseminated, there might have been a little more furor about the injustice, but it was simply taken for granted. Capitalism and its bitter enemy, the will of the people, were forever enshrined in the Republic's tautology.
The great value of Moore's blunt indictment of capitalism is that it musters just enough salient examples to prove his point. We are a nation victimized by a small, greedy minority of bankers, speculators, and exploiters and we lack the gumption or the will to rise up and try to change a situation that subtly envelops three quarters of the nation -- even when the evidence of exploitation is revealed to us every moment of every day in books, media, and the spiritual diminution of our private lives.
Tom Paine, like Michael Moore, constantly hammered out his own message of "change." Another was eloquently expressed by President Obama during the presidential campaign although signs of it are very scarce now that his presidency is almost a year old.
What Moore's film does, better than anything like it now in circulation, is to provide both facts and examples of how low we have sunk in 21st century America. But what it also does is suggest that, given the unpredictable American spirit, it may still be possible to reverse a diabolical trend that inflicts misery on a large majority of the population. All the truth needs is one disruptive breakthrough and the character of an entire nation can be altered. Films like Moore's are a salvationary form of agit-prop. If it doesn't enrage you, there is something amiss with your metabolism.
It would be ridiculous to try to evaluate Capitalism: A Love Story simply in cinematic terms. It would be like evaluating Paul Revere's ride in terms of equestrian skill. It doesn't matter that the documentary is fragmented, editorially sloppy, reminiscent of earlier Moore films, and unabashedly left-of-center propaganda. It's what it says that matters -- and the relevance of that should goad a soporific public into action.
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