Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story (12A)

Written and directed by Michael Moore

Since achieving international fame with his documentary examination of the U.S. gun culture (Bowling For Columbine) seven years ago, Michael Moore has gone on to look at the 'war on terror' (Fahrenheit 9/11), and the wretched for-profit American healthcare system (Sicko). Finally, the Wall Street Crash of 2008 has compelled him to stop "hacking at the branches" - to quote Henry David Thoreau - and instead begin "striking at the root" of these problems: capitalism itself.

However, Moore's blows are very much hit and miss.

As always, he succeeds on an emotional level. We see a Carolina family filming their own eviction, at the hands of seven carloads of cops. We meet a widow who was accidentally informed that her husband's employers were cashing in on his demise - they apparently took out secret 'dead peasant' life insurance on him, and raked in $1.5 million. We learn how two Pennsylvania judges received millions in kickbacks from the owners of the privatised juvenile detention system, and incarcerated children for 'offences' such as setting up a parody website. Moore clearly has deep sympathy for those who suffer under the profit system, and by default this sets him apart from almost all mass media.

Unfortunately, Moore still fails as a thinker. He offers no definition of capitalism, and muddies the waters by allowing religious figures time to label it an 'evil'. Neither does he try to explain the structural causes of the current economic crisis. Indeed his stunts - which include sealing off bank headquarters with crime scene tape - actually reduce the social problem to the level of individual behaviour, much as capitalist 'justice' does.

Most disheartening of all for the concerned viewer, Moore does not suggest any clear way out of this mess. And okay, he doesn't directly claim that the Democrats can solve anything, but at times he seems to shield Obama from reasonable criticism (for the part he played in the pre-election $700 bank bailout, for example). Late on he raises the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used the U.S.'s world dominance to save the country's elite from itself during the last great depression, but Moore certainly doesn't include that context.

These are very different times from the 1930s, and the U.S. empire is on the wane. We are in the midst of a global catastrophe which only the organised international working class can solve. For that reason, it is the brief sequences from inside the occupied Republic Windows and Doors factory which are by far the most inspiring.
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