Capitalism: A Love Story
(The Weinstein Company; US theatrical: 2 Oct 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 2 Oct 2009 (General release); 2009)
If America is currently up shit creek, Michael Moore has the reactionary roadmap for how we got there. Don’t be surprised if the conclusions piss people off - being called a money-grubbing amoral jackass readily raping the working poor and vanishing Middle Class of this once great country would be enough to anger even the most insensitive corporate lout. Like his previous films, this is not a question of taking sides. Moore may not have all the facts on his side, but his points are so cogent that to argue them seems futile. After all, how exactly do you respond to a bank that bets on the deaths of its employees with secret life insurance policies or raiders who demand government bailouts only to use said cash for whatever their avarice laced hearts desire?
These are the kinds of gnawing, jaw constantly on the floor kind of questions the documentarian asks in his latest sermon on the motion picture mount - Capitalism: A Love Story. Focusing on the recent economic fiasco that has left millions out of work, dispossessed, and more or less lost for a next step, the Oscar winning pundit takes on the title philosophy, debating its relationship to the needs of 95% of the populace. As with many stories like this, Moore begins by arguing that 1% of our country controls more wealth and fiscal power than the other nine-tenths of us combined. He then puts on his shoulder shrug façade, wads up his worked up resolve, and wanders the bleakest of all wasted landscapes - the Midwest - to follow the sickening stories of foreclosure, corporate criminality, and slick Republican partisans who agreed that such a set-up was the peachiest of deregulatory ideals.
Moore definitely paints a compelling picture. Then again, he always does. This is someone who knows that you don’t win over audiences with in-depth discussions about Wall Street speculation or pronouncements from Harvard educated economists about hard to define ‘derivatives’. Instead, he finds the stories that matter, that make the greatest impact, and then links them back to his main thesis that Capitalism is a self-supporting swindle aided by decades of deliberate propaganda. It was the bill of goods sold by the people in power post World War II. It was the conceit that, when balanced with a sense of the public welfare, promoted the US into the superpower stratosphere. But when Ronald Reagan came to power and ushered in his free market ‘Morning in America’, Moore contends that the need for economic equilibrium was tossed aside in favor of the profit margin, the bottom line, and Gordon Gecko’s personal mantra - GREED!
Nearly three decades later, these rotten roots have produced some incredibly sour and downright poisonous fruit. As Capitalism: A Love Story argues again and again, the government is controlled by special interests - in this case, most of the board members from major Wall Street trading firms have been or currently are heading up important federal agencies and cabinet posts - and their goal remains to screw the little guy for the sake of those with mansions. Anything they could do to earn a buck off the back of the worker was seen as part of the cutthroat American dream. But Moore illustrates that said strategy did little except overfeed the fat cats. As CEO wages and bonuses skyrocketed, workers income and union influence were static, or strangled into submission.
Because they offer extremes in order to prove their points, Moore’s movies are often chastised by those who wish to undermine his impact. But Capitalism: A Love Story, provides some of his most profound mind-blowers yet, situations and set ups that should cause even the most loyal lover of all things supply and demand to sit up in shock. Amid all the ‘Death Peasant’ insurance policies (Wal-Mart used to take them out on their “associates”), underpaid airplane pilots (pulling down a whopping $16K to $20K a year), and proud property vultures (realtors and agents who ‘swoop’ in and buy up homes for pennies on the dollar) there are stories that both disgust and depress. One of the best involves a private juvenile detention center in Pennsylvania that saw two judges accept kickbacks from the company based on the number of teens they placed in their facility. That’s right - men sworn to uphold the law were treating 15 year olds who were caught smoked pot, fighting, or using their right of Free Speech to sentences of several months - all so that the tax payers could foot the highly overpriced bill and they could get paid.
Another undeniable affront revolves around the connection between those subprime mortgages we’ve been hearing about for the last 12 months, the corrupt companies that conned people into buying into these usurious contractual time bombs, and the Senators, Congressman, and high ranking Washington officials who benefited by turning a blind eye to such con artistry. A whistleblower type who used to work for Countrywide produces a list of FOA - Friends of Angelo - meant to signify important VIPs who got sweetheart loans from the company, all because they were pals (or political pawns) of CEO Angelo Mozilo. As the who’s who of DC despots is read, Moore draws a damning conclusion - this is no longer the representative democracy the Constitution once crafted. The post-modern America is a wholly owned subsidiary of dozens of power drunk multinationals who don’t care if people are employed. As long as someone, somewhere is slaving away at the inventory that will make them mega-millionaires, jobless rates (and any moral concern over same) are moot.
Because it’s so wildly entertaining, because Moore is basically a clever carnival barker at heart (“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up and see a bunch of Chicago factories workers fight the Bank of America Man…and WIN!”), Capitalism: A Love Story becomes a fabulous financial freak show. Around every corner is another accounting oddity, from bonuses based on bailout money to the Bush Administrations complicity in calling for such an emergency cash flow measure a few weeks before the 2008 election. One Congresswoman, a feisty female spitfire from named Marcy Kaptur, agrees with Moore’s assessment that such an act was tantamount to an economic coup d’etat. At some point, voters no longer mattered and campaign contributions and lobbyists did.
While Moore’s suggestion that wholesale democracy would be a better form of free enterprise, his examples don’t quite drive home his point. Still, you’d figure after 20 years we’d have figured it out. In Roger & Me, a then unknown documentarian warned us that the rest of the country was headed toward the same fate as his hometown of Flint, MI. With Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore is finally proven right - and it’s not a very pretty or fitting conclusion.