I was one of many teenage romantics in the 70s who harboured some half-baked Marxist ideals. That is, until I got around to actually reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Great opening: “A spectre is haunting Europe.” Shame about the rest. It quickly became apparent to me that Karl wasn’t factoring in something rather important – human nature.
A glimpse behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ during an extended travelling stint in the early 80s dispelled any lingering illusions about communism. I stayed a few days in Budapest, spent a day on the bleak side of the Berlin Wall, and voila – cured. Capitalism was far from perfect, but it was a helluva lot better than the alternative in practice. And that was the end of the debate as far as I was concerned.
Or was it? I wasn’t thrilled with my lot in the happy cappy system, and as time has progressed I have become less and less content. I am in contempt of the dull materialism that has us by the nuts. I am in contempt of the state of management in this country. I am in contempt of the rampant selfishness that you encounter daily, of the “me first” mentality that is endemic in these dreary times. To misquote Brando in On The Waterfront, ask me what I’m in contempt of and I’ll answer “whaddayagot?”
My gripes certainly include Michael Moore. Moore is, to my mind, a propagandist of the first order, not to mention an egotist. As I see it, he has made a career (and multiple millions) from hijacking the Left and making it his own – not to mention attaining a notoriety that has guaranteed him a place in the public spotlight that I suspect he has always coveted.
Don’t get me wrong – he’s the goods as a documentary filmmaker. Clever, funny, entertaining, confrontational, adept at hitting emotional triggers in his audience. But he’s less than honest in that, like any propagandist, left or right, he wilfully misrepresents the facts in the service of pushing his causes and demonising his enemies, while posturing as a noble and courageous warrior for Truth. His primary agenda is to persuade, not to illuminate (and, methinks, to promote himself as much as his ideological causes). A bit like a lawyer, really – but the propagandist operates on a much grander scale, and is thus a far more potent creature.
You’ll be unsurprised to learn, then, that I attended Moore’s latest work, Capitalism – A Love Story, with a less than open mind.
Luna Cinema’s Tony Bective observed in his pre-screening address that “love him or loathe him, Moore is important because he makes us think.” He added that while Moore tends to polarise people, Capitalism – A Love Story has received accolades from both the left and right. Hmmm. OK. Get the lights down. Let’s see what ya got for us this time, fat boy.
And what did he have? A magnificent slashed canvas of a film, simmering with lethally contained outrage at the banks and Wall Street and the fat cats of corporate America who have wrecked the American Dream (and raped the world economy) on the rocks of their avarice and greed. Moore’s thesis (and the case he puts in this film is compelling) is that this Dream that America was founded on – that anyone, of any ethnicity, from any background, has an equal opportunity to succeed through enterprise and hard work – is a ruse.
He shows example after example of hard-working people, little folk who followed the carrot of the American Dream every inch of the way, only to end in ruin, homeless, chewed up and spat out by an inhumane system that works for the rich and hoodwinks the poor into allowing themselves to be unmercifully exploited.
He shows the vultures that profit from foreclosures, buying up cheap when the banks toss the victims of their sub-prime lending scams out into the streets, forcing them to sell their modest homes at life-destroying losses.
He tears the covers back from the inner sanctums of Congress, revealing corruption at the highest levels in recent Republican (Bush) and Democrat (Clinton) governments, both of which were infiltrated by Goldman Sachs at the highest administrative levels.
He interviews Wall Street wizzbangaloids (my neologism – if you have a better word, lemme know), seeking a clear explanation of the working of the derivatives that detonated the Global Financial Crisis. It’s wryly amusing to watch these bozos stammer and stutter as they demonstrate that even they don’t understand what they were dealing with. Less amusing to consider the repercussions.
He rails against the hypocrisy of the banks and corporate giants who espoused a hard-line laissez-faire system of sink or swim…until they were sinking, whereupon they squealed for the State to bale them out with taxpayers’ money – none of which went to their victims, all of which went back into the corporate machine and the fat cats whose greed, recklessness and incompetence caused the catastrophe in the first place.
And at the end of it all, Moore transcends the petty spite, the drawing a bead on a victim and blasting away that he has resorted to with ruthless resolve in earlier films (eg: his appalling assault on Charton Heston, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, in Bowling For Colombine). Oh, there are still some Mooresque stunts, such as his attempting a citizen’s arrest of one of the fat cat bank CEOs that he charges with stealing from the American people, but for all his raging and rancour against the banks and Wall Street, he concludes that the problem is a far greater one – the capitalist system itself.
He goes so far as to describe capitalism as evil, then in a masterstroke designed to shut the gobs of the corporate conservatives who call on God for support when challenged by such heresy, interviews senior clergy who share his view. As did I by the end of this remarkable film.
Yet Moore goes further. Content in the past to play the role of the iconoclast, he pushes on past his systematically and coldly rational (YES!) demolition of any notion that capitalism serves its people well to suggest a viable alternative – democracy!
We take it for granted that we live in a democracy, that capitalism and democracy are complementary systems in some sort of symbiotic relationship. But as Moore points out, what is democratic about the typical hierarchical corporate structure? Nothing! It’s a dictatorship! There’s a head dictator, and less powerful dictators underneath, and underneath them are the workers – disempowered, disrespected and liable to penalty or dismissal if they seek to change their lot in any way other than by playing according to the dictators’ rules.
It is no comfort that Moore’s focus is America.
I think about the management I’ve worked under: megalomaniac, egocentric twats with retarded EQs, every fucking one of them – well, almost.
Just yesterday, I reeled back in astonishment at this news item: managers at Medicare Australia’s call centre in Parramatta have been following staff into bathrooms to ensure they observed a three-minute toilet time limit and kept diary entries of how long they spent on calls of nature. What the fuck? What if you’ve got the runs? Worse – constipation? And pragmatics aside, how is demeaning staff like that going to enhance productivity?
Well, of course it’s not, but what these silly cunts in management say goes, cos they’re nasty little fuehrers unleashed in Der Vaterland of the workplace.
So, what’s the alternative? Moore gives us a glimpse into a democratic work environment – three examples of employee-owned companies where all staff have direct input into significant decisions, and share profits equally (in each case the company was thriving, to which I have only one response – DUH!).
That’ll do. Whatever you think of Moore, see this movie. It’s his career high, and his most important work. And yes, he does “make you think.” It’s way past time more of us did more of that. If we had been less complacent, maybe we’d have cut our doomed love affair with capitalism long ago.
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