First, a word of warning: Michael Moore is a polarizing figure. His politics are both reviled and loved. He’s made a film that ironically is criticizing the same Free Market which he has benefited from since he directed Roger and Me. That being said, Capitalism: A Love Story will probably tick you off. If you’re one of the millions who is now without a job, have had your car repossessed, or been evicted from your home, you might be angry after seeing this film (if you could afford the $12 ticket and $8 popcorn tub.) If you’re a union lifer who’s been laid off and accused by a pundit on Fox News of being greedy, unproductive, and a contributing cause of the Great Recession, you will be livid.
But – if you’re one of the Wall Street barons amongst the 1% of the population in the United States who control more than 90% of this country’s wealth, you will also be ticked off. But for different reasons, chief among them being that Michael Moore has characterized you as a societal leech, a piranha, and a metastasized cancer whose time for radiation therapy has come. If you’re part of the ever-growing economically marginalized in the America, you’ll want dust off your pitchfork, light a torch and storm the battlements of CitiBank, Goldman Sachs and numerous other institutions of financial disrepute.
Yes, capitalism is a succubus who sneaks in when the lights are out, and when corrupt and pliable politicians are in office. Stripped of financial and banking regulations (mostly by Republicans,) capitalism is now free to suck out the life-force of the middle class, the poor and pretty much anyone who has a dollar in their wallet. Capitalism: A Love Story starts out with a result, and works backwards from there. In this case, it’s a family that’s lost their farm to a bank. In a storytelling arc, Capitalism details how for much of the Twentieth Century, it was a natural bedmate of democracy. Or at least, that’s how it portrayed itself, with us enthusiastically embracing its propaganda. The underbelly of capitalism in a democratic society is what usually sends the right-wing into paroxysms of denial: the fact that without any constraints, capitalism is a predatory economic doctrine which needs unions and government intervention to ensure it doesn’t cruelly kill the un-rich by death of a thousand cuts.
The interesting thing after seeing Capitalism: A Love Story is that while you might want to seize the nearest executive from Bank of America or Merrill Lynch and give them the same treatment that Benito Mussolini got from his people in ’45 (shot, stripped and then hung by his heels from a pole,) Moore very understatedly gets you angry. His narrative tone is reasonable and he varies from this emotional pitch only to express incredulity at how nasty and devoid of a soul our free market participants are at their core. They are truly horrible people, the scum of the earth. It’s clear that they are gleeful participants in a ghastly system. A system which, given half a chance, will subvert a democratically-elected government with easy home loans and campaign contributions for Senators in charge of oversight and regulation.
Funny business by the corporate community isn’t relegated to subverting governments. They also screw around with their own employees. Apparently, they take out life insurance policies on them. In secret. So when and if the employee dies, the company reaps a small windfall. There is an actual term for this practice by the insurance industry. It’s called ‘Dead Peasants insurance.’ Hmm.
But the litanies of greed and calumny which Michael Moore displays for us brings home very clearly how we, as a people, allowed this state of affairs to come about. We are co-conspirators in the capitalist enterprise, and have been for a long time. Our co-dependence with capitalism was predicated on the hope that we too, could get our slice of the wonderful, wonderful pie. Now, it’s okay to dislike Michael Moore. It’s acceptable to view him as having an ideological axe to grind. It’s even okay to denigrate his politics. But he isn’t making stuff up in this film. He’s giving us raw data. It’s hard to make excuses for capitalism with the statistics of home foreclosures, unemployment and factory closings he flashes in front of our faces.
But despite all that, Capitalism: A Love Story is underneath it all, a very funny film. But that’s because Moore has a sense of humor in the midst of this crushing tale of anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance. At the very least, his film should prompt us to think about whether it’s capitalism per se that’s at fault, or our own moral and ethical failures. Because it’s still just a system. And it wasn’t a system that refers to us as ‘dead peasants,’ it was a flesh and blood bean counter in an insurance company. ‘Dead peasants,’ indeed. What were we saying about Mussolini again?