Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

Whatever else you may feel about him, you cannot accuse Michael Moore of pulling his punches. In Capitalism: A Love Story, the fat man comes right out and states his stance in the bluntest terms: "capitalism is evil," direct quote, and it must be eliminated for the good of humanity. Come on, Mike, tell us how you really feel!

Well, he does actually clarify a bit beyond that: post-Reagan capitalism. He speaks rather optimistically of American capitalism from the end of World War II up through 1980, with much of his praise actually seeming to gravitate towards another Republican president's America, namely the highways and infrastructure built in the 1950s under Eisenhower. Then, he argues, corporate America, fed up with taxes and regulations and having to contribute to the good of society, all-but-hired a vapid spokesmodel named Ronald Reagan to be a genial icon for their greed and corruption and callousness and attempts to dismantle all that once made America great, and capitalism plunged off the deep end.

That all seems obvious enough, although I'm not sure I'd fully agree with labeling capitalism "evil." Flawed, yes. Risen in American consciousness to an uncriticizable-sacred-cow pedestal it hasn't come even close to earning, indisputably. "Evil" seems a little harsh, not to mention overly simplistic. Using "evil" as a synonym for "I don't like it!" really reminds me more of Republicans and the Tea Party crew than anything else. But Moore gives a few pretty damning examples of "socialist" systems working far better than the free market, with a disastrous, failed, instantly corrupt attempt at a privatized juvenile detention facility in Pennsylvania being one of the most simultaneously amusing and disturbing case studies (albeit maybe not amusing to the indignant liberal behind me in the theater who kept angrily whisper-shouting "Jesus!" every five minutes).

The most "evil" thing we see in the movie is probably so-called "dead peasant insurance," where companies take out life insurance on low-level employees, usually without the employee's knowledge, and in the event of the employee's death enjoy a large payout (potentially in the millions of dollars for employees who make little over minimum wage) without sharing any with the deceased's family. Moore highlights several instances of such in the film, with one of the companies in question being, shock of shocks, Wal-Mart. And the "dead peasant" moniker is made up by the corporations themselves, for maximum over-the-top villainy.

Thankfully, Moore's antics (running around trying to citizen's arrest CEOs, going to banks and demanding America's money back, etc.) are at a relatively low level here. The antic-heavy trailer had me pretty damn concerned on this count, but the trailer fortunately contains nearly every goofy stunt in the entire film. I generally find that Moore's movies are stronger the less he's onscreen (Sicko in particular was very, very strong almost until the exact second that Moore's jowls waggled into the frame), and that mostly stands here, with him wandering around the Capitol looking for Congresspeople to talk to being the exception since he actually gets a couple pretty good interviews out of it.

If the film has a weakness (outside of an overreliance on close-ups of crying poor people), it's definitely the overly-fawning-of-Obama ending sequence. I mean, don't get me wrong, I campaigned and voted for Obama and I'm going to campaign and vote for him again in three years and it doesn't take a fucking genius to see that he's better than George Bush, but Barack Obama is still a carefully-vetted representative of the exact same right-wing, pro-business, hyper-capitalist institution that has produced every president since 1980. One that doesn't fear science and won't stick sociopaths on the Supreme Court, but still. Capitalism: A Love Story ends with this swelling, inspirational montage that keeps asking if with Obama America has finally turned the corner from corrupt capitalism, and I kept waiting for the giant "NO!" punchline that never came. The right-wing hordes that think Obama is a Marxist are stupid, sure, but somehow a starry-eyed socialist who thinks Obama is one of us comes off as even stupider, or at least more naive.

3 Stars out of 5

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