When capitalism destroys democracy

10.24.07CapitalismALoveStory

Or the breathless and lonely journey of the sheriff of Everyman

Capitalism: A Love Story

Directed by Michael Moore

2009, 120 min., Rated R

There's a purpose why Michael Moore presents a two-hour, rapid fire account of harrowing, horror and arresting stories in his newest film "Capitalism: A Love Story." There are too many stories.

We meet teenagers thrown into a private for-profit juvenile prison contracted by the state for minor offenses and find out the judge received $2.5 million in kick-backs from the prison. A new spin on no child left behind.

We meet many families, from Peoria, Ill. to Miami, Fla., whose homes are in foreclosure and they are being evicted.

We meet pilots who have second jobs or had to go on food stamps. Hero pilots who testify to Congress on cuts in pay and safety from the airlines corporations.

We meet a family whose father tells us how he loved Wal-Mart until his wife, who worked there, had an asthma attack, went into a coma and died. They owe $100,000 in medical and funeral bills. But Wal-Mart made $80,000 on her death. They had a "Dead Peasants Policy" (industry lingo for life insurance on employees).

Moore produces layers and layers, connecting these stories to a much broader picture of our country under capitalism.

Scene after scene, from old home movies to a rubble-strewn lot in Flint that used to be where his father worked for GM, appear rapid fire on the screen.

Until Moore, the people's sheriff, declares war. Quoting a secret Citigroup memo that says the wealth owned by 99 percent of the people adds up to less than the wealth of the top 1 percent, Moore says it's our duty to revolt.

It's here where Moore also points out the fundamental change that happened in 1980. The Ronald Reagan administration raised up the flag of Wall Street, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and the secret corporate armies of the night.

And right in the midst of that madness, a touch of sanity comes for a moment when some workers in Chicago, cheated out of their last paycheck, and their factory closed, decide to occupy their door and window company and forced Bank of America to provide the funds they were owed.

But then there's Michael, coming to our rescue in his armored bank truck, pulling up to Wall Street and taking yellow crime scene tape and roping it around a square block. And over his megaphone, he orders insurance giant AIG to return the bail-out money and he demands a citizen's arrest of the CEO.

There are some bones to pick. Is Moore suggesting that late-1950s GM capitalism is good capitalism? Or was it a militant United Auto Workers with the shadow of the famous sit-down strike of Flint? But wasn't 1950s capitalism cold and Cold War-creating? Did black people, other people of color, women, farmworkers, people in the hollers of Appalachia thrive? How did they fare?

A tiny flash on the screen provides two images. One is dogs attacking civil rights protestors in the South, the other is B-52 bombers unloading on Vietnam.

Moore's movies are heartfelt, humorous, corny and theatrically absurd. No matter how many times we see him schlumping up to headquarters, calling out the villain for a duel in the sun, it always works. He's part Mister Rogers, part Eddie Haskell, a chubby Charlie Chaplin of class-consciousness. He's dedicated to chronicling the madness of the empire and the absolute right to a people to overthrow it, when it no longer serves them.

 

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