“We are here to tell the truth! People say if you don’t love America, then get the hell out! Well, I love America!”
-Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic in “Born On The Fourth of July”
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”
I was a little worried about Michael Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It covers the catastrophic economic fallout from 2007 to 2009 and presents a very harsh indictment of the current economic order in the United States. Throughout the movie, Moore shows us families being evicted from homes that have been in their families for years, and how many get swindled out of them without them realizing until much too late. He also looks at how Wall Street treats the country’s economy like a reckless night of gambling in Las Vegas, and at how Goldman Sachs gained a frightening amount of leverage over congress at an economically vulnerable time. In short, it is Moore’s attack on all things capitalism, and of how it is an evil that is ruining the fabric of our once great country.
While it may seem ironic that Michael Moore would take on capitalism, especially when he has benefited so much from it over the years with his films and books, he creates a very compelling case here. Whether you think he is telling the truth or simply manipulating facts to his own advantage, he remains the most entertaining documentary filmmaker in American films today. “Capitalism: A Love Story” is honestly one of his best films to date, and it combines some of the hallmarks of a Michael Moore, truly devastating moments with some very funny ones. The movie does need those humorous moments, otherwise this could have been one of the most emotionally draining experiences of watching any movie.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” starts off in a way that is both hilarious and frightening. Moore starts off with one of those cheesy, snicker inducing 1950’s instructional movies about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; it resembles all those films we were constantly subjected to throughout elementary, junior high, and high school. They did leave me with some funny memories though. Anyway, while the movie plays out along with the stiff narration, Moore inserts clips from the Reagan era White House, and continues all the way through the Clinton era, not to mention both of the Bushes, showing us how the fate that befell the Romans is very much alike to what is happening to America right now. Clearly, he sees us as following in the footsteps of a society that was destroyed through endless greed and avarice, and he is amazed that many people want to hang on to this damaged system regardless of how bad it is.
From there, Moore takes us to a family in Peoria, Illinois that is getting evicted from the home that has been kept in their name for several decades. It’s one of the saddest moments in the film, and to add insult to injury, the family ends up getting thrown out of their home much earlier than they had expected. They were given a couple of weeks originally, but it turns out the bank that repossessed their home had just sold it to another family who were ever so eager to get settled in their new place of residence.
I’ve been looking at these alarming number of foreclosures from a distance, and I felt that a good portion of them were due to owners not living up to their responsibilities. But while that may be the case to a certain extenet, Moore creates a very interesting case of how the banks ended up swindling many families out of their homes because the banks continued to charge them more and more for their mortgage.. For those looking to become homeowners, the movie is a reminder of how important it is to read the fine print of every contract you sign. Whether or not you understand all of what is being said to you is another story.
For Michael Moore, capitalism seemed like such a great gift to our country when he was growing up in Flint, Michigan. The way he saw it, it provided his dad with a good job, helped to give his family free health care, helped to pay for him to go to college without falling into tremendous debt over student loans (those were the days I’m sure), etc. But then Ronald Reagan came along and ruined it all from Michael’s perspective. “Capitalism: A Love Story” doesn’t necessarily portray Reagan as an evil man, but it views him more as a puppet for the banking industry among other industries. Before the star of “Bedtime for Bonzo” came along, the rich were apparently given a 90% tax on what they made, so naturally, they weren’t very happy about this. With Reagan taking over as President, the banks were able to gain control of all things money related, and they created massive tax breaks for the rich. From there, the cost of living rose faster than the cost of living did, and prices on things like health care skyrocketed to an unbelievable rate. Even prisons and juvenile detention halls became a for profit business where the sentences turned out to be longer than you were told. In short, things were changing, and the price of those things started to get higher and higher.
Much of the American public seemed to be sold on the idea that we could be rich too, and therein lays the big lie of Reganomics. In actuality, his policies throughout the 1980’s resulted in creating a bigger gap between the haves and the have nots, and the middle class at times threatened to be rendered extinct. Moore presents this as the point in our country where things started to change to where the rich benefited more than anyone else. Greed became a powerful influence on everyone, and much of America turned into a “me me me” society as opposed to one which sought to help less fortunate people. Moore shows how it went from there to the Clinton era, and even (more horrifyingly so) to the George W. Bush era in which the tax cuts for the rich almost became permanent.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” is presented as sort of a semi-sequel to Moore’s own “Roger & Me” which came out 20 years ago. In that film, he pursued then General Motors chairman Roger Smith for an interview over the closing of the car factory in his hometown. This resulted in a tremendous loss of jobs, all despite the fact that GM was posting record profits. All these years later, Michael Moore still cannot get a meeting with the CEO of GM. What occurred in Flint, Michigan all those years ago gave Moore a chance to tell the automotive industry,
“I TOLD YOU SO!!!”
Unsurprisingly, after all these years, Michael Moore can still not get inside the doors of the GM corporate headquarters to talk to the CEO. I imagine most corporate offices have a detection system set up in case they get a sudden visit from him. His attempts to enter other buildings are just as unsuccessful, and when he tries to get any of the bankers to explain what a “credit derivative” is, one of them says:
“Stop making movies!”
Actually, one moment in “Capitalism: A Love Story” that really stayed with me long it ended when President Reagan was addressing the bankers on Wall Street, and one of the most powerful bankers standing right next to him told (not asked) Reagan to “speed it up.” Wait a second, President Reagan was one of the most powerful people on the planet at that time, and someone next to him was telling him to speed it up? It makes you wonder who was really in charge of America at that point.
A truly heart breaking scene comes when a former employee of Wal-Mart talks on camera of how when his wife died at a young age, the company ended up making thousands of dollars off her death. It turns out that Wal-Mart took out life insurance policies on all their workers, and ended up profiting from their passing. To make matters even worse, the younger the worker who dies, the more money Wal-Mart gets. Now fact checkers everywhere are going to point out that Wal-Mart has long since ended these policies, but Moore does mentions this during the closing credits of the film. This makes another great reason to stay through the end credits if for no other reason then to respect the fact that hundreds or even thousands of people make a movie. It’s not just one person who does it all.
Another section of the film that hit close to home was when Moore points out how airline pilots are paid less than the manager of a Taco Bell. By that, I mean about $19,000 a year for starting pay. My brother is an airline pilot, and while he makes better wages now, those first few years were a struggle to say the least. It seems almost criminal that these huge airline companies that make millions of dollars end up paying their pilots with what looks like breadcrumbs. Thus, we get an example here of the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Now let’s take a moment here, because we all know many will be accusing Mr. Moore (many of whom will not even bother watching this film) with thoughtlessly manipulating his on camera subjects and distorting what they say to his own advantage. Granted, there are moments where his camera focuses on crying family members a little longer than what feels comfortable. While the feeling of manipulation is hard to ignore, getting angry at Michael Moore for showing this will be missing the point. He wants you to be mad. With “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Moore means to stir up your anger because he does not want you to react passively to what you are witnessing. He wants you to take action against what is happening here because he is really sick and tired of doing this all by himself. Can you blame him? Many of us are viewing this economic breakdown and corruption from a distance, we can’t spend the rest of our lives letting all of this go unchecked.
But if scenes of everyday working class people getting heartlessly fleeced doesn’t frighten or enrage you, then the latter half of the movie where nerve wracked members of congress get swayed by Goldman Sachs among other banks to bail them out so that the banking industry could survive. Nobody I know of (including myself) was happy to hear about this, and we got even more pissed off when they got million dollar bonuses which were undeserved to say the least. There was a great article recently in Rolling Stone of how Goldman Sachs circumvented the economic crises of past and present to benefit them. Seeing this play out on the screen with not brought back my own deep feelings of unrestrained infuriation at seeing what these bankers were doing with taxpayer dollars. Why exactly do we have to pay for the mess they created anyway? What happened to accountability?
Many still believe that Michael Moore is nothing more than a fat bastard of an anti-American who has nothing better to do than say all these bad things about our country. The conservative comedy “An American Carol” had a character like him trying to convince fellow citizens to abolish the Fourth of July as a holiday. But that’s what made me really love the last half of this film; he shows how the power of the people really did win out. If you still think he is a hater of this country after watching this, you may need to remove yourself from the cave you have been hiding in for the last eight years.
Moore shows how it was will of the people that prevented the first economic stimulus (largely engineered by members of Goldman Sachs) from passing. At seeing what was about to occur, Americans everywhere contacted their representatives, urging them not to pass this bill which would take away from their rights. There were enough house representatives who saw that the banks were in the position of almost completely controlling the legal process, and they rallied against them for the sake of the country. This was all the result of American citizens speaking up and speaking loud.
The spirit of the American people is shown even more strongly when we witness the laid off workers of Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago do an in house protest at their place of employment. This came about because none of them were paid the severance they were promised from Bank of America. We also get a look at community groups like LIFFT in Miami which helped unfortunate families who “liberated” the houses of those who were evicted from them. The police came out in force of course, but they ended up not arresting anybody probably because it wasn’t worth the trouble (it was a problem for the banks anyway, not them). Then we see Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, the American airline pilot who saved the lives of all 155 passengers aboard US Airways Flight 1549 when he landed it in the Hudson River, go before Congress to protest the way pilots were treated in general and how underpaid they are.
I should add that when the section regarding Captain Sullenberger came up, I was afraid that Moore would bash him in some way. But he actually applauds Sullenberger for taking his newfound fame and using it to help others who love their job of being a pilot. This leads to one of the movie’s funniest moments as Moore shows how the media seemed to like him more as a hero instead of someone who stands up against the companies for not paying pilots enough.. Moore ends up putting some patriotic band music over the soundtrack to shut out Sullenberger, because no one really likes a Debbie Downer. It reminded me of when at last year’s Republican National Convention, those pink ladies disrupted Senator John McCain’s acceptance speech for the nomination of President because they are against the wars America is stuck in.
After all the films he has made criticizing people and polices of the United States, it seems amazing that anyone would talk to Moore on camera. But he does get people like University of Missouri professor Bill Black, and Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to talk about what they see as terribly wrong with capitalism. Furthermore, he even talks to the Catholic priest who married him and his wife who says that capitalism is a sin and that it is not very Christian-like.
Marcy is one of the movie’s most compelling voices, and she said that the first economic stimulus bill would have been a disaster for democracy had it been passed. It would have allowed the banks to have more control over taxpayer money and over the legislative process, hence rewriting the law books we have come to study all these years. The banks may want to concentrate the nation’s wealth among the 1% of the population who has it, but they cannot be allowed to silence the voices of the other 99% which includes people like you and me.
Bill Black himself comes off as one of the most intelligent people seen here, and it is heartbreaking to see that some of the smartest minds in America saw this economic disaster coming from miles away. Bill compares the fallout to a water damn that breaks apart, and not just that it breaks down completely, but of how we could see those little cracks forming. The fact that many people like Bill were silenced or had their character smeared beyond all repair is shameful. For them, they saw it as only a matter of time before the banking industry came crashing down, so there was no way they could have been surprised by any of this.
I was also really pleased to see Michael Moore stick it to the Democrats as well as the Republicans. While the Republicans may share the largest blame for this, the Democrats cannot be excluded because many of them are every bit as guilty in what transpired. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they were on, politicians of all kinds were bought out with what seemed like very little effort. Truth is, I am seriously frustrated with both major parties right now, and Moore taps into that because many Americans (regardless of their party affiliation) feel the same way.
By the way, if you really think that Moore is this left-leaning zealot, keep in mind that he has spent many years criticizing both parties (for good reason might I add), and his ire at the Democrats seems much larger because he expects more from them. I’m sure that if Moore had it his way, Ralph Nader would have been President by now (like that’s ever going to happen).
As for President Barrack Obama, Moore steers clear of saying anything bad about him, probably because many still see him as a symbol of hope. If Obama does foul things up in Afghanistan, I’m sure Moore might consider doing something on that. But that coupled with the power of people made the last half of this movie seem like the feel good movie of the year, and that’s irregardless of how exaggerated it all may seem to those who cannot stand this baseball cap wearing filmmaker.
In the end, Michael Moore is not out to make you repeat everything he says or believes in like it’s the gospels. His attack against capitalism is not entirely waterproof, and much more blame could be thrown at how corporate America has become so corrupted. But it doesn’t matter because what Michael Moore wants is for you to be angry, and to fight against those who would try to wrestle away the powers given to us in the Constitution.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” is really one of his best films in how he attacks many policies this country has adopted, and then counters with proof that the power still does belong to the people. It does to the banking industry and deregulation what “Sicko” did to the health care industry in this country, and it is informative, funny, moving, and endlessly entertaining.
For those who wonder why Michael Moore hasn’t left America yet, see this movie to find out. Like him, you may hate what this country is doing to its people, but you are not about to leave it.