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Issue #1431      14 October 2009

Film Review by Richard Titelius

Capitalism: A love story

Directed by Michael Moore

Michael Moore has been making films which have touched on the issue of the corporate malfeasance of capitalism since his first foray into film making in 1989 with Roger & Me where he examined why General Motors had decided to close their plant in his hometown of Flint Michigan.

Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko followed, though none really examined or discussed socialism as an alternative system, leaving those hoping that Moore might actually issue a challenge to the system with a sense of frustration and disappointment.

Capitalism comes tantalizingly close and for some critics may have actually got there – though not with the melodramatic shenanigans at the conclusion of the movie with the citizens arrest around the New York Stock Exchange or the armoured car pulling up outside AIG or Merrill Lynch. It comes instead before that with old black and white film footage of ailing US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposing a second Bill of Rights in his January 11, 1944, State of the Union address.

In it he called for a bill to secure amongst other rights, “The right of every family to a decent home, the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health and the right to a good education… All of these rights spell security.”

The moments like the one mentioned above occur regularly throughout the movie and one is struck by how much research Moore has done in the preparation of this tour de force through the maladies of contemporary capitalism in the USA. It culminates with the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama as President at the end of that turbulent year.

The movie starts in spectacular style with excerpts from various video surveillance footage tapes of armed and hooded hold-ups of various financial institutions highlighting what some people will do to fulfil the American dream of obtaining material wealth (the movie concludes with a cabaret rendition of The Internationale).

The film moves then to those doing it hard in the US heartland where homeowners await the Sheriff who has come to evict them from their home as part of the millions that have followed this exodus since the financial crisis started in 2007.

However, there is an opportunist born every minute in the US, ready to prop up the capitalist system just when it seems to be failing. We see the managing principle of Condo Vultures who, as a “bottom feeder (in the food chain), goes in there and cleans off the carcass they are dealing with which has so many germs they will have to vomit on themselves.” This leads to the simple difference between him and a real vulture; he doesn’t vomit on himself. Yeessss. Interesting!

We meet Moore’s father at the site of the spark plug factory where we see a large flat building site being cleared of the last of the rubble of that factory and the memories of what unionised life and work was like there.

There are interviews with the airline pilots, some of whom earn less than a manager of a Taco Bell fast food outlet. We are reminded of the union-busting tactics of capital in that land of the free and prosperous for some.

There are many more tales: a love affair gone astray, lies, abuse, betrayal and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost each month. Moore’s tale here echoes that other anti-capitalist doco from 2006, The Corporation which looked at the corporation as a psychopath and finds some surprisingly similar behaviours or traits being exposed as capital’s misbehaviour is laid bare.

However, those hoping for a Marxist-Leninist examination of the crisis and a call to revolution may be disappointed – though curiously the concept of revolt gets mentioned a few times and we do see isolated incidences of successful revolts or victories against some of the worst excesses of capital.

We see also during the 2008 US presidential election campaign where the Republican team of John McCain and Sarah Palin, in their attempts to paint Democrat candidate Barack Obama as a maverick, lamented that his policies sounded like socialism.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the US people who were in the grips of the financial crisis thought that socialism was starting to sound pretty good compared to what they were experiencing under capitalism and so the polls for Obama rose with each mention of socialism.

Finally, as we are aware, capitalists can come up with cunning strategies to strip surplus value from the labour of workers and so it is perhaps not surprising that occasionally they will even borrow some Marxist analysis to describe some of their work. So it was with Dead Peasant Policies which initially started out as “Key Man Insurance” policies but soon evolved into something despicable – insurance policies taken out by corporations on the lives of thousands of their workers, usually without the workers’ knowledge and consent.

Moore in his film examines one case where an employer was able to claim over $5 million on the premature death of an employee while the surviving husband and family received nothing – a case of employees being more valuable dead than alive to the capitalist.

If you visit Google you’ll see the significant amount of activity which this “love story” gone astray has begun to stir in the US. Hopefully the more people who see it the more it will raise the consciousness of those who have fallen out of love with capitalism and realise that a better world is not only possible but inevitable.

Next articleCulture & Life – The land of opportunity – NOT

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