This abusive relationship has gone on long enough. Sure, capitalism was charming at first, all about “freedom of choice” and “giving and taking.” But let’s face it: Lately, it’s done you wrong. It’s hurt you. In short: It’s not the economic system you married. If the recession is a blood-curdling cry for help, Capitalism: A Love Story is documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s stab at — bring tissues — an intervention.
Although, maybe he’d be satisfied if capitalism did a stint at rehab. 1950s America had its share of problems, to be sure, but through the eyes of a pipsqueak Michael Moore, capitalism wasn’t one of them. Home-video sequences highlight a hunky-dory early childhood, over which Moore explains that his father, a GM employee, was once able to comfortably support the whole family on just his income. The house was paid for, the family vehicle was replaced every three years, the kids attended parochial school, and the whole gang loaded up for a trip to New York every other year.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, and Mr. Moore does not take for granted that at that time the U.S. wasn’t digging itself out of the literal rubble of World War II, as its international industrial competitors were across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Buying American wasn’t so much a way to spend, it was the way to spend.
But, in the words of his Bobness, money doesn’t talk, it swears: Obscene greed led to rampant union-busting, massive deregulation, and relaxed taxation of the rich. Moore places a hefty chunk of the blame on spokes model-in-chief Ronald Reagan and the Bush administration, all but ignoring Mr. Bill despite his sandwiched two terms in office.
As in Rome, pristine national monuments hide a crumbling society, Moore asserts, as he cuts between images of iconic D.C. buildings and the breathtaking white-columned structures of the ancient European city. To trot out that well-worn comparison here is pretty uninteresting; college stoners have been dropping that bomb on each other for years—it’s like, we’re the new Roman Empire, man. Mhmm, and it’s just a matter of time before we start going out in droves to see plebes be torn apart by lions.
Oh, make no mistake, some people are getting off on the deaths of the working class. According to Capitalism, corporations like Walmart, Citigroup, and Hershey all bank on the deaths of their employees by taking out life-insurance policies — perversely referred to in the biz as “dead peasants” insurance — on them. Moore is heartbreakingly best interviewing the families of deceased workers who found that their loved one’s death made her or his employers thousands or more.
We’ve come to know — and perhaps love — Moore’s trademark cutesy, blue-collar schtick, but with Capitalism he firmly adds another C: Catholic. Righteously angry over the hijacking of Christ to promote an economic system, the almost-priest interviews men of the cloth who confess that capitalism is evil, compassionless, with no concern for the poor. In the film’s funniest sequence, Jesus refuses to heal a man because he has a pre-existing condition: “You’ll have to pay out of pocket.”
Moore doesn’t deliberate health care too long — he went there with Sicko. The timely and confusing subject of capitalism needs plenty of room to sprawl.
“I thought the free market is you sink or swim,” ponders one interviewee, addressing recent corporate bailouts. Sink-or-swim is still a way of life for working-class folks and small-business owners, but of late the good people running our economic system — their own special iteration of capitalism — have made exceptions for a select few deemed “too big to fail.” A reversed Robin Hood scenario played out before our very eyes: The poor got robbed to line the pockets of the wealthy.
It might have been more entertaining to watch if C-SPAN had provided as snazzy a bed of sound for executive thieves during the bailout hearings as Moore does during the surveillance footage of stick-ups he opens his film with. At least the common criminal has Iggy Pop bastardizing “Louie, Louie.”
Capitalism: A Love Story might end up making a few more common criminals. The Glenn Becks of the world don’t want to share their spending money, and even if they did, paying to see this movie would only perpetuate a system Moore’s film seeks to dismantle. Good thing you already keep tissue next to the old home computer.