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Capitalism Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

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Posted on Oct 1, 2009
capitalismalovestory.com

By Peter Z. Scheer

Editor’s note: “Capitalism: A Love Story” opens nationwide Friday, Oct. 2. Rated R for language / 120 minutes.

Michael Moore’s latest look at what’s wrong (and right) with America is a lot better—and a lot more radical—than some of the brie-eaters reviewing it think. It’s a cry from the soul of a man who sees the whole country turning into his hometown hell of Flint, Mich.

That seems like egomania to some. David Denby of The New Yorker writes that Moore is “mesmerized by Flint’s tragedies.” But Moore is right. This recession, with its rampant foreclosures, imploding auto industry, greedy fat cats and dazed and desperate commoners, has been highly reminiscent of the director’s first film, the classic “Roger and Me.”

The Village Voice calls “Capitalism: A Love Story” a “point-by-point retread” of that documentary, but that’s not entirely fair. Moore looks to his 1989 film as a historical document of the moment when the first shock waves of modern steroidal capitalism could be felt. But Moore doesn’t just return to his roots, he comes to view—with the help of the Catholic Church—capitalism as a fundamentally evil system that has destroyed American democracy and demands a revolution.

As someone who might have been tempted by popularity and success, Moore deserves credit for not resting on his millions and producing a safe pop documentary, something mildly provocative but ultimately palatable. Instead, “Capitalism” is a call to class warfare, with Moore cleverly dividing the classes into the top 1 percent and everyone else, including himself.

That’s not a divide of his making. The American economy over the last 30 years has showered the richest 1 percent with wealth at the expense of the rest of us. Sure, we’ve heard it before, but Moore digs up some dirt that breathes new life into the statistic—something that happens a lot in “Capitalism.”

The film’s detractors say it’s over the top and unfocused. Denby writes that it’s “not a good movie or a coherent exposition of the meltdown” and “By the end of the movie, baffled, [Moore] resorts to his old gags.”

But Michael Moore is not a clown. He is a wildly successful innovator whose “gags” are usually quite effective. Moore begins the movie by placing the audience inside a home undergoing foreclosure. The residents huddle together while sheriff’s deputies surround the house and literally beat the door down. The scene resembles a horror movie, complete with splintering wood and booming sound, but it is inescapably real and, ultimately, very sad.

It has been all too easy for the chattering class (readers of The New Yorker, perhaps?) to ignore the suffering of the average American in this crisis. News coverage dwells on the rebounding Dow, while food banks run out of stores. Moore’s portraits of down-on-their luck Americans are haunting.

True to form, the movie is also quite funny. In a flash of genius, Moore dubs a classic Hollywood Jesus, who refuses to heal the poor and demands deregulation. Jesus actually has a big role in the movie, which is much more religious than you might expect. For Moore, this is a moral question, one that was answered 2,000 years ago by a god who loved the poor above all and felt very different about the rich. The revelation that capitalism is evil doesn’t come from the director, but his bishop.

In the end, Moore does not have nearly enough time to make a full indictment of capitalism. He could have gone the Ken Burns route and taken over PBS for a month and a half to prosecute a tedious case against profit. Instead, he weaves together a few horrifying examples, casts new light on familiar ground and hammers away at the conclusion that our economic way of life inevitably destroys everything it touches.

The purpose of this movie is not to educate so much as it is to inspire. The workers squatting at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, whom you may recall from the 2008 election, became symbols for what might be achieved if we band together and resist. Moore presents Barack Obama’s historic election in a similar fashion—the remarkable accomplishment of millions of Americans defying the oligarchs. But Obama’s role in this mess makes for a gaping void in “Capitalism.”

Moore completely lets the president off the hook. He criticizes Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers. He makes the case that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (conspicuously labeled “2009-present”) has been an abject failure at everything he has done. He even points out that the financial industry tried to buy Obama with millions in donations.

But just as he is about to swing, Moore drops his bat, interrupting his own argument with footage from that memorable night when Barack Obama became the first black man elected president. It’s a bit of a time warp. We’re supposed to be mad at the people working for Obama now, but when we think of the man in charge, we should focus on the election.

Another deficiency is Moore’s plea at the end of the movie for the audience to join him in resistance. But how exactly? At least Glenn Beck had the nerve to organize a march. The movie also drags in places, and the inexplicable appearance of character actor Wallace Shawn is simply distracting.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it is essential for these times. “Capitalism: A Love Story” will make your blood boil. Maybe, Michael Moore hopes, you’ll do something about it.


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By Henry Braun, October 2, 2009 at 9:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wall Street Monomeism

    thanks to Blake and Dickinson

I’m Nobodaddy. Who are you?
You’re not Nobodaddy too.
There’s one of us, you know,
whose status is divine
and, without question, mine.
The only ONE is me.
See?

All packed
and ready to stay.
That’s all!
That’s capital!

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By cmarcusparr, October 2, 2009 at 8:48 am Link to this comment

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m (we’re) living through it. I’m not sure I need to see it; I see it every day.

Anyone who is gainfully employed, who has not been furloughed, who has not lost their pension and investments; anyone who owns their home and doesn’t face foreclosure; those of us who can ignore the accelerating “food insecurity” (hunger) in our country, ignore the breakdown of our infrastructure as we support foreign wars, who spend their leisure watching reality television shows, who accept propaganda as “news”; those among us who support the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) of greed, deception, and casino capitalism are doomed.

American security and affluence are already out the door, folks. Most of us simply refuse to see it or admit to it. Moore is no Socrates except for the fact that we hurl our frustration at anyone who tells the truth. The Athenians put Socrates to death in 399 BCE for his anti-war sentiment and his “I told you so” attitude, after Athens lost to Sparta. What will we do to Moore, to Chris Hedges, to Richard Dawkins and Andrew Bacevich, to the intellectuals who see the writing on the wall and recite it to the rest of us?

This is Moore’s last documentary. His last! He’s fed up trying to stir the pot. Who can blame him when there’s nothing in the pot to stir to outrage or protest. (There is more outrage today over health care reform than the lead-up to the Iraq war, which was clearly illegal and propagandized.) We have become a complacent nation of latte drinkers (lotus eaters), satisfied with the crumbs dropped by the one-percenters.

Civilizations such as ours eventually get what they deserve. The unfortunate fact remains that those of us writing on this blog-wall will be around to suffer through the economic, military and social collapse of our country, and witness the rise of a fascist or “christian” demagogue.

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By cmarcusparr, October 2, 2009 at 8:46 am Link to this comment

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m (we’re) living through it. I’m not sure I need to see it; I see it every day.

Anyone who is gainfully employed, who has not been furloughed, who has not lost their pension and investments; anyone who owns their home and doesn’t face foreclosure; those of us who can ignore the accelerating “food insecurity” (hunger) in our country, ignore the breakdown of our infrastructure as we support foreign wars, who spend their leisure watching reality television shows, who accept propaganda as “news”; those among us who support the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) of greed, deception, and casino capitalism are doomed.

American security and affluence are already out the door, folks. Most of us simply refuse to see it or admit to it. Moore is no Socrates except for the fact that we hurl our frustration at anyone who tells the truth. The Athenians put Socrates to death in 399 BCE for his anti-war sentiment and his “I told you so” attitude, after Athens lost to Sparta. What will we do to Moore, to Chris Hedges, to Richard Dawkins and Andrew Bacevich, to the intellectuals who see the writing on the wall and recite it to the rest of us?

This is Moore’s last documentary. His last! He’s fed up trying to stir the pot. Who can blame him when there’s nothing in the pot to stir to outrage or protest. (There is more outrage today over health care reform than the lead-up to the Iraq war, which was clearly illegal and propagandized.) We have become a complacent nation of latte drinkers (lotus eaters), satisfied with the crumbs dropped by the one-percenters. Civilizations such as ours eventually get what they deserve. The unfortunate fact remains that those of us writing on this blog-wall will be around to suffer through the economic, military and social collapse of our country, and witness the rise of a fascist or “christian” demagogue.

Report this

By Scorpionet, October 2, 2009 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

In a way, your reviewer and Moore(appropriately with a photo showing him
stupidly yelling at an empty Wall St. building) missed the point of who really
started this recession.  It started years ago when the Carter Administration and
continued through successive ones thinking by trying by social engineering, a
process to even out(socialism?) inequality,  allowing the poor (social
underclass?) to afford homes to at least move up the social class that
everything will work out. You and Moore blame the rich fat cats but at least
they know you cannot buy what you cannot afford, you just don’t buy, simple
law of nature. No, the government decided to seduce the poor(albiet, greedy)
with unrealisticly low or no-money down payment for home ownership.
Unfortunately they forget to educate these people(you wonder why the US has
some of the lowest reading scores of industrialised nations) to tell them the
difference between a fix and an adjustable mortgage rate(almost all
foreclosures that are not job loss-related are the latter). To summarise, your
reviewer and Moore fail to point the finger at the people responsible that
started this giant snowball : poor, uneducated people with a government
carrot ( a house) dangled in front of them. Unfortunately they can grab the
carrot(even a pig can do that) and quickly eat it which they did. A smarter
person would plant that carrot and grow more, of course the government
forgot to include instructions and perhaps the recepient could not read them.
A lesson never seem to be learned, when you throw money at a problem…that
money almost never grows.

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By julie r butlr, October 2, 2009 at 8:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

stcfarms,

You live on a farm, do you?  That is indeed a beautiful thing, if you can become completely “self sufficient” and out from under the “system”...  or are you, really?  I mean, do you not have some kind of infrastructure by which you are able to get on the internet?  Do you make all of your own clothing, and all of your own food containers, and all of your own handy dandy appliances, like refridgerators and farming equipment, etc?  My point is that even though you may be able to be less involved in this “civilization disease,”  I doubt that you are completely dependent on some of the parts of it for your survival - which means that if you are one of the people who refuses to vote because you believe that “all leaders are criminals…” and all the rest, then you have bought into another system - the one where people who live in a democratic society become disillusioned, refuse to participate, and thus enable all the criminal activity that the politicians are getting away with.

Yes, the system is majorly messed up - BUT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE OUR OWN GOVERNMENT, and by refusing to participate, the politicians find that they don’t need to be at all accountable to their constituents.  They just need to make sure they are in bed with the lobbyists and the big bucks that support their re-elction campaigns.

If the people of this country were to insist on real campaign finance reform, along with limits on lobbyist connections, then maybe you wouldn’t have to see your “system” as a form of slavery.

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By Anarcissie, October 2, 2009 at 8:12 am Link to this comment

Oh, my God.  I read the New Yorker.  I had no idea this put me in the ruling class.  As soon as I get done writing this message I’ll fire off an urgent communiqué to Larry Summers or someone like that telling him that I’m ready to take over Citibank, or whatever.

I have yet to see a movie by Moore that wasn’t tedious, diffuse, and sort of embarrassing, so I’m not going to rush out to see this one.  Pieces of it will soon appear on YouTube, and I should be able to download the whole thing, if I want, via my various arcane and no doubt illegal P2P programs.  I’m practicing communism in advance.

Speaking of which, can anyone tell me if Moore has a theory of the good polity, the good economy?  Does anyone know what it is?  After all, if we’re going to replace capitalism, we have to replace it with something, and harassing corporate fatheads at public meetings, or huddling with foreclosees as the Living Dead break down their door isn’t it.  Did his bishop tell him?  I want to know, but I don’t want to sit through a bad movie for two hours to find out.

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By thebeerdoctor, October 2, 2009 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

re: ThomasG

President Obama is not an alternative to the Right Wing Conservative Extremist Republican Movement, he is simply the neoliberal version. Like his democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, he appears to have a more reasonable approach, but an economic embargo that cost many thousands of lives, and signing on to the WTO charter, which actually dissolved the Glass-Steagall Act, even before it was done legally, reveals that their pro-Corporate agenda is essentially the same. So it is not a surprise in the least that President Obama refuses to stop doing business with mercenary contractors, or scale back on munitions funding, or stand up to the pro-Zionist Israeli lobby, or provide anything more than a multi-billion feather bed for our geniuses of finance.
Certainly you will not hear a peep from former resident Obama about the city of Chicago spending $48.2 million to promote the Olympic dream, (which certainly will be more than that, for those with inside connections on all the real estate transactions that will ensue, if Chicago Chamber of Commerce President Obama, wins this bid), at a time when essential public services are threatened constantly, due to a lack of funds.
But where there is Neoliberal consensus, there is vision. This probably explains why Mayor Richard Daley chose to privatise the parking meters.

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By tomack, October 2, 2009 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

Either way you slice and dice the myriad economical, financial, and shall I say moral, “options” available, the base line has always been—throughout history—strength takes from weakness. And as a result the strong (rich and powerful) have ALWAYS retained or grown their positions by using the weak (the common man/woman) for their own gains; whatever those gains may be, richs, power, religion, moral mastery. Actually, they are all pretty much the same. 

So while one option or another may periodically fail, as communism, socialism, and capitalism have illustrated, the few, the strong, the elite always come out on top; New breeds of rich and powerful are perpetually born, while the breed known as the Comman Man/Woman always remains stagnant—econonically speaking that is. I am a comman man, but I do not consider myself poor. There ARE other endeavors to occupy us than the accumulation of goods.

In my opinion the answer is simple but will not come to fruition in our life time: all of the Strong—not just some but all—must reach out to help the weak. Of their own accord, sans strife and not at gunpoint.

All Good starts from within.

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By Sleeper, October 2, 2009 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I am anxious to see it.  I haven’t seen too many of Moore’s films, but I will never forget my feelings after veiwing Farenheight 9/11.

I joined the Corp after high school in 1982 because I could not find a job with any advancement.  I went to Beirut in 1983 and was at the Airport quite often during that cruise.  I have been under fire, carryed hundreds of wounded and guarded a hanger where the body bags were placed in containers prior to being flown to Germany.

The movie was quite an awaking to me.  We need to wake up our neighbors.  We need to let this elite class know that there are consequences for TREASON.  Our ancestors broke out the Tar and feathers in their time and drew a few lines on Our Soil. 

They declared a few things.  Certain things are not going to be tollerated.  Our true and lasting Government will be responsive to the PEOPLE if we can just get people to remember that it is the narrow gate that leads to salvation.

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By stcfarms, October 2, 2009 at 6:48 am Link to this comment

Beerdoctor,

That you have no money is because you volunteered to play the game.

Michael suffers from the civilization disease, the need to have others do his
thinking for him. Until Michael and the other sheep figure out that all leaders
are criminals that survive by screwing the people for the powers that be they
will continue to be screwed.

Bread and circus exhibitions cost less than actual change, the practice has
worked well for millennia and will continue as long as people continue to fall
for it.

Thomas,

The real choice is between between a life of slavery under any ‘system’ and
making your own way in the world. No ‘system’ has your best interests at heart
and once you become self sufficient you will no longer feel the need to be led.

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ThomasG's avatar

By ThomasG, October 2, 2009 at 6:27 am Link to this comment

thebeerdoctor,

What is the alternative to Obama?  The Right-Wing Conservative EXTREMIST Republican Movement is not a choice.

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By andy r, October 2, 2009 at 3:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

well thomas as a member of the simply ordinary folk not in the top 1% i am lost by your statement. if your saying you love capitalism say it if your not say you hate it if you dont have an opinion and are quoting people from both ends of the spectrum say that, but what ever your saying there is a truth and that is capitalism stands for the exploitation of the people, where as communism stands for the distributon of wealth of the country to be devided equally its black and white no in-betweens the greed of a few or the wealth of the masses

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By thebeerdoctor, October 2, 2009 at 1:06 am Link to this comment

Although I have not seen the latest Michael Moore film, and ironically or not, I simply do not have the money to give to a movie theater in order to see it. But I am familiar with all of his other movies, and his often forgotten work on television. I think the reviewer has it correct about Mr. Moore: he is one of those folks who are catholics with a social conscience, too often airbrushed out of the historic picture, because they have often comforted the afflicted, and afflicted the comfortable, by standing up to power with truth about human decency.
The idea of worshiping money is indeed evil, if you accept the Christian tenets of Christ, who used parables about camels and sewing needles, and if that was misunderstood, simply stated: You can not worship God and Money.
Even in the far east this principle has been stated. Mira Richard of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in Pondicherry, India, said that the idea of money making money is a falsehood and a perversion.
There is the Buddhist claim that ‘all is clouded by desire’. But it seems in this insane age, this is not so, since the clouds of desire seem to be the ultimate and only goal.
I think Michael Moore senses the disastrous psychic underpinnings to all of this. And it is by no means a mistake for him to relate all of this back to Flint, Michigan, where this deep wound first manifested in his life.
The one thing Mr. Moore has not come clean with, in my opinion, is admitting what a fraudulent mistake it was to support Barack Obama for president. I wonder what the marketing film maker in the ball cap thinks this morning, watching Barack and his wife Michelle, working the Olympic crowd in Copenhagen. I wonder if he ever considers that Barry, it turns out, actually is the President… of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce. Especially after his monumental diatribe against the richest one percent… I wonder if it causes Mr. Moore to pause, that this POTUS is working so diligently to assure our future bread and circus exhibitions.

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By ThomasG, October 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm Link to this comment

The dichotomy of choice that has always been presented with regard to Capitalism since the 1917 Russian Revolution is one between good and evil, between Privatized-Capitalism as good and Socialism/Communism as evil; this choice is a false choice, because Privatized-Capitalism is, has been, and always will be reliant upon, what Privatized-Capitalism decries as evil, socialized communized resources, for its cyclical salvation from its own “smash and grab greed”.  Since the advent of Privatized-Capitalism in Britain, Privatized-Capitalism has cyclically FAILED and been cyclically rescued after each failure by socialized/communized resources, the receipt of which is never received with gratitude, acknowledgment or appreciation, as the corpse of Privatized-Capitalism is laying prostrate with the death rattle of gloom and doom emanating from its collectively privatized-capitalist body, and it struggles to avoid being a corpse at the expense of socialized/communized resources.

The real choice with regard to Capitalism is not between Capitalism and Socialism/Communism; the real choice is between Socialized-Capitalism and Privatized-Capitalism.  Socialized/Communized resources cyclically rescues Privatized-Capitalism from the death throws of its own privatized greed; the only real choice available is between Privatized-Capitalism and Socialized-Capitalism.

Socialized resources are cyclically used at the expense of socialized/communized resources of the masses to breathe life back into Privatized-Capitalism, therefore the choice relative to Capitalism can only be Socialized-Capitalism; instead of Privatized-Capitalism.

At the present time in the United States the socialized/communized resources of the masses in amounts of TENS of TRILLIONS of DOLLARS has been and continues to be to save Privatized-Capitalism from Privatized-Capitalism’s current cyclical death spiral at an obscene cost to every man, woman and child in the United States, and most likely the next ten generations of their progeny.

Socialized/Communized resources rescuing Privatized-Capitalism from death cyclically from its own “smash and grab greed” must end.

Socialized-Capitalism must emerge from the failed death of Privatized-Capitalism.  Privatized Capitalism cannot live without the socialized/communized resources of the masses, and the masses of citizens of the United States must demand Socialized-Capitalism in exchange for their socialized/communized resources that they provide cyclically to bring Privatized-Capitalism back from Privatized-Capitalism’s cyclical death spiral.

If a choice has to be made between Capitalism and Socialism/Communism, one choice is between Socialized/Communized-Capitalism and Socialism/Communism, the American people have had a belly full of Privatized-Capitalism and Privatized-Capitalism does not allay their hunger and provide for their needs; Privatized-Capitalism sucks the socialized/communized resources away from the masses and their progeny on a cyclical basis from generation to generation and it is time for Privatized-Capitalism and its “smash and grab greed” to come to an end.

The only real choice with regard to capitalism is Socialized-Capitalism.  Privatized-Capitalism that has to be rescued cyclically by socialized/communized resources for privatized benefit is not an acceptable choice to the masses of the population of the United States that are forced cyclically generation after generation to bring Privatized-Capitalism back from its death in its grave dug by “smash and grab greed”.

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