Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Where To Invade Next

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 12:37 PM

click to enlarge Michael Moore takes on the world in Where To Invade Next
  • Michael Moore takes on the world in Where To Invade Next


Micheal Moore has always been a conundrum. The polemicist was one of the few leftists in America who refused to fight with one hand tied behind his back while the lie, bomb, and loot Bush junta drove the country into the ditch. And, as Ayn Rand would say, Moore has been rewarded in the marketplace of ideas. Fahrenheit 9/11, released in June, 2004, is currently the highest grossing documentary of all time at $119 million, beating second place March of the Penguins by $42 million and its nearest right wing competitor, 2016 Obama’s America by a whopping $86 million.

Looking back from twelve years remove from the midst of the Bush disaster, it’s kind of difficult to remember what a huge cultural event Fahrenheit 9/11 was. Moore was the only person on the left standing up and saying what many Americans believed with even Hillary Clinton was casting a positive vote for the stupid, disastrous, and criminal Iraq War. At a time when we were being openly called “traitor” for opposing the single worst decision in American history, Moore stepped into the leadership position vacated by his alleged ideological allies. And for that he will always have my gratitude.

Moore is a pamphleteer in the tradition of Patrick Henry, but the opposite of propaganda is not opposing propaganda, it’s news. The American left does not have the same taste for self-reinforcing propaganda that American movement conservatives do, and so the next Moore movie on the list of highest grossing documentaries of all time is at 10, right below Katy Perry: Part of Me. Cannes Film Festival winner Sicko, an examination of the American health care meat grinder released during the run up to the Obama election of 2008, failed to attract the flocks of left leaning viewers that Fahrenheit 9/11. Indeed, the lead film at Indie Memphis the year Sicko was released, and which graced the cover of this very publication, was the black propaganda Moore takedown documentary Manufacturing Dissent. The left is more interested in participating in a circular firing squad than uniting behind a perceived propagandist.

But the past is a foreign country, as they say, and the America of 2016 is different from 2004 or 2007. Moore’s latest film, which will be screening in Memphis until Thursday, is Where To Invade Next. 2016 sees Moore not in attack mode, but in trying to build a positive vision for a more progressive America. The film is a travelogue through countries where ideas that Americans have been told were unworkable or unrealistic are, in fact, working in reality. Moore made his bones chasing down the CEO of General Motors in Roger and Me, but he had no trouble getting the Italian CEO of the industry-leading motorcycle manufacturer Ducati to give him a tour of their factory, and say with complete conviction that there is no conflict between his workers’ well being and the bottom line of his highly successful company. Similarly, German pencil manufacturer Faber Castele is, despite all conceivable information technology trends to the contrary, having the best year of their century long history, and their CEO speaks in glowing terms of the German model of having half of a corporation’s board of directors made up of workers.

click to enlarge Moore talks with children around a French school lunch table.
  • Moore talks with children around a French school lunch table.

The recurring theme of Where To Invade Next is people from countries who have solved America’s seemingly insoluble problems looking into the camera with disbelief as Moore explains the realities of American life to them. A French couple expresses a desire to move to the United States until Moore tell them we have no vacations or maternity leave. A Finlandian sex ed teacher says abstinence-only education is “too risky”. Slovenian students look like dogs being shown a card trick when Moore tries to explain the concept of student loan debt to them. Moore outlines Iceland’s response the financial crisis: About 30 bankers were responsible for destroying the small island nation’s economy, so they put them in jail, and now Iceland’s economy is the envy of Europe. One Icelandic CEO says she wouldn’t live in the United States if they paid her, because of the rampant corruption in the financial sector and the prejudice against women in the boardroom.

Moore’s ideology has always been much more complex than the caricature his opponents have painted of him. Where To Invade Next’s thesis is most similar to that of his most artistically successful documentary, Bowling For Columbine, where he posited that it is not the easy availability of guns that causes mass shootings in America, but a toxic, pervasive ideology. To change your country, he believes, you must first change minds, and Moore’s goal is to expose his audience to ideas that work in real life. He's trying to pierce the fog of "American Exceptionalism" and point out areas where we can actually improve our citizens' lives. Imagine, he says, where the trillions spent in Iraq could have gone. Moore may be preaching to the choir at this point, but at least he’s still out there preaching, and as the American political battle lines are drawn between neo-fascist Trumpism and FDR-style Social Democracy, we need Moore’s unbowed rhetoric more than ever. 

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