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On Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story”

08 Dec 2009
Michael Moore and Capitalism

Moore balances his trademark showmanship by presenting other significant voices.

There is no metaphor more fitting than love to get us a feel for our engagement with a system’s berserk display of passion for profit accumulation. King of shock docus, Michael Moore, once again, points a wrathful finger on the usual suspects who have enslaved and enchained our hearts and minds to a cruel relationship that neither fungible contracts nor boastings of recovery from Wall Street can assuage.

Tough Love

Capitalism: A Love Story means to shed light on the financial collapse that has left even middle class Americans homeless, jobless and insecure—a condition that has ensured the flourishing of the financial elites for the past several decades. That this condition must usher in the violence of fury over foreclosed homes, declined wages and stolen dignities is the point of this tell-all love story.

Lovers won’t deny how suffering makes love romantic and compelling. Commonsensically, however, they tend to believe that barriers and prohibitions prevent love’s ultimate realization. Such is one of the greatest illusions about love (Salecl, 2000:6). What makes love possible, irresistible and forcible are precisely the hurdles involved in making that grand gesture of total embrace.

A parallel illusion is still being argued by neoliberal fetishists whose screwy brainwork suggests that regulations to the “free market”prevent capitalism’s promise of abundance for all. And they are quick to add, as if to lend force to a false premise, that the market is its own best regulator. This means that market barriers set by government can only upset the value of currencies, commodities, stocks and cut international aid down.

What elides this line of thinking is the fact that the market excludes the majority. And it has only done so with governments’ concerted and decisive efforts to privatize, deregulate and liberalize the global economy. In other words, market freedom does not happen on its own. It needs state power for emplacement. It is the state’s total embrace of the interest of the ruling economic class that has bolstered the supremacy of the current financial elite, the same kind of tough love that has ironically minimized the mind-boggling size of the financial market lately.

Personally Yours

Coming from the wrong side of history and a misplaced appreciation of current matters, Moore’s critics paint him as a big, fat, stupid white man whose comfortable childhood matched with overindulgent parents entitle him to publicly perform his denouncement of the wealthy. Here is a man with a moving camera, a few personal assistants and perhaps considerable family money to squander for his petty cinematic outbursts.

But Moore, in this love story, does not deny any of his swanky family vacations and adventurous road trips which mark the family’s fidelity to high middle class living. He shares actual footages of his privileged childhood to sell a contradiction that is both personal and historical.

The risks of globalization were never mitigated with any degree of efficiency. Rather, those risks were subjected to risk management that was predicated on turning the same to saleable commodities groomed for the market by business people chasing after profit. Yet these commodities do not relate directly to production. This shift in profit-making is vaguely pursued by Moore’s sentimentalism for factories long gone with his own childhood.

Yet somehow, by showing images of the post-war boom and the remainder of industrial production at the time, Moore is, in fact, pointing out that life for the average American between then and now has changed significantly, and for the worse.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Film poster for "Capitalism: A Love Story"

While most of us have yet to grasp the logic in which commodities conceal the exploitative relationship between worker and employer as items sold in the malls appear to have a life of their own, Moore already urges us to grapple with derivatives. Conceived to mitigate the risks of the speculative mode of profit-making, derivatives shape the direction of financial capital as the current economic model.

Derivatives function precisely to block out private deals that govern production and consumption. The trust that we invested in those credit cards, insurances, housing and car loans was also a convenient sign of the good life fetishized to the extreme. It is indeed the kind of life that was in sync with the agitated lights of commercial districts.

But in the light of the financial collapse, nothing remains of the good life that was pursued on a privatized basis through highly personalized and customized loans. Despite this, the good life is still being marketed as an aspiration of the lone individual. Against this picture, Moore gathers all the stories of failed expectations, scandalous betrayals and painful delistings to prove that these personal stories are part of a historical collective experience marked by the destruction of public services.

Convincingly, Moore renders visual how the privatization of the common good—marketed as the good life—is a cultural logic that weaves into a particular political logic. This political logic, at first glance, seems like the privatization of government or social state. In reality, this is the kind of logic that shapes governments when capitalists are allowed to take over.

Capitalists do not only mean to privatize. They go beyond the description “private sector.” Their own record shows that they also mean fascist attacks to our civil rights and our very basic right to life as evidenced by the globalization of military aggression. After all, war solves their problem—that of the narrowing margins of profit. This is a class that is conditioned not only to loot the living but also to choose loot over lives at all times.

When children are imprisoned for bantering, when corporations earn big time from the death of their employees by secretly securing an insurance for the latter, when hardworking people are driven out of their ancestral homes on account of loans, how do we suppose to imagine people of the future passing judgments on our lives and times? Moore suggests that we seriously consider this question.

Michael Moore Is Not Alone

While Moore doesn’t seem to outgrow his penchant for hilarious if not perverted (“I can change the world if I can break the rules”) mode of intervention as seen through his driving around in an armored car, going from one bank to another to reclaim the bailout money, this showmanship is balanced by presentations of other significant voices.

He does not miss out on people’s capacity for political intervention. By showing the political battles fought by ordinary working people, the film goes beyond a one-sided and cynical way of describing the capitalist crisis. Apart from misery, Moore points out two of its other permanent features:resistance and empowerment.

His interviews with literal high priests are shocking since the most popular and powerful religious figure—the pope—does not seem to have the language in which to articulate a single criticism of a system that promotes the church’s all-time favorite words: greed, pride, evil. But Moore’s religious informants and their critique of capitalism are by no means craven and dogmatic.

Meanwhile, Moore falls into the trap of sycophantic sentimentalism in his apotheosis of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A figure from the Great Depression seems in order as the matter at hand is the current Greater Depression. It must be noted, however, that FDR’s reforms and his shot at a second Bill of Rights were meant as reinforcements to capitalist mechanisms that were shaken by the crisis. More than anything else, his was a strategy to contain the moment of socialist politics.

Moore is curiously and suspiciously generous to Obama. That the latter might be the new Roosevelt who shares the same fate of governing over a nation amidst economic depression does not amount to anything that is either conceptually or affectively powerful. Not when people like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers whom Moore himself vilifies, are handpicked by Obama to oversee matters of economic importance.

With neoliberals like Obama and company directing “the change we need,” we can almost be sure that Imperialist America can only continue to lord over the world in ways that are perhaps less barefaced than their republican counterparts. At the end of the day, imperialist plunder rises above fractions within America’s ruling elite.

Moore’s Alternative: Democracy

The ideologues of capitalism, from political conservatives to left-wing liberal pragmatists, will not disagree. Leftist figures and right-wing fanatics are actually better together in any anti-communist battle on account of their similar assessment that our age has not yet witnessed the full realization of capitalism since no genuine democracy exists. As though capitalism even in its “full realization” will not require a form of government that will hide the fact that in its fully realized form, capitalism will still be founded on the private ownership of capital that will allow a minority to exploit and rule over the people.

But Moore does not equivocate. A jazzy version of the Internationale concludes Moore’s love story. We are enjoined to demand a different kind of democracy, the kind that marches forward and beyond capital. For through and within capital, there simply is no love. # Sarah Raymundo, Contributor

Salecl, Renata. 2000 (Per)Versions of Love and Hate. London:Verso.

Capitalism: A Love Story | dir. Michael Moore | Cast: Michael Moore, Thora Birch, William Black | 2009

Editors’ Note: This article was first published in the November-December 2009 issue of IBON’s Education for Development Magazine (EDM).

One Comment leave one →
  1. 16 Dec 2009 3:52 am

    hmmm… new stuff.

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