Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore (2009)

A little belatedly, as usual, I finally saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story last night, at the Dukes in Lancaster. It seemed necessary to offer up some comments on it (a review, if you like).

Firstly, I thought it was a good film. It was a bit rambling at times – sometimes conveniently “losing” the thread of its arguments, sometimes remaining inconclusive at moments where clarity would have been appreciated – and always disorientating. But, then again, it is often amazing how straightforwardly Moore is able to present a debate that has become overspecialized to the point where ordinary citizens are no longer either supposed or allowed to have an opinion – namely, the debate about the economic structure of our society.

I say ‘our society’, but I should note that it’s a distinctly American film. It doesn’t quite make sense unless you keep that in mind – especially if you’re focussed on the argument itself, and on the elisions in that argument. My friend thought, for example, that it was a bit “preachy” to go around asking priests to confirm that capitalism is evil. But this makes perfect sense to anyone who has meandered through WordPress blogs, or watched American news, and noted the way that Christianity, capitalism and democracy are deployed by conservatives as though they formed a holy trinity that, when taken as a sum, are together called “America”. Moore takes this to task, and does so in its own terms – through the church. Looking over IMDb reviews, it seems that calling capitalism “unchristian” resonates a lot more strongly with some Americans than, for example, saying capitalism is entirely incompatible with the Left, or even that it is detrimental to the good of the people.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, Moore leaves out the Left altogether. And this is not such a simple, pragmatic elision, because in a sense what the recession brought crashing down was not conservative ideology (already anachronistic), but liberal ideology. Here, it is useful to get outside of American discourse, where “liberal” is a truly polysemous word. Liberalism is the idea that capitalism is the best economic system for providing the greatest distribution of wealth. As such, it appears at least to be left-wing, but it is the sworn-enemy of the radical Left. It is one of the many lies that allows capitalism to continue functioning – far more important than the excuse Moore offers up, that we allow capitalism to continue because we hope one day we’ll work our way up into the moneyed elite (who believes that old American dream anymore?). Liberalism is a lie, disguised as philanthropy, that attempts to justify and make sense of capitalism.

It is a crucial point that Moore only takes liberalism to task implicitly (and that’s a generous reading), because it struck me that, at the end of the film, capitalism is left entirely intact. What Moore takes to task is greed (one of the seven deadly sins), financial gambling, and a lack of compassion – as well as the theft of $7 billion of taxpayers’ money. This is a very Christian way of attacking the problem of capital, but not one that strongly and clearly poses the case that it is the economic system of capitalism itself that is the problem (that would be a little too Marxist, perhaps). There is a very subtle slippage at work here, but one that is all important, whereby capitalism becomes synonymous with greed (its colloquial synonym) rather than designating a contradictory economic system (its precise usage). Obscuring this allows Moore to entirely avoid a commitment to a radical agenda.

It is in this light that I would read another slightly shocking slippage. With a mixture of awe and scepticism, Moore notes Obama’s ascendency and subsequent election. In a strange and unqualified (and unrepeated) moment, Moore then appears to attribute to Obama’s example a series of genuine political actions: a sheriff who refuses to assist in home foreclosures; a community who decide to liberate and move back into their foreclosed homes; a group of laid-off workers owed their pay, who decide to occupy their factory. These are moments of genuine political energy, and the most moving parts of the film. What an insult, then, to attribute these instances of genuine community organisation, cohesion and agency to the “Obama effect”! In doing so, Moore recuperates genuine struggle, and attributes it, however equivocally, to the effect of one man leading a liberal government (i.e. one deeply devoted to capitalism).

I feel ambivalent then, towards Moore’s film. But, I feel I should embrace it as a step in the right direction.

A final note: one of the most powerful parts of the film for me was hearing the slogan, still echoing in my head, used by those protestors squatting their own homes in the US:

Da-da-duh, Da-da-duh, da-Da-da da da-Da-duh!

It is the same one used up and down Britain at anti-capitalist protests:

“The people united will never be defeated!”


~ by Wit on April 20, 2010.

2 Responses to “Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore (2009)”

  1. I’m not sure I like Moore. But capitalism sure does suck!

  2. Here you go once ! You truly have talent in writing ! Fantastic info .. Thanks a lot .

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