Today, Sean and I watched Michael Moore’s most recent documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story”.
Now, maybe I live under a rock (well, a baby I rock), but I wasn’t even aware this film existed until Sean brought it home. It’s possible that buzz about the movie was squelched a bit… but I don’t want to jump to conclusions.
It’s about the housing crash and economic crisis. In fine Michael Moore style, the documentary combines vintage and new footage, some graphic, some funny, some simply shocking; Moore finds the threads of horrifying secrets and consequences and weaves them together into a tapestry of atrocity; he goes right to the sources and gets turned away and kicked out of many of them. The audience learns about awful, heinous things done by big, “respectable” companies in the name of free enterprise (many of them the same companies known, by those who care about it, for doing other unsavoury things… Nestle, Procter & Gamble, WalMart, etc.). We discover, along with Moore, that certain “important” people have consciously committed acts so sneaky, so duplicitous, so appalling, that we almost don’t believe it. Almost.
It’s fascinating, in a nightmarish way. And it gets you thinking, as Michael Moore always does.
It got me thinking about something that’s been on my mind a lot during my maternity leave, as I ponder those women in the U.S. who get mat leaves of six or eight weeks (twelve is a generous one in the States, apparently). The term I use for this system, which offers mothers the choice between this pathetic amount of leave and quitting their jobs, is barbaric. I could go on and on about this, but let me sum up by saying this: a two-month-old baby is supposed to be with its mama.
Back to Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore starts off with a sequence that fits right in with my thoughts and questions. It’s a vintage film clip about ancient Roman civilization and what it was like, and what parts of it we would supposedly consider primitive or cruel by today’s standards. He inserts, at key moments in the narration, clips of modern-day American society that illustrate how far we haven’t come.
My question is this: what makes a country civilized? The United States of America is supposed to be the cradle of democracy, the Mecca of freedom-seekers (how do you like my ironic use of a Muslim term? ;D), a place of hope where any Joe Schmo can make it if he tries. One would think it’s supposed to be a civilized nation.
I’ve looked up “civilization” in four different online dictionaries today. The recurring definitions:
- an advanced society with a high level of culture, science, industry, arts, written language, social organization, and government
- people or nations that have reached this state
- intellectual, cultural, and moral refinement
- the act or process of being civilized
- cities or populated areas
- modern comforts and conveniences, made possible by science and technology
When you watch C:ALS, you start to question all these things in relation to America, or at least in relation to the people and systems who have been controlling it recently. You start to think the word “civilization” doesn’t apply. Well, okay – I’ll admit they have the cities and population thing going on… but what about the rest?
- Creature comforts are hard to find if, for example, you get hit by a hurricane and your government sits on its butt.
- If you have large swaths of your population living in survival mode, they are not likely to contribute to things like art, culture, science, and intellectual thought – they have more pressing concerns.
- If your countrymen cannot afford to visit the doctor or hospital when they need to, what is the point of all the technological advancement?
- If people in your country live in trucks while whole streets of houses sit empty, it indicates a dearth, not only of moral refinement and justice, but of any kind of logical sense.
- And if these situations are not only allowed, but deliberately manipulated and encouraged by the people in power, how can we possibly call that civilized? How is it any better than Louis XIV building a palace of gold while the peasants died of starvation? How is it better than the rich leaders of those “terrorist countries” whose downtrodden populaces have no recourse when they suffer abuses?
By the end of this film, you’re so happy to see Barack Obama that you practically cry. And there are some wonderful stories of human strength and solidarity that remind you that civilization can continue to spring up all over a nation, despite the best efforts of its (former) authorities.
Also, it seems that some of the villains of the story have been getting their comeuppance since the documentary was made. I’d like to see the follow-up, a little epilogue that shows that the poopy people got what they deserved…
But I guess we’re still working on that. Michael Moore is, anyway.