Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CALS Movie Review

Capitalism, A Love Story

By John Taylor; 2010 March 10, Ala' 09, 166 BE

I have been waiting six months for a chance to see Michael Moore's latest documentary, Capitalism, A Love Story (CALS). I read all the reviews when it came out in cinemas last October but did not get the chance to see it in the cinema. Yesterday CALS was released on DVD and I eagerly rushed over to Super Video to rent it.

I was not disappointed.

Moore is careful in CALS not to make the mistake that other socialists and internationalists always make of concentrating on endless injustices and coming across as stultifying, dreary and pessimistic, of making endless lists of the victories of the plutocracy and the injustices they commit, until the only response that even their most sympathetic listeners have left is Hari Kari. Instead, Moore makes his points in CALS without communicating hopelessness in the slightest, thanks largely to his wonderful gift of humour. I found myself often laughing uproariously, and not always in places intended to be funny. Anything to relieve the bitterness caused by watching the gutting-in-slow-motion of already minimal legal protections for the poor and middle classes in his country over the last three decades.

In CALS Moore for the first time openly plays the religious card. He reveals that he is a fervent Catholic, and tells the story of his early desire to be a priest. He shows that socialism is not the boogieman, but a secular expression of the teachings of Christ. He documents one of the home foreclosures that takes place in the U.S. every seven and a half seconds. I cannot help but observe that the average Americans depicted in these moving scenes are almost all obese. It is as if the food industry had literally fattened them up for the slaughter.

In another theme of CALS, Moore shows an attempt, aided by a Bishop, by an entire factory floor to fight back against their closure and robbery of the workers' pensions by forming a worker's cooperatives. Surprisingly, they gain the approval of the President and win their fight. It is pleasing to see this, but it would have been better if he had taken the time to show the history of the cooperative movement from an international perspective, as Moore did with other issues in his earlier films. As it is, a naive viewer might think that worker coops were just invented. I was surprised to learn last year that coops are almost as large an employer as private industry in many parts of Europe. Reportedly, Moore was so impressed by the coops that he met in the making of CALS that he is considering letting his own employees in on the profits in his future films. Definitely, this deserves more attention and deserves to be the topic of his next movie.

An important but little known fact of history that Moore brings up in the film is the second bill of rights proposed by FDR shortly before his death. I plan to devote an entire essay to this, so I will leave it aside for today. Meantime, you can listen to the original "fireside" radio announcement of the 1944 economic bill of rights at:

In the DVD extras, Moore includes the entire broadcast of a seminal speech that Jimmy Carter gave at what turned out to be a turning point in American policy. I had heard bad things about this speech, now simply known as the "malaise" speech. I had read that it depressed the American public at a time when they had been getting nothing but bad news, that it paved the way for Ronald Reagan's rise, that it spoke against the rights of the rich, and so forth. However, like most people I had never seen it for myself. Now that I have, I think it deserves to go down in history as one of the most important speeches ever given by an American leader, right up there with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and FDR's "nothing to fear but fear itself" and his "day that will go down in infamy" speeches.

Not that Carter is not a bit of a downer in that address. Perhaps he should have been more uplifting and hopeful, especially in the first part of the talk, but in 2010 it is astonishingly refreshing to hear a leader speak the truth so frankly and openly. Most important, Carter points to a solution -- no, not a solution, the solution. The only way to get rid of the malaise he talks about is by working it off, by striving for energy independence, in fact by  deriving our energy from the sun rather than burning carbon. Such an initiative is still the only thing the world can do to save itself. After thirty years we are still in the same place. All we have done in the meantime is dithering, pandering to the rich while global warming creeps up on us all.

This has to be the great tragedy of our time. The average American chooses optimism and hope, even in defiance of truth and realism. Love story indeed! It is a seduction, a sordid, illicit affair of a people with their own avarice. Rather than being satisfied with substantive gains for themselves, the majority let themselves get raped by naked greed, clinging to a fond hope that they too may get rich and screw everybody over too. Meanwhile, members of the elites were openly laughing at them, as previously confidential documents reveal (this is not in the film, though).

In a dramatic moment in CALS, Moore interviews a priest, who calls the greed of unrestricted capitalism "out-and-out, naked evil." Moore goes and asks another priest, with the same answer. Then, in a little self-parody, he takes it to their boss, a Bishop, in hopes that he will contradict them. After all, elites are supposed to be for the status quo, and capitalism is totally in the ascendant in the U.S. With mock surprise, Moore finds the ecclesiastic in complete agreement with this stark assessment of capitalism.

Thank God for His holy teachings!

If only we were all seduced by the beauty and compassion of God, rather than Mammon. That would be a real love story, and best of all, our world would not be in its present fix.


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