Capitalism: A Love Story opened nationwide yesterday, and Stuart and I made the movie our Friday night date. If you have not seen this film yet, I encourage you to do so.
Of course, I was watching and listening with a memoir lens. In this film we see pictures and home movies of little Michael Moore whose father was an auto worker at the AC Spark Plug plant in the 1950’s and ’60’s. We know his family is Irish Catholic, that he admires priests and bishops who speak out against ruthless capitalism, and that he looks back on his childhood with nostalgia. Since I am just six years older than Moore and often agree with him politically, I wanted to learn more about his life and the influences in it.
I went online to seek memoir details and uncovered more controversy than insight. Many of his critics jump on gaps or paradoxes in the stories he tells about himself. Apparently, Moore did not grow up in Flint but rather Davison, Michigan, a more affluent, almost completely white, suburb. Though he has made millions from the success of his films, he claims not to have benefited from capitalism at all. This is hard to believe even though he has fought with the corporate execs who have funded him.
I would find his critique of capitalism even more credible if he could acknowledge his own participation in the system. I would also admire him more if I knew he was generous with his wealth. He calls Ronald Reagan a “spokesmodel” for capitalism in this film–does Moore run the risk of being a “spokesmodel” for blue collar workers while he personally benefits from telling their collective story?
Wouldn’t it be ironic if Warren Buffet, who loves capitalism and who lives simply, gave away most of his money, and Michael Moore, who hates capitalism but lives well, did not?
None of these questions about Moore’s personal life deny the power of his critique of a system that appears to be spiraling out of control. His analogy to the decline of the Roman Empire, using educational film footage from a generation ago, strikes home. And the use of movie epic Ben-Hur footage depicting Jesus’ face but overlaid with capitalist language, is brilliant satire.
Arianna Huffington says in this blog post that Moore made this movie so that Barack Obama would see it. I hope he does. Wall Street has so embedded itself in both the legislative and executive branches of government that even a community organizer like Obama has difficulty righting the wrongs of the system. I agree with Huffington, however, when she says the problem is not captitalism as much as it is corporatism. I also resonate with Judith Warner’s blog in The New York Times which contrasts Moore’s love of a fight and his polarizing tactics with activist Molly Melching’s approach to social change.
But back to Moore himself. Even though he wears jeans and baseball caps, Michael Moore is a multi-millionaire who owns a Manhattan apartment and a lake house in Traverse City, MI. Does this make him a “limousine liberal”? And if so, what does this biographical inconsistency do to his message?