Who’s Eating Whom?

By Rob Patterson

Watching Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, I was reminded of a saying from back in the radical leftist 1960s: “Eat The Rich.” Over the last three decades or so, American culture seems to have shifted to the opposite: Let the rich eat you.

Capitalism brings Moore back around to where he started with Roger & Me with its look at the ravages of corporate capitalism and financial chicanery and modern greed and heartlessness, and how it has destroyed what once was the backbone of this nation — the working middle class. And in doing so he has made his strongest film yet.

Will it make a difference? I have to wonder, given the film’s draw the Saturday evening I saw it. There were maybe a dozen folks in the theater on the second weekend of its wide release. Then again, the parking lot was rather bereft of cars for all 14 offerings on the multiplex’s screens. There’s a disconnect between both the average American and what has become of our economy as well as what the film industry offers and what seems to be engaging entertainment consumers. So it’s no wonder that this piece of agitprop was hardly a strong draw.

Then there’s Moore. He seems to not only get up the noses of the right wing but also the leftists and progressives who are the core audience for his messages on economics, health care, gun violence and 9/11. And there is a certain irony in someone who is likely a millionaire decrying the capitalist system, though whatever Moore’s fortune may be, it’s chump change compared to the multi-millionaires and billionaires of today. And ultimately, one has to credit the man for trying to get filmgoers to at least think about serious issues, and in this film’s case the social and economic inequity that is plaguing our nation.

(I do have one quibble with Capitalism. For all its cogent analysis of the changes in corporate behavior and culture and its troubling results, it doesn’t cite what I believe is one important issue: How the tax rates American corporations pay have plummeted since the 1950s. For all the benefits they, their overpaid executives and their shareholders reap, are they giving back their fair share? I think not.)

Moore always manages to make me laugh while feeding me horrors that any thinking and humane citizen should find far more terrifying than the fictional horror flicks that Hollywood grinds out. As long as we are on the precipice, it’s nice to be able to find some levity, and that’s one of Moore’s best gifts as a documentary filmmaker. As usual, there are his stunts and confrontations that might feel old hat by now if they didn’t continue to make his points rather forcefully.

Yet for all the outrage activism, boycotts, protests and more his works should spark, as well as resulting from his analyses of the outrages of our day, is he providing just more escapist entertainment? And films that simply play to those who already believe the same as he does anyway? There’s a disconnect here between just how screwed our economic system and values are and what we the average people are going to do about it.

An even further disconnect was note by Oliver Stone when he recently announced that he is making a sequel to Wall Street. The time for that is ideal. But will that make any difference either?

I have to wonder. After all, Stone expressed surprise at how his character Gordon Gecko, who he intended as a despicable sort, was seen as some kind of hero and even role model. I guess no matter how good the movie is and how well it shows, just like Capitalism, that we the average people are getting screwed by the titans of financial chicanery, it will likely fail to make an appreciable difference either.

But Capitalism did make a difference for me. As much as I wanted to believe in the hope and change espoused by President Obama, I’m now convinced that until we radically alter the economic equations in America today, any notions of real change are just a rubber check that looks good but will bounce if we try to cash it. It’s time for America to stop admiring acquisitiveness and outrageous fortunes, and it’s time to get money out of politics if anything is to change.

Karl Marx got many things wrong, but there is one point about which I have long believed he hit the nail squarely on the head: If you want to change how people relate socially, first you must change how they relate economically. And America needs to change, and change now. This I believe.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2009

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