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Michael Moore is back and looking for a fight
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Michael Moore is back and looking for a fight

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Capitalism: A Love Story Now Playing

I recall watching the unseemly death throes of the Bush administration in the fall of 2008. The ordeal seemed to drag itself out like an ungainly beast slouching towards the finish line. And I remember watching as the president became an expressionless shell and the economy imploded under the hubris of Wall Street thievery.

Suddenly, new faces and dynamic forces like Henry Paulson, Jr. stepped into the spotlight and, employing the same old scare 'em and tear 'em tactics of the last eight years, frightened us into letting them move ridiculous sums of money into private hands with absolutely no oversight, no earmarks, and no tracking system. And these private hands constitute the richest one percent of Americans, who have more financial wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined, according to Moore's website.

It sounds like the plot of a bad novel. But we all watched it happen.

This is the central point of Michael Moore's new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore doesn't break new ground stylistically; you won't mistake this for anyone else's movie. He does, however, do what he does best: hound the higher-ups.

These days, Moore is too famous to get too far inside the halls of corporate caprice. Even the front-line first-contact security personnel know his jelly-jowl face and shuffling gate. He is largely forced to stand outside the shiny buildings with a bullhorn and yellow crime scene tape while the captains of industry peek down to see how large the crowds are getting.

Juxtaposed with the mischievous Moore tweaking the nose of his own personal Goliath are heartrending stories of the everyman, everywoman, and everyother. We meet people packing belongings and leaving family homes. We meet judges and the young folks they unfairly incarcerated for profit in for-profit juvenile detention facilities. We meet families whose tragic losses are exploited by corporate employers who buy "dead peasant" life insurance policies. We meet the people who really pay the price, and they are pissed off.

They won't be calling Moore a godless commie, either. He carefully trots out priest after priest to stress his "democracy instead of capitalism" message. Moore's version of democracy is drawn vaguely in the film, but I know it has a spiritual center and I think it may be emanating from Rome.

In all fairness, his take on "Would Jesus be a capitalist?" is pretty funny and a darn good question. He faces my criticism squarely on his blog of October 4 writing, "I'm also against any proselytizing; I certainly don't want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I'll leave that for another day (or movie)." I can't wait for that film.

I'm pretty sure if we start voting out corporate hacks and start reinstating smart regulations like we had before Ronald Reagan turned the business landscape into a wild-west shoot-'em-up that we can put some sanity back into American capitalism. Then again, maybe not. Still, I'm not sure we need the excesses of unbridled Catholicism any more than the excesses of unbridled capitalism.

The big question is whether or not a corporation has the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a person. Does a corporation have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I think regulating a corporation makes sense; regulating humans doesn't.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is Moore's unabashed call to action at the end. It's not quite clear what he expects you to do other than vote and protest, but it is clear what he thinks the problem is and that he believes the status quo cannot stand.

Moore does what Moore does best in Capitalism: A Love Story: He finds individual stories that illustrate larger problems, he blends tragedy and comedy in masterful and manipulative storytelling, and he knows how to whip up a ruckus. Love him or hate him, he packs them in and, according to his own words, he's not going anywhere.

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