By Shaun Poust
Capitalism: A Love Story is Michael Moore versus capitalism. It is funny, well-made, touching at times; but you shouldn’t see it for these reasons. With a movie like this, we should seriously consider what it says.
Moore exclusively focuses on what capitalism has done for the past century. This means he must leave out how capitalism has driven imperialism, slavery and the genocide of the Native Americans.
So, the past hundred years for Moore means: First the New Deal—socialism comes to America and it works out okay. Then the post-WWII years; the rich are taxed highly but are rich and happy anyway. Next the Reagan years—the rich get breaks, the unions and the poor get screwed. Later the G.W. Bush years—the corporations get their Manchurian candidate, economy explodes. And now, Obama’s hope?
These historical events serve to organize a discussion on the foreclosure crisis, debt and insurance fraud. As in all of Moore’s movies, we follow a few families dealing with these issues. In Capitalism, this is a particularly useful tactic: it becomes difficult to hold to the ideology that hard work is rewarded when watching hardworking people forced out of their homes after refinancing. The “American Dream,” we might say, is the new opiate of the masses.
Speaking of opiates of the masses, one name was conspicuously unheard throughout the film. Shhh… it’s Karl Marx. And Uncle Karl might have helped Moore pick up on the myriad ways in which capitalism structures the very fabric of our reality.
Moore makes a lot out of his loving America; in fact, he says that capitalism is somehow not American. A Wal-Martified America was not what the founding fathers had in mind, he says. There are a few problems here—the founding fathers were all members of the American bourgeoisie, who weren’t concerned that manufacturers were exploiting labor, just that they were British and exploiting labor. To paraphrase Marx: The purpose of the competition is to destroy the competition.
Also, Moore’s few “alternatives” to capitalism, such as worker-owned companies, while certainly better than what is in place, do not abolish the alienation of labor. Moore does not seem bothered that in capitalism, labor awaits the worker as something in which he does not express himself, which oppresses him: It wastes his time and life. Marx realized that the values of capitalism are dangerous. It’s not just inequality that concerns him but the lost sense of community and self-expression.
A priest interviewed in the movie said that Jesus would, “refuse to be a part of capitalism.” This brings up something that has always fascinated me about capitalism and which the movie seems to miss: There is no outside capitalism. Capitalism: A Love Story, in order to be seen, had to be produced by Paramount. I paid $9 to see it. Does Moore not see how deep the structure runs?
At the end of the film, the screen goes black, and there is only Moore’s voice asking for our help in “replacing capitalism with democracy.” It is a moving scene, painful even, because he will probably be disappointed. Is this movie enough? Things are even more awful and pervasive than Moore admits; we have to think bigger—and more of us actively have to do so.