Michael Moore on “Where to Invade Next”

The United States (hereafter “we”) look really bad in the recent Michael Moore movie, moore 2“Where to Invade Next.” That’s not a headline. We don’t look good in any of the Michael Moore movies. It’s just a statement about what I want to think about today.

According to my own highly personal system of counting, I have seen “Where to Invade Next” three times. I went to see it while Bette was off visiting one of the countries Moore includes in the movie (Germany) and then, last night, saw it again with her. I count seeing a movie with Bette as seeing it twice. She sees it differently than I do and then we talk about it afterwards. It’s like seeing it again, only for free.

Jonathan Kim makes a really interesting point about Michael Moore movies in his Huffington Post article.

But when looking at his filmography, no one can dispute his track record for shining a light on issues several years before they’re noticed by the corporate media or adopted by politicians.

With his first film, 1989’s Roger & Me, Moore showed the devastating effects of offshoring and corporate callousness on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Bowling For Columbine in 2002 drew attention to America’s uniquely insane gun obsession and its consequences years before mass shootings became commonplace. Moore slammed the door on the Bush administration’s response to 9/11, the catastrophic Iraq war, and the media’s complicity in both with Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, and three years before Obamacare was signed into law, Moore skewered the cartoonish cruelty of the health insurance industry in 2007’s Sicko while making a demand for universal healthcare.  And two years before Occupy Wall Street, Moore called out an economy rigged for the rich in 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story, with the housing meltdown and subsequent bailout as the ultimate crime scene.

The first time I saw it, I paid attention to the material he presented. The Italians have more generous vacation policies than we do; the French serve better (and cheaper) school lunches, the Germans have dealt more courageously with their shameful past [1]; the Portuguese have a better drug policy; the Finns have better schools; the Norwegians have a more enlightened (and more effective) prison system, and so on.

What I noticed in seeing twice more [2] is that the argument he makes is the same for every topic. I’m going to add a bunch of caveats in the next paragraph, so just lay yours aside for now.

Moore compares the outcomes they are getting with the outcomes we are getting here. Theirs are better. Very often, they are also cheaper.

Now the yes buts. Yes, but Moore cherrypicks the issue he wants for every country he visits. Yes. He does. Imagining for the moment that Slovenia, for instance, is not as good at everything as they are at the feature Moore is examining [3], he spends no time at all on what they are not good at. That is not the point he wants to make.

Yes, but Moore does not account for the inevitable decay in the character of the work force when they are no longer driven by poverty or the threat of poverty. No. He does not. He looks at how things are now, not at how things might come to be if the same policies are continued.

Yes, but Moore considers only domestic policies. The only reference to foreign policy in the whole film is his claim that the U. S. spends 60% of its budget on the military. Could these other countries—Norway and Iceland and France, for instance—afford such generous domestic policies if they spend as much as we do on the military. No, probably they couldn’t. But since we are spending it, they don’t have to.

Yes, but Moore does not present a balanced picture. No. He doesn’t. He claims that the coverage of these issues in the U. S. is completely dominated by status quo conservatives and his films are a corrective. He films rebuttals. No one would expect a rebuttal to be fair to all the arguments.

OK, enough of that. I can’t hit all the yes, buts, so I have chosen these as a representative collection.

Moore’s movie is a visual feast. For instance, the sun is always shining in the countries he visits. Even Norway and Finland. The people are happy and productive. Things are good. The best part of the movie for me was seeing and hearing the people who get a chance to tell about their lives—on camera.

moore 3The Italian couple pictured here who are accustomed to eight weeks of vacation every year are astounded to learn that American workers get none at all—by law. Moore does admit that vacation hours are negotiated in contracts. She is in a mid-level business; he’s a cop. They both look very good in the vacation pictures that someone takes of them nearly everywhere in the world it is sunny and warm.

But this guy (below), who runs a Bugati motorcycle factory says that treating the workers well not only insures that they will work productively, but it means he gets to live in a country where people have free time and know how to use it. He agrees that he would make more money if he tightened the screws a little, but he thinks he makes enough money and he likes living in Italy.

I think France is my favorite. He chooses school lunches and sex education in France. Themoore 6 meal we see at the elementary school is charming. It is served by kitchen staff. On china. A four-course meal. For less per child than we spend. And they get an hour to eat it.

I suppose I could find something to criticize if I worked at it, but the whole scene charmed me and I didn’t feel like working at it. Lunch was treated as one of the school learning periods. What to eat. How to eat. How to share food with others at the table. Moore’s best line comes as a very attractive small plate of food is shown. Just that plate of food takes up the whole screen. It looks wonderful. Moore’s line is, “This is just the appetizer.” It turns out that there are three more courses to follow.  In the picture below, Moore, playing the American buffoon, is the only inappropriately dressed person at the table.

The class in sex education was based on the idea that young people are going to engage in sexual activity. The question of whether they should or not was not raised. The teacher wanted to talk about how important it was for each party to attend to the sexual experience of the other; how the sexual part was just a part of a larger relationship, and so on.

moore 5

It is entirely possible, of course, to approach premarital [4] sex from a principally moral point of view. That view can be succinctly summarized: don’t. But, of course, it doesn’t work. Moore brings Texas governor Rick Perry on in a film clip to say that “abstinence only” works as a public policy. He says he has personal experience that it works. The question the interviewer is asking Perry is why, if abstinence only education works so well in Texas, does Texas have the third highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. And lest we miss the point, Moore puts a graph of teen pregnancy rates in France and in the U. S. up on the screen. We have…maybe three times (or so) the number of teen pregnancies.

And this is really Moore’s strategy throughout. He shows what works in the host country. He shows that what they are doing there is working a lot better than what we are doing here. The question, mostly unasked in the movie, is, “Why wouldn’t we want to have those results here?” [5]

And that’s really the feeling I have after my multiple viewings. Watching those French and Finnish and Portuguese and Tunisian and Icelandic and German and Norwegian citizens describing the outcomes of their policies with such pride, I find myself yearning for those kinds of outcome and that kind of pride here in my country.

Bette said, as we sat down to discuss the movie, “What do you think about it?” That’s nearly always a good question for me because what I think about a movie is usually what is available to me first. Not this time. This time, I had to say, “This isn’t a thinking movie for me yet. It’s just a feeling movie so far and it makes me feel sad.”

[1] I’m sure Moore thinks every nation-state has a shameful past. He characterizes ours as “based on genocide and built by slave labor.” That’s not entirely accurate, of course; on the other hand, you can’t say it is wrong.
[2] I’m appreciating this numbering system more as I go on. I bought three tickets and “saw the movie” three times. It doesn’t sound bad at all that way.
[3] It is the free provision of university education to everyone who lives in Slovenia—even the American students who moved there because they could not afford to go to school here.
[4] As marriage continues to decline as a normal state of adult relations, we are going to need a prefix other than pre-. Extramarital could have meant, but it has not, “sex without reference to marriage.” Possibly “non-marital” is still available because, so far as I know, it does not have a meaning.
[5] The official in charge of Portugal’s drug policy tries to warn Moore away from his obvious interest in transplanting Portugal’s drug policy to the U. S. It isn’t just a piece of policy, the official says. You can’t just pick this one up and plunk it down in your country. Our policy requires health care for all our citizens and I know you don’t have that in your country.


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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