Our intrepid defender of the working man, Michael Moore, documents his 1996 "Downsize This!" book tour across the USA. Shot on-the-cheap with a video camera, we once again watch our hero interview the working man at yet another plant closing, while also trying to get past corporate security guards to interview the millionaire CEOs. Written by
Tim G. <email@example.com>
I applaud Michael Moore for addressing gnarly, difficult subjects that other commentators and especially the news media are too chicken to tackle. This 1997 BBC documentary follows his '96 book tour promoting "Downsize This!". In the film, Moore travels to small town and Rust Belt America -- places often ignored by other social critics in favor of big cities and glamor locations. The realism and problems of ordinary, middle class, Middle Americans is one of the highlights of the film. This is an honest look at the economic problems in the US circa the 90s.
One of Moore's strengths and weaknesses is just how funny he is -- he's a skilled speaker and essentially a talented stand-up comic, whose material is politically skewed and occasionally self-deprecating. This is disarming, and also plain, laugh-out-loud funny. I watched this film recently with a group of people who were in stitches, even though some of the material (in 2005) is a bit outdated by recent historical events. Some of Moore's funniest material is when he confronts executives or stone faced PR honchos, and waits for their predictable, canned, nonsensical remarks designed to give little information and obscure the issue at hand. It's powerful stuff, watching the rich and selfish defending their privileges, and a scathing commentary on economic inequality in what we like to think is the freest, richest, most egalitarian society in the world.
HOWEVER -- Moore often weakens his own arguments by using shoddy and overly simplistic examples. Comparing a torn-down factory in Flint Michigan to the Oklahoma City bombing is very tacky, and not even a good analogy -- the loss in Oklahoma was human life, including many pre-school children...the loss of the Murrah building itself is insignificant. Unemployed workers in Flint do actually have other options, like moving elsewhere for work. It's a cheap shot. Another lame effort occurs when Moore challenges the president of Nike to build a shoe factory in Flint, over his objections that "American's don't want to make shoes". Moore claims he will get 100 workers together who do want to produce footwear for Nike -- then the film shows a pitiful rally of a couple dozen folks, many of whom are small children. Closeup photography obscures the fact that Moore could NOT find 100 willing workers in Flint, despite all the well-publicized poverty...is it true that Americans are unwilling to manufacture shoes? We'll never know.
Another flaw is that Michael Moore is not especially honest about his own status in all this. He's a very successful pundit and filmmaker (although this movie was made years before the phenom of "Fahrenheit 911"), and had already published several books and had a TV series. He's wealthy by the standards of most Americans, a celebrity and immune to the economic realities that he is describing. That tends to make his criticism rather facile. For example, he fails to explain how (as in the example above) Americans earning even minimum wage, about $5 per hour, can possibly compete in manufacturing with Third World workers who make 50 cents an hour...no matter how hardworking or willing those Americans are. This is the hard reality facing both employees and employers, and it's curiously left on the table here without discussion...except perhaps to suggest (vaguely) that companies should make business decisions on charitable grounds, rather than economic ones.
Still with all it's flaws, I find this (and other) Moore documentaries a valuable contribution to National debate, especially along Red State/ Blue State lines. The most valuable historical information in "The Big One" is whenvoters (talking about the '96 Clinton/Dole presidential race) say that "both candidates are the same" and "turnout will be historically low" and "who cares who is in office". Those comments are truly astonishing in light of current events and political atmosphere, and this is only 8 years later. The world has been turned on it's axis by current events! Yet it's important to realize how recent that change has occurred, and extremely valuable to look at evaluate the political and economic changes of just the last decade.
In conclusion: a challenging and interesting documentary, with some flaws, but extremely funny. Worth watching.
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