Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Revenge of the Stupid White Men

You've got to hand it to Michael Moore - whether you like his style or not, the guy knows how to open a movie. According to box office reports, his new film Capitalism: A Love Story, made $306,000 in its first five days.

That sounds like peanuts, until you discover that this was on a 'limited release' of just four screens. Apparently, that sets a record for the highest per-screen average of the year. Given that this is a low budget documentary about the financial crisis, those are some pretty impressive statistics.

Of course, not everyone's happy about that. As is always the case with any new Michael Moore film, his critics are falling over themselves to castigate the thick-set agitator for daring to criticise capitalism, whilst turning a profit at the same time. Sadly, in doing so, they continue to reveal just how greatly the point has been missed.

A whole cottage industry of nitpickery has sprung up in Michael's considerable wake, with people spending weeks detailing every un-crossed T and un-dotted I in his research. One staggeringly fastidious site, Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11, catalogues every manipulated statistic and 'half-truth' in Moore's phenomenally successful critique of Bush's war on terror.

The problem is, half of the points made on the site are ridiculously facetious, my favourite example being:
"He claims that protestors 'pelted Bush's limo with eggs.' Actually, it was just one egg, according to the BBC."
For those who want to get caught up in the moob-for-tat debate, Moore also helpfully provided a full breakdown of every line in the movie on his website, addressing every statement and attributing it to a source.

But the trouble with these critiques of Moore's admittedly broad-stroke approach, is that they never actually address the key points he is making. Why concern yourself with the mis-handling of Bush's election, when you can quibble about which easily manipulated news network called the result first?

Unfortunately, the critics of Capitalism: A Love Story are similarly focused on the trees, and haven't yet realised they're deep in the woods.

Writing in the New York Post, Kyle Smith takes Moore to task for showing that large corporations buy life insurance for groups of employees, naming themselves as the beneficiaries:
"Moore interviews a Wal-Mart employee who is grieving for her dead husband when she discovers that his employer insured the deceased, paid all the premiums, and can therefore now cash in."

Smith's angle is that the companies are doing nothing wrong, and besides, Moore's last film 'Sicko' portrayed insurance companies as the villains. In Smith's eyes, this inconsistency in choosing his villains is Moore's fatal flaw.

But as anyone who has ever read a James Patterson novel knows, there's always more than one villain. The real issue here, which Moore makes quite clear, is that the lawyers call this distasteful practice "dead peasant insurance."

Since Moore's objective is to portray the heartless, venal side of uncontrolled capitalism, proving that some people are worth more dead than alive to their employees, is a point well made.

Also struggling to comprehend the issues is Michael Wilson, a man who owes his entire career (such as it is) to Michael Moore. Wilson was so-incensed by Moore's blockbuster Fahrenheit 9/11, that he made his own 'documentary' entitled 'Michael Moore Hates America' which gives you some insight into the level of political rhetoric on offer here.

On the subject of big business and health insurance companies, Wilson blogged yesterday about Will Ferrell's new spoof ad about 'the real victims'.

In an indignant post that simply serves to underline the point that Ferrell and friends were making, Wilson wonders aloud about the audacity of
'limousine liberals' who "decide to pick on the rich executives".

Wilson's reasoning? Rather than overhaul a broken system that sees forty million people without medical coverage, Wilson thinks these multi-millionaire bleeding-hearts should foot the bill for complete strangers' healthcare. Because that makes a lot more sense than national insurance contributions.

Ironically, Wilson neglects to mention that his ridiculous alternative to a fair and equitable insurance programme, was once trialled by his nemesis. While he was busy putting the finishing touches to Sicko, Moore found out that the wife of Jim Kenefick (who had been running liberal-baiting website Moorewatch.com for several years) was seriously ill, and Kenefick was struggling to find adequate medical coverage.

Playing the part of anonymous benefactor, and sensing the opportunity to make his point about the inadequacies of healthcare coverage, Moore anonymously donated $12,000 to pay for the first year of her treatment. The ever-gracious Kenefick cashed the cheque, paid for the treatment and wrote on his website:
"I knew he was using me, Moore is going to try to make me into one of his little puppets. I'm not an idiot... What kind of moron turns down a free 12 grand?"

Michael Moore knows that most of the time, he's preaching to the choir. But he asks difficult questions and understands that often there are no easy answers. Sadly, for people who see the world in black and white, that's never going to be good enough. But it's a real shame, for anyone who enjoys political debate on either side of the divide, that Moore's critics seem incapable of coming up with any counter-point stronger than "He's so fat..."

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