In this latest installment in his continuing series of what’s wrong with America, Michael Moore takes aim at his biggest target to date, and the result is a disaster. The documentary is not nearly as funny as his previous films, the music selections seem contrived and flat, and the edits and transitions are clumsy, wooden, and not nearly as effective as what we’ve come to expect from the premiere documentarian (Ken Burns notwithstanding) of our time. And, most importantly, the film’s central thesis is so bad that it’s not even wrong.
First, let me confess that even though I have disagreed with most of Michael Moore’s politics and economics throughout his career, I have thoroughly enjoyed his films as skilled and effective works of art and propaganda, never failing to laugh — or be emotionally distraught — at all the places audiences are cued to do so. My willing suspension of disbelief that enables me to take so much pleasure from works of fiction, does not always serve me well when pulled into the narrative arc of a documentary. Thus it is that with his past films I have exited the theater infuriated at the same things Moore is … until I rolled up my sleeves and did some fact checking of my own, at which point Moore’s theses unravel (with the possible exception of Bowling for Columbine, his finest work in my opinion). But with Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore’s propagandistic props are so transparent and contrived that I never was able to suspend disbelief.
What was especially infuriating about Capitalism: A Love Story was the treatment of the people at the bottom end of the economic spectrum. The film is anchored on two eviction stories contrived to pull at the heart strings. One family filmed the eviction process themselves and sent the footage to Moore in hopes he’d use it (many are called, few are chosen), and the other was filmed by Moore’s crew. The message of both is delivered with a sledge hammer: Greedy Evil Soul-Sucking Bankers (think Lionel Barrymore’s villainous Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life) are tossing out onto the streets of America poor innocent families who are victims of circumstances not of their making. Why? First, because this is what Greedy Evil Soul-Sucking Bankers do for fun on weekends. Two, because the economic crisis caused solely by said bankers has made it impossible for families to make the payments on those subprime loans they were tricked into taking by those same bankers, who themselves were suckered into a Ponzi-like scheme cooked up by Alan Greenspan and his Wall Street/Federal Reserve buddies to take back the homes fully owned by (first) the elderly and (then) the poor. In the fine print that the bankers carefully slipped past the elderly and the poor for these second mortgages and subprime loans, the contracts said that the rates on variable rate loans could go up, and that the house was collateral for the loan such that if the loan payments are not made the home is subject to foreclosure and repossession by the bank (which is what the bankers are hoping happens).
In Michael Moore’s worldview, a goodly portion of the American people are ignorant, uneducated, clueless pinheads too stupid to realize the fundamental principle of a loan: you have to have collateral to secure the loan! No collateral, no loan. You say to the banker “I would like to take out a loan.” The banker says to you “what do you have for collateral?” What happened in the housing boom was that bankers relaxed their standards for what they would require...