Saturday, February 13, 2016

Where To Invade Next (2016) ***1/2

Michael Moore's poignant Where To Invade Next asks American to take a look in the mirror and think about what kind of society they want to pass on to their children.  Do they want one based on selfish individual pursuits?  Or one where we consider ways to build a more compassionate society?

The film consists of Moore's personal "invasion" of Europe to observe and learn about their approach to work, education, criminal justice, and gender equality.  I suppose most Americans recoil at the idea of Europeans challenging their values, but they should at least listen.  

Moore's films usually preach to the choir and that's unfortunate.

In Italy he spends time with a working class couple who get 8 weeks of vacation pay, large holiday bonuses, and multiple weeks off for maternity leave. He speaks with Italian CEO's who believe their workers deserve extra pay and vacation.  Workers sit on the board of directors along side their corporate bosses.  In America, there is a clear line between management and workers.  Mass media champions millionaires and their flashy lifestyles, while workers in service jobs must make ends meet through long hours and lousy pay.  

Moore visited elementary schools in France where students only go to school a few hours a day.  Educators believe children should have fun at school. Rich kids must share the classroom with those less fortunate (unlike ugly class division in the US)  In one of the funnier scenes, Moore observes a French school cafeteria where the kids are served gourmet meals every day!  In Finland, homework is never assigned!  Once again a contrast to America where young people are pressured into standardized testing and come out of school feeling shell shocked.  Our schools aren't about turning out decent human beings, but automatons who desire high grades.

Europeans make compassion the cornerstone of their criminal justice system.  Convicted criminals are not treated like animals or kept in small cells.  In Norway, they work in cooperation with guards who treat them with dignity. The idea is not to punish prisoners, but to help them adjust to society.

In Iceland, women hold leadership positions in business and government.  Men are encouraged to see the world from a women's point of view.  In America boys are often taught to fear the authority of women, but in Europe there's a more balanced attitude among men and women on gender issues.

I know all that sounds great. Europe is no utopia.  After all, two world wars began in Europe.  In Germany, citizens are constantly reminded of their history.  They have social issues I'm sure.  America's an increasingly diverse nation with fluctuating demographics, a drama playing itself out in this election cycle.  That's a factor the film does not address.

America lost its heart at some point. There's a tendency to blame people if they cannot make a living wage.  Most of the taxes Americans pay goes to military spending and little to social welfare programs in health care and education.  As a result, there's anger and suffering everywhere.

As Where to Invade Next points out American used to be a nation of reformers.  Think of Jane Adams and Hull House.  Theodore Roosevelt being inspired by Jacob Riis's photography of urban squalor as a basis for moral action.  A vibrant union movement won the eight hour day and fought for the dignity of the worker.  In the 1970s the Equal RIghts Amendment (ERA) missed ratification by three states (a law conservative presidents Nixon and Ford supported!).  

Moore's critics typically dismiss him as a propagandist for the left.  I argue Moore has more in common with the "muckrakers"of the early 20th century.  People like Ida Tarbell who wrote about corporate greed or Lincoln Steffens who wrote about the exploitation of immigrants.  Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle exposed the meat packing industry.  Their writings led to real social change.  Like the muckrakers, Moore makes his movies as a generator for change, even in a time when the 99% feel defeated. His critics tend to nit pick logical inconsistencies, but never address the larger questions.

Moore deeply loves America and hates to see where its going.  If anything, Where to Invade Next is a plea to reevaluate American values and to consider alternative ways of solving problems. That's all.

William F. Buckley liked to say a conservative "stands athwart history and yells STOP! Ironically, Moore is doing the same thing here.

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