Michael Moore’s moviemaking career began with the 1989 film Roger & Me, which “documents” his unsuccessful attempts to get an interview with then GM CEO Roger Smith. The professed intent of the interview request was to discuss GM’s decision to relocate manufacturing from plants in Flint, Michigan to Mexico, which resulted in many job losses in the small town. The movie, initially met with unanimously good reviews, was criticized by both Harlan Jacobson of Film Comment and Pauline Kael of The New Yorker for misleading factual inaccuracies and the manipulation of timelines, especially.
In defending the film from these criticisms, noted film critic Roger Ebert and the New York Times’ Richard Bernstein argued that it was an ironical or satirical work of art—that is, it was not a documentary and, thus, should not be judged according to objective journalistic standards. In fact, as a work of satire, the factual inaccuracies and manipulation could and should be excused.
Despite the controversy surrounding the film, one thing was crystal clear: whatever Michael Moore was at the beginning of his moviemaking career, documentarian he was not.
Moore’s next feature length directorial effort should have been the start of a distinguished career along the lines of Judd Apatow. In Canadian Bacon (1995), Moore adapts the premise of The Mouse That Roared, a 1955 Cold War satirical novel, to US-Canada relations. The resultant hijinks, as a combination of highbrow and lowbrow humor, are most definitely entertaining. This is perhaps unsurprising given the film’s cast included such comedic luminaries as Alan Alda, Rhea Perlman, Dan Aykroyd, and the late John Candy, as well as cameos by Alex Trebek and William Shatner.
The world would be a better place had this been the first in a series of comedies or the last film of Mr. Moore’s career. Sadly, neither was to be.
In 1997, Michael Moore recycled and reused the themes and tactics of Roger & Me, supplementing them with a touch of concern for money in politics, and reissued it as The Big One. The movie, which yet again parades around as a documentary rather than as a parody of one, retreads the old ground in the same manipulative style.
Ten years later, Moore returned to the subject of corporate America, this time focusing on the US healthcare system. Sicko is a not so veiled argument in favor of socialized, single-payer medicine. It is yet again more op-ed than documentary, relying on cherry-picked examples intended to tug at the heartstrings.
Moore’s intent is to manipulate the viewer, not to contribute to a rational discussion about improving the delivery of an important and necessary service.
Spending the last half of the film travelling to other countries with state-run medical systems in an effort to show how great they are, Moore completely ignores the single-payer systems, as well as their horror stories, here at home—the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. If one truly wished to explore what single-payer healthcare would look like in America, shouldn’t you begin with the single-payer systems that already exist?
But this is an inconvenient truth rarely if ever raised by proponents of establishing a universal single-payer system in America. While there is universal agreement that the American healthcare system is in need of improvement, there is also universal agreement that it should not be modelled upon either the VA or IHS.
The year 2009 saw the release of Moore’s latest screed against free enterprise—Capitalism: A Love Story—which presents itself as an analysis of the global financial crisis. Moore continues to deploy the formula he pioneered in Roger & Me to argue the free market system that enabled him to rise from the working class to the 1 percent is inherently evil.
Argues overstates it—he emotes.
Perhaps surprisingly, Moore does not explicitly call for socialism as the solution. Although to be fair, perhaps he would today, given the rise of Bernie Sanders. Instead he points to a truer, more ancient form of democracy where the poor—who as Aristotle well knew, necessarily make up the majority in every political community—exercise their power.
Exercise their power to what purpose? What is this other than a poorly veiled call for class warfare, for the poor to rise up in revolution and to seize the property of the wealthy? Moreover, it defines as true democracy the unstable, direct, total democracy of the ancients that was explicitly rejected by the American Founders who established our stable, representative, limited government, where the rights of minorities are respected. His is a call to go back into the past, not a call to the future. The millionaire Marxist is actually a regressive revolutionary.
In the end, Michael Moore’s filmography is an excellent example of propaganda in the service of an ideological cause. The deftness with which he wields his editorial prowess is all the more remarkable for the manipulation and deception he achieves thereby. Were viewers to mistake his faux-mentaries as genuine documentary works—living up to objective journalistic standards—they would believe they lived in a world where free markets are responsible for all that is evil, rather than for reducing global poverty by 80% since 1970. Moreover, they would be unaware of the veritable mountain of bodies that necessarily accompany every experiment in socialist power.