What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
Michael Moore gives people a gut reaction. The incisive and distinctive documentary maker takes on corporations, displays their disgusting greed, and makes sure to show how human beings are short shrifted by these legal fictions. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you feel this material, and one amazing thing about Moore is that in spite of his liberalism, he is fundamentally a humanist. At his best, the cans of worms that he opens are about people and have very little to do with any political or economic system.
There's no denying that there's plenty wrong with U.S. capitalism, just as there were major problems with Soviet communism. People slip through the cracks. Homelessness is rampant. We've just seen Enron explode, leaving employees and stockholders shafted while a few executives managed to bail out with golden parachutes. You can't blame the top officers for trying to get away with some money, but you can see that the system in which it is possible, just isn't right.
No, corporations are not human. They are economic fictions whose body is law and whose blood is money. Corporations aren't even made up of humans, but only those drives and skills within humans that protect the legal fiction and circulate the financial blood. People who work at corporations have lives, loves, hopes, fears, morals, and consciences. But the corporations themselves rarely or never partake of these human aspects. No, corporations do not breathe air, nor do they need clean food and water. If a corporation can bolster its bottom line by polluting the air, it will. The humans who enable the action would never do such a thing on their own, but the corporation only uses the parts of many different people that will make it happen. I myself live between a chemical plant and a refinery. Once a month, a siren goes off telling me to stay inside and not breathe. I would sure love to change those plants into playgrounds, but I, too, drive a car and am as complicit as any employee, stockholder, or upper executive in the corporations' power.
That's why it's so amazing to see a guy like Moore take on these DeathStars. Moore is, above everything, a regular guy, and part of his charm lies in the fact that his chubby-boy face belies his determination to see some justice done. His brand of humor exists to call to accountability entities that are often perceived by our capitalist culture as untouchable.
There is an undeniable discomfort in watching The Awful Truth, Moore's latest foray into television after his career-making documentary, the seminal Roger And Me, it's follow-up, Pets or Meat, the fictional bomb, Canadian Bacon, and the short-lived television series, TV Nation. The discomfort comes in part from knowing that humor is a thin shield for vigilantes who go up against monstrous business conglomerates. A funny costume or accent will only go so far while corporate headquarters are guarded by straight-faced security staff, paid to keep out the riff-raff, satirical or otherwise. For example, Crackers, The Corporate-Crime-Fighting Chicken strolls around Disney World, looking for Mickey so that they can discuss Disney's unfair employment policies. You just know Crackers is going to get busted post haste. But not before a few kids demand pictures with him.
When Moore manages to engage marketing personnel, we are treated to the most awkward sniveling imaginable. Lame rationalizations, barely checked rage, and sweaty brows are the unmistakable signs of a pinned and writhing marketing drone. Still, anyone with a sense for corporate culture understands that these people are not responsible for policy. Moore's stages a funeral, for example, for a client of healthcare provider, Humana. Though the man is still alive, Humana is refusing him a pancreas transplant due to some loophole hidden in the pages of policy. As he will die without the transplant, Moore invites Humana's employees to the man's funeral, staged on the front steps of the Humana building. At last Humana relents, granting the pancreas and even changing the policy. It's a good outcome for this particular confrontation, but it's a disturbing thought that the victory is a very tiny drop in a monstrously large bucket. We can imagine what happens behind the scenes: The marketing folk tell their bosses that the company can save face (and thus money) by reversing this one policy. So a man gets a pancreas and the company gets Moore off their back. But the fundamental profit-making function of all corporations--including healthcare providers--is unchanged.
Still, it's nice to see some freedom fighting, and the uncomfortable humor is certainly entertaining from the vantage of the living room sofa. Liberal, conservative, or neither, you will be moved by this. You'll be amused, and you will have your hackles raised. Moore is all about taking a stand. Humor is his weapon, but his ammunition is tenacity.
Having been piqued by the tracheotomy choir that carols at Philip-Morris company, I am certainly intending to watch season two, too. This in spite of the fact that episode by episode is hit and miss. Sometimes the humor is too subtle, as when Moore goes to India and Pakistan to teach "Duck and Cover" now that these two countries have obtained nuclear weapons. The officials and citizens Moore talks miss his satire entirely. Moore himself is charming behind the camera, but not as pleasant to watch in front of it, particularly on stage in nervous stand-up comic mode. The fact that this was cancelled could be due to its lack of polish and spotty quality, but I think it's safe to say that corporate interest helped stifle this dissent. Finally, God bless Moore for standing up for humans even against these inhuman Goliaths.
Note: This review is timed to coincide with the release of Moore's new book, Stupid White Men. Harper Collins is to be congratulated for finding its spine after initially planning to scrap the entire project and shred 50,000 copies due to the seditious nature of the material. Free press above all! It's already a best seller and it was released only yesterday as I write this. There's a suggestion here that the opinion polls showing such strong support for our current administration may be lying statistics, if you catch my meaning.
So, yo, yo, homies! Get aware. Take a look. Talk about it. This is important stuff.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.