Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Wal-Mart Story

Michael Moore has announced that the DVD of his documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story” is now available. On its own, that wouldn’t really be enough to interrupt an episode of Law and Order:SVU with a special report. What makes this release interesting is that it is being carried by Wal-Mart, which is featured prominently in the film in a not particularly flattering manner. As Moore says on his blog:

The fact that Wal-Mart is carrying this movie — a movie that specifically exposes Wal-Mart’s past practice of taking out secret “dead peasant” life insurance policies on its employees and naming itself as the lone beneficiary should the employee meet an “untimely” early death — well, my friends, need you any further proof that Corporate America is so secure in its position as the ruler of our country, so sure of its infallible power that, yes, they can even sell a movie that attacks them because it poses absolutely no threat to them?

Moore contends that Wal-Mart is simply unafraid of any negative publicity due to their market dominance. They are too big to be hurt by a little documentary. I would go a step further. I believe that Wal-Mart is expressly aware that they can make a bundle off of this. And since their mission is to make money and increase shareholder value, that goal takes precedence over any potentially bad PR. They are demonstrating a principle articulated by the anti-consumerist artist Banksy, who said:

“I love the way capitalism finds a place – even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom time in the discontent industry.”

Modern marketing philosophy long ago adopted the position that the counter-culture was cool and, in order to attract contemporary consumers, you have to be willing to bash whatever is considered to be the establishment, even if it’s you. That strategy has led to progressive radio stations, who are owned by giant conglomerates, to explicitly insult their corporate parents. It has led to graffiti being embraced by staid art galleries. It has led to television commercials with music that is notably inconsistent with the product being advertised. Some of my favorite examples of the latter:

  • Jaguar’s use of “London Calling” by confirmed leftists The Clash.
  • Fidelity Mutual Funds use of David Bowie’s “Changes,” which contains the lyric “Don’t want to be a richer man.”
  • Carnival Cruise Lines use of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” which is about heroin use, not partying on yachts.

This self-deprecating brand of promotion is kind of like McDonalds opening up a health food restaurant and imploring people not to poison themselves on the crap at those golden-arched fast-food joints. And now Wal-Mart is selling Michael Moore’s Capitalism. What a world.

Generation Zero vs. Capitalism: A Love Story

Last Night Sean Hannity devoted the entire hour of his Fox News program to the documentary “Generation Zero.” This morning Fox Nation featured it on their web site as a “Must-See” film.

Generation Zero recently made its public debut at the Tea Baggers Ball in Nashville and was subsequently screened at CPAC, where it was introduced by the terminally choleric Andrew Breitbart. The film was produced by David Bossie of Citizens United, the plaintiff in the recently decided Supreme Court case that granted corporations unprecedented financial participation in federal elections. It was directed by Stephen Bannon who, in another life, produced the Sean Penn directed “The Indian Runner.” Don’t tell Bill O’Reilly, who is boycotting Penn’s films.

I haven’t seen this film (it’s not actually been released yet), but its pedigree and cheer leaders reveal something of its intended mission. The web site says the film is not about the failure of capitalism, but it goes on to say that it will “change everything you thought you knew about Wall Street and Washington.” That assertion makes it difficult to separate the movie’s message from the tenets of capitalism. From reviews and discussion of the film, it seems the basic premise is that the current economic meltdown we find ourselves struggling through was caused by the selfishness and egocentrism of the children of Woodstock. This is a peculiar and illogical theory.

It’s a peculiar theory in that it presumes to blame the “Baby Boom” generation for today’s economic catastrophe. But in doing so, the film is really blaming the poor parenting skills of the “Greatest Generation” who, in their zeal to shield their kids from the pain of depression and war, acceded to their every material want and raised them to be shallow and self-indulgent. That’s a pretty harsh condemnation of the generation that survived decades of trauma in the first half of the last century. The filmmakers are essentially charging the generation that fought its way through the economic disasters of the 1930’s and the worldwide conflagrations of the 1940’s with raising their children to be so socially decadent as to lead the nation into near economic collapse. Do the filmmakers really believe that these parents passed no lessons on to their kids about the hardships they endured?

It’s an illogical theory in that it attempts to create linkage between the hippies of the 1960’s and the financial barons of the 1990’s. So much of the rhetoric of right-wing history revisionists relies on castigating the youth movement of the 1960’s. They are portrayed as drug-addled degenerates and dropouts who contributed nothing of value to society. Their preoccupation with trivialities like civil rights, peace, and free love, permanently labeled them as subversive and anti-social. Since when did their reputation get rehabilitated to the point that they are now seen as captains of industry and finance with the blood of our capitalistic empire on their hands? Surely many former hippies went on to successful careers, but I would venture to say that not one of them became the CEO of AIG or Merrill Lynch.

The Baby Boomers that took the helm of big business were the ones that kept their hair short and listened to Pat Boone in the 60’s. They were the hall monitors and the narcs at their prep schools. They were born to wealth and privilege. It was they, who were already inbred with self-indulgence and egotism, who held the reins of power in the 2000’s. It certainly was not a bunch of idealistic, public school, counter-culture, former flower children who somehow grew up to be greedy sociopaths.

It wasn’t a cabal of aging hippies who invented credit default swaps. It was a cooperative of Wall Street pirates and their Washington patrons. It wasn’t the result of permissive parenting, but of submissive regulators and legislators. While Generation Zero dwells way too much on an unrealistic Leave It To Beaver version of the 1950’s, it actually does approach this part of the problem as well. The movie does not neglect the culpability of an entrenched financial class that has no historical memory whatsoever.

Ironically, that’s exactly what Michael Moore presented in “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Moore’s film was an indictment of the coziness between Wall Street and Washington. And it assailed the notion that solutions had to be afforded to the tottering financial institutions, rather than to the suffering citizens who were the victims. So some of the themes in Generation Zero that are now being heralded by the rightist media were previously explored by Moore. But while there are clear parallels between Moore’s Capitalism and Bannon’s Zero, it is unlikely that either side will acknowledge it. The chasm is far too wide to cross. Even on Hannity’s show there was an exchange that came close to recognizing this ideological affinity, but it was ultimately ignored as they broke away to a commercial.

Sean Hannity: Is it the political system that is more corrupt? Because I believe Capitalism works. Capitalism is the answer.
David Bossie, Producer: Clearly Capital Hill is corrupt. Capital Hill is the problem, not Wall Street here.
Stephen Bannon, Director: I think it an inextricably linked network between Capital Hill and Wall Street. […] You’ve had the American taxpayer, the average, middle-class American, paying taxes to bailout these big firms, and there’s been no change in behavior, no change in structure no change in regulation.

It’s interesting to see Bossie quickly suck up to Hannity and absolve Wall Street of any liability. It’s even more interesting to see Bannon contradict both of them and spread the blame evenly across the econo-political spectrum. But most interesting would be if all the people that go to see Generation Zero would pick up a copy of Capitalism: A Love Story as well. They may realize that Michael Moore is not the demon he’s made out to be by the right. And conversely, Moore might take a look at Generation Zero. If it isn’t stuffed with right-wing polemics and denunciations of 60’s “radicals,” perhaps he could promote it alongside his own movie.

If both of these films tell the same story of overarching corporate greed and government complicity, it would make a compelling double bill.

Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Success Story

Michael Moore’s new documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story,” opened nationally yesterday in 900 plus theaters after a limited engagement in just four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The bi-coastal exclusive set the record for the year so far in per theater box office. The wide launch is now adding handsomely to the film’s success.

For Friday alone Capitalism earned $1.5 million, putting it in seventh place. The six movies ahead of it were all in two to three times as many theaters. Capitalism was the third highest earner on a per screen basis.

[Update 10/5/09: The full weekend take for Capitalism was $4.85 million. It took eighth place for the weekend. It was fourth on a per screen basis]

Three months ago I made a prediction that Capitalism would draw a larger audience than the Fox-sponsored Tea Baggings. So how did I do?

With ticket sales of $4.85 million, and an average ticket price of $7.18, it comes to about 675,000 tickets sold. That number is higher than any estimate of the Tax Day Tea Parties last April. In addition, the attendees of the 9/12 Tea Bagging in Washington were estimated to have been about 60,000 to 70,000. That estimate was provided unofficially by the DC Fire Department. There were other debunked estimates that went as high as 2 million, and they came with photo documentation. The only problem was that the photo was proven to be from a rally that took place over ten years prior. So if we throw out the ludicrous seven-figure fabrications, it would still take ten times the Fire Department’s numbers to approach (yet still fall short of) the audience for just one weekend of Capitalism’s attendance.

Conclusion? I was right! So what’s the significance of this foresight? It isn’t that I’m an uncommonly gifted observer of politics and media (well, not just that, anyway). As I wrote last June, the media made quite a spectacle of both the Tax Day Tea Baggings and the 9/12 event. The implication was that any public gathering that attracted such a crowd should be regarded as statement of the public’s mood. If that’s the case, and if Moore’s movie performs the same or better as an attraction, then wouldn’t that make this event at least as representative of the public mood as the Tea Parties were said to be? Wouldn’t that suggest that it deserves at least as much attention from Fox News and the rest of the media?

So far, Sean Hannity has not hosted a live, on location event with thousands of cheering Moore supporters. Glenn Beck has not assembled throngs of patriotic Americans who agree with Moore that our economic system is dangerously flawed. We haven’t even seen Griff Jenkins cheerleading for the film and riding along on bus tours promoting it. What’s more, the rest of the press is not treating this cinema sensation, that is outperforming the Fox-sponsored rallies by every measure, with equivalent resources and exposure.

The fact that Capitalism produced a bigger turnout than the Tea Parties should guide coverage of, not just the movie, but the issues underlying. It ought to inform the press corps that Americans are expressing their views through the free market by actually paying to align themselves with a political position that is woefully underrepresented in the media. It ought to put the lie to the claim that Tea Baggers were non-partisan opponents of reckless government spending. Were that true, they would be flocking to Moore’s movie which addresses the very issues they claimed to be so riled up about. Instead they are bashing the movie, without having even seen it.

Capitalism, the economic system, is demonstrating that Capitalism, the movie, is a far better gauge of where America is today than the lame tea socials that were so heavily promoted by Fox News and the rightist media. Despite not having anywhere near the promotional boost, or the free publicity from Fox, the movie is proving that Americans are far more interested in honesty and fairness in government than in pandering to the giant multinational corporations who got us into this mess in the first place. The Beck’s and O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s of the world pretend to be guardians of the people’s welfare, but in reality they are defenders of greed and deregulation and all of the worst faults of unbridled capitalism. When will the press recognize this and balance their coverage with reports on what the film’s success really means?

It’s is rather ironic that the success of the movie, in which Moore describes capitalism as “evil,” is also a demonstration of the free market voting for Moore’s perspective on free markets. God bless America.