Where to Invade Next (2015)
Director: Michael Moore
Cinematography: Richard Rowley and Jayme Roy
Producers: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin, and Michael Moore
by Jon Cvack
I’ve kind of resented Michael Moore throughout the last eight years of the Obama Administration. For a guy who wants to expose hypocrisy, absurdities, and catastrophes of our government, he sure gave Obama a pass, playing into the larger issue of Tribal Politics, where laymen supporters wholeheartedly defend against the wrongdoings of their own party, while quick to criticize and believe any and all scandals from the other. I think the Obama Administration was pretty great. I’d give him a B+, with the +-bump added mostly because I think he’s one of the coolest presidents in history, which some might see as a shallow reason to provide an extra third of a grade, but I believe is one of his most charming and inspiring qualities. He was an exceptionally smart man who smoked cigarettes and weed, with a solid sense of humor, making the office accessible rather than prestigious and disconnected. Still, he did have that horrendous drone program, he capitulated far too early on the public option, leaving us with a slightly better than failing healthcare system (I have to use the exchanges and can attest to the difficulty), he failed to crack down on those responsible for the ‘08 crash, and the Left remains all too silent. I understand the ability to roll your eyes, since these things might seem so small compared to what he dealt with, and that’s completely reasonable. I also think that all presidential actions are deserving of criticism and to ignore a significant few issues is contributing to the divisiveness plaguing politics.
For a man as prolific as Michael Moore I thought it was bullshit that he conveniently took seven years off, ending with the less-than-great Capitalism: A Love Story, after professing that if people don’t take to the streets and demand change then he’ll never make a movie again. Occupy Wall Street did arrive, except for being poorly managed and unfocused, due to a mixture of media coverage and opposing viewpoints. Still no bankers are in jail. Michael Moore never decided to make a movie about this - about Big Pharma and Wall Street filling posts in the Obama White House. I don’t even mean that as in it’s de facto wrong that Obama hired such well-connected and deep-pocketed individuals, so much that Moore clearly despised these acts under Bush, and chose to ignore them during the Obama Admin is the epitome of hypocrisy. I can’t help thinking that while Bush received countless documentaries and criticism, there was a reluctant to turn the camera onto their own side.
Not knowing much about Where to Invade Next, I was expecting a film that explored the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Libya, the Arab Spring, and the Rise of Isis. Instead it’s a story about some European and Middle East countries that have developed better ideas regarding health care, prison reform, education, women’s rights, worker’s rights, sex education, school meals, and so on. We go to Italy, Germany, and France where workers have over a month of vacation and positions on the Board of Directors; to Finland’s no homework or standardized testing policy; to Slovenia’s free college tuition program; to Iceland who elected the first female president and imprisoned the bankers responsible for their economy’s crash; and most interestingly in Tunisia, in which women protests resulted in the conservative Islamic government agreeing upon a constitutional equal rights amendment. The problem is that with the exception of Iceland and Tunisia, I think most of us have heard about these ideas, with many presented with far greater depth in Morgan Spurlock’s CNN “Inside Man” (let alone the individual documentaries that dive into these individual topics). I suppose for a Beginner Progressive who’s just getting into these causes, this documentary is worth checking out, particularly for the Bernie supporters who might just be getting more involved and might want a crash course on rational progressive ideas that could be explored in the states.
However, for us Michael Moore fans who have followed his whole career, I was disppointed. Yes, I understand these are great ideas. It was because of his films and the others that followed that these ideas became more prominent on the left, setting the stage for Bernie Sanders and his popularity. I kept thinking back to Bowling for Columbine and the magnificent way he used pop culture, history, and media analysis to explore the gun problem and it’s connection to Columbine. It was wholly original, lending a new voice to the genre. It had heart and passion. Between the laughs were tears, and an anger brewing, culminating in his contentious Oscar Speech. Where to Invade Next felt like a sample platter, leaving you wanting much more of some scenes and a bit less of others. I wanted to know why we couldn’t have any of these ideas - who was responsible of blocking them, what their arguments were, to see their faces and demonstrate the hypocrisy, whose money they had and all those things that make such great Michael Moore films. Instead we’re just left with some empty platitude that because of the Berlin Wall and America’s historical mission of change for the better that these things can happen, made worse by the fact that Michael falls victim to his most constant criticism, more so than usual, in refusing to explore the other side - where the program fails, what makes it fail, how much it costs, etc.
It’s particularly with the tax breakdown, where he uses a graphic of coins stacked up, symbolizing American vs. European tax dollars, that he stacks only a few more on the European coins to show they pay only a "little more" for these great benefits, when in fact they pay much more (and that’s fine), it’s just misleading people who want these things into thinking that they don’t have give up all that much more to receive them. I know there are side effects to having beautiful private village prisons, working with the conservative Islamic government, and generous worker benefits in countries that are struggling to maintain them (some more than others). It’s not to say the ideas don’t work, but this film does make the more curious mind feel bitter. Do you really expect me to believe it’s as simple as looking to Finland’s 5.5 million population (that is *half* the population of Los Angeles) and believe it’s all that easy to just do away with homework, get rid of goals for school funding when it’s so competitive, and limit the total school day, especially when we have such gross inequality, or extend France’s gourmet school lunch menu that covers the 25% of their youth population who eat like royalty to four times the number of American children when, again, so many districts are so poor?
These are not easy solutions to implement, requiring a gradual approach, and it’s that short term answer that Moore leaves out. It all remains far too idealistic. If a radical change is necessary we should know how to achieve that. If not, we should learn to accept the difficulty of implementation and find out what we could do in the short term. To ignore either is simply boring. It felt disconnected - with all that’s going on, between domestic terrorism, race riots, and a struggling economy. Instead we got to see how great other people had it and that’s a shame.
BELOW: For a country that locks up nearly 2.5 million people, can you imagine the practical reality of providing the same as Norway? Seems like the better idea is keeping more people out of prison.
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