To the editors:
To paraphrase University of Chicago Nobel laureate Milton Friedman: Nothing could be more damaging to the capitalist system than for its corporate managers to actually believe all that garbage their PR departments have concocted about the keen social consciousness with which they run their industries.
Friedman’s point is well taken. It also provides us with a useful gangway entrance to filmmaker Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, which just so happens to be about the capitalist system. The question is, Has Moore done a good job depicting it qua Flint, Michigan, or not?
In his excellent letter of March 23, Rick Powell complained that Moore’s film fails as politics; fails as critique; succeeds at promoting an image of Moore as the charming jokester (etc); obliquely reveals Moore’s condescending, elitist attitude toward the working class and the people of Flint in particular; fails as serious documentary; and, in short, fails generally.
Now I do not mean to recommend Roger & Me to the reader, much less to lionize Michael Moore. Most of Mr. Powell’s criticisms are accurate. But Mr. Powell also missed an important point about Roger & Me, namely, its topic–the capitalist system which the film is of and about. As a consequence, much of the blame for the film’s anti-political stance that Mr. Powell lays at Moore’s feet simply doesn’t belong there.
Certainly Moore isn’t engaged with changing this system. But show me a character in the film who is! That class consciousness over whose absence Mr. Powell so denigrates Roger & Me was simply not there in the 1980s. Compare Moore’s clips from the birth of the UAW in Flint back in the more radicalized 1930s, which presupposed a highly conscious working class, to the responses of the workers who, facing the ax as GM headed for Mexico, did nothing except suffer the consequences. The woman who raised rabbits to survive wasn’t organizing. Nor was the woman who sold makeovers, the tenants facing eviction from their apartments, etc. In fact, the only solidarity to be found in the film belonged to the elite partygoers and countryclubbers–not to the working class whose interests Mr. Powell blames Moore for not articulating or siding with.
Granted most of Mr. Powell’s criticisms of Roger & Me and Michael Moore, remember: Every character in the film had his or her role to play, just as every real person in Flint, Michigan, fulfilled their proper function, as determined by the nature of the capitalist sytem. Surely Pat Boone and Anita Bryant weren’t flown into town to organize the second coming of the UAW’s founding consciousness. Flint just isn’t the town it once was, in more ways than one.