Sunday, October 9, 2011

Capitalism - A Love Story and Occupy Wall Street

I suspect, after watching 'Capitalism - A Love Story' by Michael Moore last night, that more than a few of the original organizers of 'Occupy Wall Street' were influenced by it. Although the documentary/film has the usual sarcastic and cynical tone of most of Moore's features, this one felt a little different. I think Moore filmed mad.

Let me explain. In professional boxing there are few maxims, a few absolutes that are generally considered unbreakable. One is 'Kill the body and the head will follow.' Another is 'No one can beat the heavy bag.' And yet another is 'Never fight mad.' The most recent example of the latter is the famous ear-biting fight with Tyson and Holyfield. Tyson fought mad. He lost control and, well, he bit Holyfield's ear off and lost the fight.

So this is the pervasive feeling I got from 'Capitalism - A Love Story.' When I was younger, high school in fact, I was a member of the Speech and Debate team. Forensics, we called it. Mostly I did the acting part of it -the creative part: Duet Acting, Solo Monologue Acting, Improv, whatever. And I carried a whole buttload of trophies home, for the record. But once, I recall, I debated. Me and this other guy, can't remember his name now, were a team, a debate team. It went like this: we were given a subject a half hour before the debate and we had exactly thirty minutes to prepare. We were, unlike today with the entire internet at one's disposal, allowed to bring a small, metal box, carefully weighed, with our research material crammed into it. The tricky part was we had no idea what subject we would be debating so we had to choose our material wisely. Most debaters, ourselves included, would cram the box with old TIME or NEWSWEEK magazines. Sometimes, to the really serious debater, a ludicrously detailed, handwritten series of 4 by 5 cards with facts on every hotbutton subject possible. We weren't that serious. We just had a bunch of TIME magazines in our box.

In any event, I quickly discovered I wasn't very well suited for the 'debate' part of 'speech and debate.' I would inevitably lose my temper. I would, in effect, 'debate mad.' I specifically remember being penalized for starting a rebuttal like this: "Alright, now you listen to me, you fat, little, four-eyed punk..."

So this is the feeling I got while watching 'Capitalism - A Love Story.' Moore was filming mad. Unlike his brilliant 'Roger and Me' or even his frightening 'Bowling for Columbine,' this film is recklessly angry. Which, in the end, it really needn't be for Moore is, to a greater degree I suspect, preaching to the Choir. I'm guessing the CEO of GM or Goldman Sachs or AIG or Bank of America didn't rush out to watch this documentary. And yet Moore shot it as though they were going to. Consequently, his trademark absurdist interviewing and partisan bent feels strained and forced, like a comedian having an off night.

Now, make no mistake, I'm in the choir. I don't need convincing. I, like most of liberal America, have conjured up images of nefarious back room deals drenched in cigar smoke, fat cat CEOs with evil handlebar mustaches and ill-fitting, three-piece suits setting out to screw the American people just for the sheer hatred-filled fun of it. The rational part of me knows this is not true, at least not literally, but nonetheless I can't help myself. These guys, these companies, did a bad thing, an amoral thing. It is undeniable. They were bailed out to the tune of 700 billion dollars with Americn taxpayed money and then they screwed us. The government gave them a blank check with no rules attached, just a verbal promise they would 'do the right thing.' And, of course, they didn't. Why would they? There was absolutely nothing to be gained, profit-wise, by doing 'the right thing.' So they went right back to screwing us with their newly acquired chunk of 'found money.'

There is, however, one section of 'Capitalism - A Love Story' that not only caught me off guard but absolutely fascinated me. And that was the 'secret memo' sent by Bank of America to its largest shareholders outlining (I think it was sent in 2005 before all hell broke loose) their plans for a 'financial coup de'tat.' The memo brazenly outlines Bank of America's assessment that we no longer live in a democracy but rather a plutocracy, which is to say, that the one percent of the wealthiest Americans now control the country, Republic be damned. The memo goes on to say the only thing to be feared would be if the 99 percent rose up and 'voted as one.' Because the one thing they couldn't control was the 'one person, one vote' part of the American democratic system. This idea, while farfetched, also scared the hell out of them.

As I continue to visualize my idea of the privileged, let-them-eat-cake, cigar-chomping, sail boat-buying fatcats of Bank of America and Goldman Sachs wandering from window to window, looking down at the Occupy Wall Street crowds below, much like a frantic Saruman in Lord of the Rings when the Ents attacked his tower, I can't help but wonder what they're really thinking. Are they the least concerned with this little peasant uprising? Or do they feel completely insulated from any retribution? I'd love to be a fly on the wall durng a high-level meeting about this in one their ivory towered discussions. If they even have a discussion about it. Or is it too inconsequential still? Do they really even care?

Obviously for any real change to take place laws would have to be repealed, rewritten and then enforced. And we've seen, all too clearly, that the United States Congress cannot be counted on to upset the apple cart. Although initially voting down the 700 billion dollar bailout, they quickly reversed themselves and gave Wall Street exactly what they asked for. And more, they gave it to them without any, I repeat, ANY reservations or prerequisites. After the initial vote, Congress, clearly seeing which way the wind was blowing, caved a mere three days later after some very heavy and threatening lobby work from the banking institutions. It was one of the saddest days in American history if not the saddest day.

In the other film I've seen regarding this travesty in our history, HBO's 'Too Big to Fail,' the banks are represented as a sort of Tri-lateral Commission, planning and scheming to economically rape the American working class. Which they do. And this well-written film espouses the Machiavellian credo 'the ends always justify the means.' This placed our President, George W. Bush, in a perfect position to implement his final nation-killing decision, sadly only one in a long line of nation-killing decisions. He appeared on national television imploring the American people to support the big bank bailout. If you go back and look at that speech, it's right out of Chaplin's 'The Great Dictator,' Bush's eyes darting about, trying to hide an emerging smirk, stringing together preposterous sentences defying any and all logical thought. And of course it worked.

I think, in the end, history will be kinder to G.W. Bush about Iraq and Afghanistan than we suspect. But with the 20/20 vision of hindsight it will be very harsh regarding his final act of treachery, the selling off of the American middle class. At least I hope so.

In the final analysis I fear the Occupy Wall Street movement and Mr. Moore's cautionary documentary, Capitalism - A Love Story, are most likely simply annoying gnats flitting about a sleeping grizzly; soul-stirring and rightous in their outrage and demands but ultimately unthreatening. For the banks and Wall Street aren't doing anything illegal. They made sure of that. They're only doing what we, the huddled masses, gave them the legal right to do: take away all our stuff and then leave us to die.

See you tomorrow.