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By Bryan Newbury
March 9, 2010

Many say that America is a Christian nation. Among those claimants, there is a burgeoning ideology, which seeks to reclaim the historical record – the same crew have been marginally successful with this approach towards pure science, so there is little reason to doubt that history would be any less malleable – and put an image of snake handling evangelicals in the place of pragmatic deists. Dubious as their claims are, the Christian nationalists, for want of a better moniker, do have one bit of fact on their side: nominally, at least, the majority of Americans do identify as Christians. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore poses the question, “So, are we?”

Not being a scholar in divinity or a professed member of any religious group, it isn’t for this reviewer to sit in judgment. Having a cursory knowledge of the Gospels as they are laid out in the King James Bible, it is tempting to come down with a thunderous No. The reader likely will refuse to take this verdict, or, for that matter, Mr. Moore’s. Luckily, Moore provides credentialed men of the cloth to posit that if we are a Christian nation, we are nonetheless governed by a profoundly unchristian economic system. (Should there be confusion as to whether we are governed by an economic system rather than a political one, there is an instructive dialogue with an editor at The Wall Street Journal to allay that head scratcher.)

As usual, Moore builds his case on whimsical educational films from more innocent times, cataloguing the avaricious transgressions of the ruling class and juxtaposing those iniquities with the inevitable inequities and how they play out in those locales that the populations of Washington and Wall Street couldn’t give a good goddam about. It is a bit of a departure, however, to see the Flint of twenty years ago becoming the template for contemporary Miami. Moore has documented the progression, and we should be thankful for it. At this point, we all know what we know to expect, but where does Capitalism fit in the Moore œuvre?

Peculiarly, though expectedly, as a sort of prequel.

While the chronology and scenery suggest the conclusion to a larger body of work archiving the devolution of our republic from free state to fiefdom, there is reason to consider viewing Capitalism as Part I. were one to introduce Michael Moore to an alien observer. (Begging pardon if the observation has been made here before on the last of Moore’s “last” films, but this installment supplants the whole order of things where a marathon Michael Moore viewing is concerned.) After all, the narrative arc from Roger & Me to Sicko, including as it does our propensity for gun violence and general distaste for actual democracy, to say nothing of our “medieval health care nonsystem,” in the words of Rachel Maddow, is informed by a devaluation of human life and functional liberty. What is the true exception in American exceptionalism? An ideology of individualism as manifested by callousness towards our fellow man seems to be at the root of it. How can we stand alone among industrialized countries in both violent crime and lack of health care access? Look no further than the fundamentally unchristian nature of our republic’s economic system. Read the rest of this entry »


Sicko 1Los Angeles, CA, June 25, 2007 — In an after screening Q&A held at the plushly carpeted theater in the Director’s Guild headquarters, moderated by uber-director Ron “Opie” Howard (who agreed to take on this chore because it was the only way he could get a ticket to the hottest event in town), Michael Moore talked about his latest film, “Sicko”, and his prescription for curing America’s health care system. His film veers from humor to pathos, to tragedy to adventure as he dissects the reasons we (the United States) haven’t adopted a system like the rest of the industrialized democracies loosely defined as single payer national health care. His irreverent but heartfelt approach provokes laughter, tears and real intellectual stimulation as he sets off on his quixotic quest with the zeal of Mike Wallace, the biting social humor of Lenny Bruce and the concern for the afflicted of Florence Nightingale.

The most talked about sequence, the one that’s landed him in hot water with the Bush Administration, shows Moore and a raggedy band of middle-aged, formerly middle class, people who’ve been physically and financially ruined by their deficient health care and its costs. Several are suffering from the serious medical affects of too much time spent volunteering for rescue and clean-up duty at Ground Zero after 9/11. We join them as they set out in a flotilla of chartered boats headed for the American base at Guantanamo, Cuba. They’ve heard that prisoners at “Gitmo” receive world class health care. Moore reasons that if Al Queada members can get great medical services from our government shouldn’t these heroes from 9/11 be afforded the same? Read the rest of this entry »


By Bryan Newbury
June 25, 2007

“It is based on a recognition of the astonishing beauty of things and their living wholeness, and on a rational acceptance of the fact that mankind is neither central nor important in the universe; our vices and blazing crimes are as insignificant as our happiness. We know this, of course, but it does not appear that any previous one of ten thousand religions and philosophies has realized it. An infant feels himself to be central and of primary importance; an adult knows better; it seems time that the human race attained to an adult habit of thought in this regard.”

Robinson Jeffers
Preface, The Double Axe and
Other Poems

The words Robinson Jeffers unleashed in 1947 did not endear him to the established order of things, nor the public at large. While there is little to dispute in his logic, when applied to the cosmic order, The Double Axe likely sealed his demise in academic and critical circles. It is not good business to be against war in a time of hyperpatriotism. It is not good business to suggest that centuries of western philosophy and theology have been mistaken. It is most assuredly bad business to tell any audience, especially an American one, to grow the hell up.

It shows a good deal of bravery, but it ignores an essential truism about mass communication: no one likes the truth-teller.

No doubt Jeffers has rolled in his grave so many times over that Texaco has considered attaching a bit to his corpse to drill for some of those waning ounces of black gold. It is a curious debate to be had on whether Jeffers might have known that some sixty years hence, the world’s lone superpower would not only fall short of the mark in terms of cosmic awareness… it would extend its indifference beyond the world around, including the very people that its core philosophy held paramount.

This callous disregard for our fellow man seems to be the dominant theme emerging in the oeuvre of Michael Moore. Distilled to the essence, this is what Moore’s films have illustrated with outrage, humor and poignancy. If it is the indifference to the plight of the American and international working class, as seen in Roger & Me and The Big One; if it is the casual approach to gun violence in our culture of fear that Bowling for Columbine masterfully exhibits; if it comes in the voices of the helpless Iraqis in the jarring footage of Fahrenheit 911, the underlying message tying all of these elements is clearly that we just don’t seem to collectively give a damn about our fellow human beings.

Which brings us to Moore’s latest offering, Sicko.

Much of the media surrounding Sicko would lead the viewer to believe that this is an about face from the combative and, in the eyes of his critics, solipsistic filmmaking approach that has made Mike famous. If one only has the major media to rely on for a general idea, it would not be beyond reason for him to think that Sicko is a completely different ball of wax. Fox News gave it good reviews, for heaven’s sake.

True, Moore has polished his approach. The film doesn’t lose the real story, though in fairness it is hard to think of an example where Moore is more memorable from Roger forward than the subjects of his documentaries. The hubbub of the kinder, gentler Mike seems to be more a result of news outlets looking for an original angle (as opposed to reasoned reportage) and giving offerings at the precipice of the echo chamber. To the delight of his fans, and for some reason without the dismay of many of his detractors, Sicko is actually vintage Moore. His filmmaking has evolved, as is in evidence from the more subdued pacing of this latest offering, but isn’t that to be expected? Though fewer in number, the sardonic historical footage, replete with not-so-subtle allusions to our irrational response to L’ennemi du jour, is still present. The somewhat maudlin moments of empathy to his hard luck protagonists are as often as anything else in the Moore canon. Predatory capitalism’s vicissitudes are logged with the same force. George Bush says some very stupid things.

All the ingredients are there, but it could certainly be argued that Sicko delivers the message better than any of its counterparts. Read the rest of this entry »


Fox News: ” Filmmaker Michael Moore’s brilliant and uplifting new documentary, “Sicko,” deals with the failings of the U.S. health care system, both real and perceived. But this time around, the controversial documentarian seems to be letting the subject matter do the talking, and in the process shows a new maturity.”

Hollywood Elsewhere: “I have to say that I went into this documentary with limited expectations, but I came out teary-eyed.””It’s not just an eye-opener, in short, but a movie that opens your emotional pores.” Read the rest of this entry »


Old timers tell of a mystical place not far from here. Health care is provided for all citizens. People take in idyllic winter scenes whilst enjoying jelly doughnuts and long johns with maple icing. It has a large frontier and a few major cities. Even in these cities people are polite, stand five feet behind you in the ATM line and leave their doors unlocked day and night. There are seven million guns for ten million families, yet homicides from firearms are an eighth that of the United States. There is magical wildlife, though no one has gone so far as to suggest pixies and unicorns.

Those of us who had heard tales of this frozen utopia were reasonable to be skeptical. If such a place indeed existed, why were we not emigrating in droves?

Then came Michael Moore’s third feature film, Bowling for Columbine. Read the rest of this entry »