Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Roger and Me

I just watched Michael Moore’s 1989 Roger and Me, and I recommend it. A quick summary: General Motors, which began in Flint, MI, closed down some factories, which ended up devastating the town. I think Moore using contrast quite well. As I have a tendency and desire to think about other people’s lives, I appreciated the technique. The film isn’t perfect, but provides information that I think is important for people.
What follows are some of the ‘highlights’ and commentary. (in the order presented)

A representative saying that Roger Smith, CEO of General Motors has a “social conscience as big as anyone in the country.” Fascinating! It is hard to believe people can actually be sincere.

The contrast between some rich people having their annual “great Gatsby” party and the poorer locals hired to act as human statues… sigh. These rich people have no sense of reality. As such, they cannot be too faulted, but they are still assholes.

At one point Moore tried to track Roger down in an Athletic club because he couldn’t see him in his office. I felt the whole thing didn’t really work and it seemed like Moore was antagonizing the wrong people.

Robert Schuller, evangelist, saying to the broken people of Flint, “You can turn your hurt into a halo.” Priceless. Thanks for coming out.

Michael Moore being colour analyzed provided a wonderfully amusing visual.

Apparently, rabbits will chew each other’s balls off. When people say humans are just animals, we have come a little further than they would like to remember. Now we use electricity to shock the testicles. This allows for greater overall pain because of its repeatability. (I do think we ‘have come a long way’ but I couldn’t resist).

A great contrast of some older women playing golf and a scene of a family being evicted.

Flint built this huge visitors centre to try to revitalize the town and when a representative was asked what do people ask her about the most, she said “Where’s the bathroom.”

There was a little piece about a guy being evicted; his name was James Bond. I mention this not really regarding the movie, but about the nature of names. Some people must have lead fascinatingly annoyed lives. Imagine what someone would say, every time you introduce yourself. (Hi, my name’s Mike Hunt.)

Soon after Bond, James Bond was evicted, they pan to a little kid wondering what’s going on. The 7-year-old says, “Rough time, a really rough time. I got thrown out of my house once.” That is harsh… sigh.
Watching this lady bludgeon a rabbit with a lead pipe and need more than one strike was not a happy time.

Money magazine named Flint the worst out of 300 places to live in the country… ouch. The people of Flint were obviously not happy campers. I then realize what a privialge it was to have Toronto as the number place in the world to live by the UN, several years ago with Canada as usually the top country. Sure, who makes the list? Is it biased? Etc.. but generally, first is good and last is bad and on most positive criteria measure, there should be some consistency.
As well, somewhere has to be the worst. That would just suck. One would think everyone would try to leave. The expression “Anywhere is better than here” would actually be true! Then I was thinking about whether it had to do with the people, so if they kept moving from town to down they’d bring down other places to worst and then move on. A roving band of ‘worst people’ is a funny idea, but not a reality.

Flint’s economic fallout lead to a huge increase in crime. Consequently, the city needed a new jail. But just before the grand opening, the city offered people the chance to spend the night in a cell for $100. That was not a bad idea per se, as I would consider spending the night in a jail just for the educational experience and to try to be aware of others lives and what they entail. Buuuuuuut, this was not that. They first had a pub crawl, people dressed up (some in ‘jail’ costumes) and there was a band playing “Jailhouse rock” while these people got finger printed and got to feel like a criminal.
I was sickened. I think it would have been a bit more realistic if some of these people were beaten, sodomized or truly felt the feeling of isolation or being caged. It remined me of the recent trend of people thinking it’s cool to be a pimp, or a hooker (damn it feels good to be a gangster). People! Get some priorities! … sigh.

Moore snuck into a GM shareholder meeting and got punked off by not being able to ask his question because they just cut the meeting. I was actually surprised that he just stood there. Consequently, I can see why he has subsequently become more abrasive- because he had to.

A powerful contrast of Roger Smith’s Christmas party and someone being evicted on Christmas eve. The evictor said (paraphrasing) “We’re trying to get some done today, because you wouldn’t want to do it on Christmas.” Ouch. Hmm… better to be evicted xmas eve or xmas day? Those options would be terrible.

As a documentary, I thought it was good. I was happy to see some of Moore’s older work. I will grant that there is not a directly causal relationship between someone being evicted and GM closing plants, but I think one could say the GM closing was a prim causal vector in the devastation of Flint’s economy, which lead to various problems.

Additionally, the main problem seems to be that under Canadian and US law a CEO must put a company’s profits before people’s interests. That is the main problem, so Roger Smith cannot be completely demonized. Yet… if he did have a huge social conscience he would likely be the type of person to resign before being the main guy responsible for thousands of broken lives. He could have done so much more.

My main evaluative criterion of recent times seems to be “Is the world better with X in it.” Based on the information I have (3 works, a book, interviews, articles by and about, and appearances), I think the world is a better place with Michael Moore in it. I think he is fighting the ‘good fight.’ (I also love he slams random celebrities, Eubanks in this, Spears in 9/11). As for people like Roger Smith… I don’t really know, but chances are he is part of the problem. To show that the alternative is possible, one can think of the guy who is in charge of the worlds largest carpet-manufacturing company (From The Corporation, sorry, I’ve forgotten specifics) who felt how business was being done was hurting the world and tried to change things. If you don't have too much time, see The Corporation before Roger and Me.

Lastly, (during minute 27) I thought on of the best lines of the whole movie was by a guy who was (I think) trying to describe the different levels of awareness people have about the terrible things happening:
Some people know what time it is, some people don’t.


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