Review of Michael Moore's "Where to Invade Next," a movie about people being good

Jon Schwarz, a former Moore staffer, reviews Michael Moore's first movie in six years, "Where to Invade Next," which Schwarz calls Moore's "most subversive movie."

The movie features Moore going around the world, visiting countries whose public institutions defy American norms of punishment, testing, and mistrust -- and thrive. As the trailer says, "The American Dream seems to be alive and well everywhere except America."

By the end of Where to Invade Next — after seeing working-class Italians with two months paid vacation, Finnish schools with no homework and the world’s best test scores, Slovenians going to college for free, and women seizing unprecedented power in Tunisia and Iceland — you may realize that the entire movie is about how other countries have dismantled the prisons in which Americans live: prison-like schools and workplaces, debtor’s prisons in order to pay for college, prisons of social roles for women, and the mental prison of refusing to face our own history.

You’ll also perceive clearly why we’ve built these prisons. It’s because the core ideology of the United States isn’t capitalism, or American exceptionalism, but something even deeper: People are bad. People are so bad that they have to be constantly controlled and threatened with punishment, and if they get a moment of freedom they’ll go crazy and ruin everything.

The secret message of Where to Invade Next is that America’s had it wrong all along about human beings. You and I aren’t bad. All the people around us aren’t bad. It’s okay to get high, or get sick, or for teenagers to spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to bonk each other. If regular people get control over their own lives, they’ll use it wisely rather than burning the country down in a festival of mindless debauchery.


Notable Replies

  1. Of course, these three things (capitalism, exceptionalism, and fear of humanity) are linked in one central American ideology:

    Fundamentalist Protestantism.

    Can some necromancer resurrect Max Weber for me? Thanks.

  2. Nylund says:

    I think this is missing a sort of tribalism inherent in less homogenous countries.

    It's not that America thinks it's people are "bad," but rather each ethnic/religious/racial/class group thinks they are good, but the rest are bad. It's this idea that "my good group" could do those things, but since we have to include those "bad" groups, we can't have those nice things. E.G., my kids would use the time freed up by not having homework productively (or at least non-destructively) but those "others" would get involved in crime, drugs, etc., so we need these "prisons."

    And I think you see this happening in other countries as they become less homogenous too. The social welfare state was great back when everyone here were Fins, Danes, Germans, whatever, but now that there's these "others" here, they're "abusing" the system, so we gotta make changes (and/or kick them out, or at the very least stop them from coming in.)

    I'm American, but related to many Canadians, all Irish/Scottish/English backgrounds, and over the past few years I've seen a lot of them start changing from, "Our health care/education system is awesome!" to "Why are my taxes paying for services for those no good middle eastern/african/whatever immigrants?" and more and more of them are becoming more open to ideas of privatizing / dismantling various social programs. Whereas they were once fond of their money going towards the betterment of the group, they now think too much of that group is unlike themselves, and would now prefer each just use their own money on themselves, collective programs be damned.

    In short, people like "collective" programs when they like the collective itself (i.e., when it's made up of people like them), and start to dislike it and turn against it, the less that "collective" looks like the "tribe" they self-identify with. They then begin to distrust the collective system, convinced that it has become (or will become) for those other "tribes" to mooch off yours.

  3. Nylund says:

    PS. I'm not saying this thought process is right, or justified, rather, that it exists. Personally, I believe that this way of thinking is bad, but it happens.

  4. The amount of jealous rage I feel when an adult has to have debt explained to them is insane.

  5. SamSam says:

    I think thse are all very good points, but I think that there is an equally strong current in America that "I should get to be in control of my own destiny, and allowing the government to take care of me is wrong."

    When I ask my intelligent Republican uncle why he doesn't want universal healthcare, he doesn't say a word about other people abusing the system or using his tax dollars, he says "do you want to live in a world where everything in your life is controlled by the government, or do you want control over your life?"

    Likewise, when we look at "What's the matter with Kansas"-type narratives, where people keep voting for Republicans even though they are greatly supported by the state and Democratic policies, you see people angry not only at the lay-abouts who abuse the system, but they are angry at themselves for needing support, and the government that has somehow failed them by making support available (while taking away jobs, or whatever).

    I think @Daedalus had the right idea above: there's anger at other groups using the system, yes, but there's also a Fundamentalist Protestant idea of being your own man, lifting yourself by your bootstraps, that simply having a hard work ethic will get you far, etc etc etc, that I think is at play here. I think it's part of the founding myths of our country, and also very much part of the ethic that the first two hundred years of immigrants and pioneers brought with them. It would take a lot to undo that, I think.

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