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Rob Edelman: Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next

Michael Moore is one of contemporary American culture’s most polarizing figures. Your response to his films more often than not will directly relate to your politics. But one thing is certain: Michael Moore craves attention. He yearns to be the focal point of the conversation, and his almost exhibitionistic presence in his various documentaries transcends their content. Such is the case in his latest film, which is titled WHERE TO INVADE NEXT.

Now for sure, the title tells all here. Moore’s point is that the U.S. really has not won a war in over seven decades, since the end of World War II. However, our country has immersed itself in a range of conflicts-- but to what effect? What have these incursions accomplished? Is the world a better place because of U.S. involvement in Vietnam or the Middle East or elsewhere? Plus, how much money has the U.S. taxpayer shelled out to pay for these incursions? Have they directly resulted in cutbacks to school budgets or libraries or hospitals?

In WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, Moore-- who of course is a constant presence on camera-- traverses the world to examine how other countries employ logic and practicality to deal with specific issues. And despite the film’s title, these issues have nothing to do with war. In Italy, for example, Moore tells us that that workers enjoy eight weeks of paid vacation plus two-hour lunches and five months of paid maternity leave-- and company owners fully support this. Those who are interviewed stress that workers who enjoy such perks are happier and less stressed out. Cheerful workers translates into more productive workers, and this translates into higher profits. One company owner asks: “What’s the point of being richer? It’s more important to work next to people who are smiling.”

Moore also visits France, where children learn about the importance of healthy food and enjoy nourishing school lunches. In Slovenia, college students incur no debt and benefit from first-class educations. In Germany, there is a thriving middle class. Workers do not need to take second jobs to pay their bills. Plus, there is universal health care. In Portugal, drug use has been decriminalized, drug usage has decreased, and police officers are trained to respect the human dignity of the populace. In Norway, the prison system stresses rehabilitation and not harsh punishment. “Forgiveness” is the byword here. In Iceland, the CEOs of failed banks were prosecuted and sent to prison. Plus, the government did not bail out their banks. And so on...

In WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, Michael Moore does have good intentions, and who would say that the U.S.-- his country-- is not neck-deep in disorder? But are all the countries he visits so problem-free? Do they all treat all their citizens with love and compassion? While watching WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, I had to ask myself: Is Michael Moore idealizing other countries? Is he generalizing? For example, in his world, the rising tide of anti-Semitism in France simply does not exist.

Now on one level, I can embrace Michael Moore’s point of view. It just may be beneficial if we in the U.S. focused on the progressive policies that are found in other countries and consider adapting them. However, even if you agree with this, would you say that Michael Moore is just a wee bit pretentious in his presentation? Is this man a bold voice of the people, who is single-handedly taking on hypocrisy American-style? Or is he little more than a self-centered master manipulator?

Rob Edelman as written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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