Where to In­vade Next

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Jonathan Richards

When a coun­try in­vades an­other coun­try, it’s gen­er­ally af­ter some­thing. When we in­vaded Iraq in 2003, we were af­ter oil, what­ever hom­i­lies the White House PR ma­chine cloaked it in. Some­times the spoils of war are ter­ri­tory, some­times loot. The an­cient Greeks went to war over a beau­ti­ful woman.

Michael Moore is on the warpath, and what he’s af­ter are ideas — ideas about how to make the U.S.A. work bet­ter.

With a di­rec­tive to find a win­ning strat­egy from a fic­tional Joint Chiefs of Staff, who con­fess to him that they haven’t won a war since they were in Boy Scouts, Moore sets off to see what other coun­tries have that we don’t, and claim what he can for the Stars and Stripes. He in­vades Italy first, then France, and cuts a swath through other Euro­pean coun­tries, with a side trip to North Africa. In each place he fo­cuses on an as­pect of the cul­ture — political, eco­nomic, or ed­u­ca­tional — that he can bring home as booty.

In Italy it’s abun­dant paid va­ca­tion time, two-hour lunch breaks, and kin­der, gen­tler worker-man­age­ment re­la­tions. “It’s their right, and our plea­sure,” says a fac­tory owner. In France, Moore vis­its a gourmet kitchen, and re­veals that it is in a pub­lic-school cafe­te­ria, where the kids learn about good food and healthy eat­ing. Shown the dispir­it­ing fare Amer­i­can stu­dents get, the chef sniffs, “Frankly, that’s not food.”

And so it goes. In each coun­try, as he finds a bet­ter idea that he can claim for the U.S. of A., he plants the Amer­i­can flag. Fin­land, Nor­way, Slove­nia, each has some­thing to of­fer — shorter school days, shorter work days, bet­ter po­lice train­ing, bet­ter prison sys­tems. He con­trasts what he finds with clips of po­lice bru­tal­ity or charts of ed­u­ca­tional short­com­ings at home. In Ger­many, where he sees a lot of things to ad­mire, he doesn’t ig­nore the evil past of the Third Re­ich. But he shows how re­minders of it are ev­ery­where, lest Ger­mans be tempted to for­get. His­tor­i­cal mark­ers on Ber­lin street cor­ners tell passersby what Nazi atroc­ity oc­curred there. Imag­ine, he says, if there were signs on Wall Street re­call­ing the time when it was the cen­tral New York slave mar­ket.

Moore’s at­ti­tude through all of th­ese in­va­sions is one of gen­tle, good-hu­mored be­muse­ment. There’s none of the con­fronta­tional am­bush­ing he some­times em­ploys in his films. Prob­a­bly the most un­com­fort­able mo­ment oc­curs when, in an ironic bit of devil’s ad­vo­cacy, he tries to press a can of Coke on the ap­palled kids in the lunch­room at the French school. Now in all fair­ness, this is a highly selec­tive bit of pro­pa­ganda. Coca-Cola is far from un­known in France where, we learned from Pulp Fic­tion, the McDon­ald’s Quar­ter Pounder is known as a Royale with cheese. But Moore is in pur­suit of up­lift­ing ex­am­ples.

Tu­nisia takes Moore a bit out of his way, but his point is clear. In this only Mus­lim coun­try on his tour, women’s rights are ro­bust, and women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the leg­is­la­ture is equal to men’s. When the post-rev­o­lu­tion Is­lamist govern­ment tried in 2011 to deny those rights in a new con­sti­tu­tion, women took to the streets to demon­strate, and the mul­lahs knew when they were licked.

The mes­sage is even stronger in Ice­land, the penul­ti­mate stop on Moore’s jug­ger­naut. Ice­land has boasted Europe’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected fe­male pres­i­dent, and the one Ice­landic bank that sur­vived the coun­try’s eco­nomic melt­down in ’08 was run by women, who tell Moore that they avoided disas­ter by not in­vest­ing in any­thing they didn’t un­der­stand. The fem­i­nist take­away from this in­va­sion may have some res­o­nance as Amer­i­cans pre­pare for a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that could of­fer a sea change in our ex­ec­u­tive branch.

Moore wraps it up with a visit to the site of the Ber­lin Wall, amidst the rub­ble of which he dis­cov­ers a pow­er­ful sym­bol of the pos­si­bil­ity of change where change might seem un­likely. There, he ru­mi­nates about the things he has seen and the ideas he has har­vested from his cam­paign of in­va­sion, and of­fers a flower of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to his na­tive land.

On one level, this movie might seem to smack of wide-eyed naiveté. But Moore’s thrust is canny. He hasn’t in­vaded Europe to ex­pose its rot­ten un­der­belly, he’s there to cap­ture the best of its ideas. And in do­ing so, he pro­vides for all of us, whether we’re lib­eral, con­ser­va­tive, lib­er­tar­ian, or march­ing to the drum­mer of our choos­ing, a smor­gas­bord of ideas on which to chew.

Give me a child, and I’ll shape him into any­thing: Michael Moore and school­child­ren

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.