Where to Invade Next

I saw Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” this weekend. Like his other films, it is a critical indictment of American society. It is also highly selective, as the programs discussed in the countries he visits are “cherry picked.” All the countries have major problems, but Moore ignores them, picking “the flowers, not the weeds,” as he says.

In the film Moore compares the social policies in several countries, mostly European, with those in America. He begins by visiting Italy, where the sun always shines and the people have beautiful tans. He learns from a middle age couple that the companies where they work provide them with four weeks of paid vacation. National and local holidays add even more paid vacation days.

While still in Italy, he visits a Ducati motorcycle factory and a clothing manufacturer that bestows five months paid maternity leave and two-hour lunches. We see workers returning home to a three-course lunch, wine included, with family and friends. How they ever get any work done in the afternoon is a mystery to me, but the CEOs of both firms assure us that the two-hour lunches lead to more contented and productive employees.

Moore moves on to France, where once again we are told that long and healthy lunch breaks are good for school children. In Finland, where everyone seems to speak beautiful English, we are informed that Finnish schools have virtually eliminated homework and standardized testing, as well as providing more free time. In a recent comparison of math, reading and science skills among 15-year olds, Finland ranks number one among developed countries, while the United States ranks among the lowest.

On to Slovenia, a country that is rarely heard from, where college education is virtually free. Moore speaks with several American students who have enrolled in colleges there to avoid the prohibitive costs of tuition, room and board of colleges and universities in this country. However, we don’t find out about the courses offered or their outcome, including graduation rates and subsequent employment of the students who attend college there.

Moore moves on to Germany where there is free health care, as is true elsewhere in most European countries. He spends a fair amount of time in school classes where the study of the Holocaust is required. Moore then laments that there is no requirement in schools of this country for studying the way we have treated Native Americans or the long history of slavery either.

In Norway Moore is startled to learn that prisons are organized around rehabilitation rather than retribution. Prisoners are housed in studio apartments equipped with a bathroom, television, and cookware including knives. No one is locked up in solitary confinement and the maximum sentence is 21 years. Prisoners have considerable mobility within the grounds; you get the impression that Norwegian prisons are not that much different from a small society.

In Iceland, a country of about 320,000 people, where the financial crisis crippled the economy, the country has largely recovered with the help of tourism. Moore comments that the one bank that didn’t fail was run by women. This leads to a lengthy treatment of the many virtues of female leadership.

Moore intends the film to be an exercise in finding solutions to the many problems facing this country. In this sense the film has a positive message, although it deals in obvious generalities about the merits of European countries. (The film was made before the current migration crisis there.)

The film also ignores the many efforts to solve our problems, as well as the difficulties we have in adopting new, large-scale programs in one as big and diverse as ours. Small, relatively homogeneous societies have several advantages compared to large, multi-state countries in introducing and experimenting with new programs.

After seeing a preview of the “Where to Invade Next” a friend of mine announced rather boldly, that she will never see the film. That is a problem with films like this. The audience, like the subjects in Moore’s film, is also going to be highly selective.

After the showing I attended, the assembled crowd burst out with wild applause. That surprised me, although I guess it shouldn’t have.


Stefanie said...

I've seen a few of Moore's movies and they are good because they make you think even if they do pick and choose as you say this one does. The unfortunate thing is I think Moore ends up preaching to the choir as it were. The people who see his movies are usually the ones who already agree with his viewpoint and need no, or very little convincing. In some ways then his movies don't do much to foster conversation or change minds. I don't hold that against him, it's only evidence of a distinct lack of dialogue in this country on issues that affect us all, an unwillingness to listen to opposing viewpoints.

Richard Katzev said...

Sadly, you are absolutely correct, Stefanie. I didn't watch the Republican debates and I can read a word of anything Trump says, ditto for Cruz. I'm as guilty as the next person. But every time I see Trump on the TV, I cringe. It is painful and I'm not a masochist. I dread the endless primaries and then the long election campaign after the nominations. And I dread the potential outcome. Bernie doesn't have much of a chance but I so admire his willingness to make his views known. It will take time to implement them but someone has to begin the effort.

crofter said...

How ironic that Michael Moore and Donald Trump have something very much in common; people either love them or hate them. I agree with Stephanie's comment on preaching to the choir. Michael identifies correctly many problems of our society, but really doesn't usually show us a path to take to make the transition. These things are very gradual, and cannot be changed over night. Bernie Sanders does! Credit both of them that they are at least generating a national dialogue on how to make us a better society.

Thanks for this review, I am going to try to see it.

Richard Katzev said...

Thanks, Crofter. In a way Moore is showing what we need to do, at least try to see if it works. He admires the programs in the countries in this country and, thereby, suggests they are worthy of consideration in this country. But, as you say, how to implement them is another matter. Yes, it will be slow. Even Sanders doesn't show us how the ideas he believes in can be applied. An executive order isn't available to him. He will need the support of Congress and that isn't likely for him or Clinton in the foreseeable future. I'm glad you're going to try to see the film. It's by no means a comedy as the poster suggests. Rather, it's very serious stuff, although here and there, it is laced with Moore's silliness.

Richard Katzev said...

Crofter: I mean in the countries he (Moore) visits. Sorry, very early morning here.

Dom said...

The comments contained in your blog article are very fair and well-balanced, especially the acknowledgment that the content of the Michael Moore film is “cherry picked”.

It appears to me that the majority of the articles and films that are published today “cherry pick” facts to support the views and opinions of either (X) the author of the article or the producer of the film, or (Y) the target audience of the article or fill, without in either case expressly acknowledging that fact of bias or lack of balance.

For example, many articles are published that are critical of certain aspects of American society, where the author points to another country where in the opinion of the author the other country “does it better” than the US.

However, my perception is that in the very largest portion of such articles, the author of the article fails to give the reader a balanced view of how such other country may have been able to “do it better” with respect to one aspect of it society, only by that other country making political, economic, etc. trade-offs to favor and improve that aspect of its society to the disadvantage or exclusion of another aspect of its society.

I have always thought that it would be more helpful to me, and I believe to other readers, if such authors would present a balanced view by pointing out in their article not only what they consider to be the more favorable aspects of each country that they are comparing to the US, but also point out which problems and other aspects of that other country that such country is still struggling with that the US may have addressed with a more favorable result.

Otherwise, in the absence of such a balanced comparison presentation I don’t believe that readers and viewers are given a fair comparative picture of the countries that the author is commenting on and comparing to the US. But then again, perhaps a “balanced views” are not what large segments of the population really want and such balanced views would not “sell”.

I suspect that the prevalence of I perceive to be the increasing prevalence of one-sided articles contributes to what has been described by many as the increasing polarization of society.

Thank you for your balanced blog article sharing your views concerning Michael Moore’s film “Where to Invade Next”.

Richard Katzev said...

Dom: Thank you for your wise comments. I agree in all respects. It takes a skillful writer to write a balanced view of the problem addressed. And it takes an equally skillful reader to appreciate such a report. The absence of balanced presentations is in many cases true of scientific reports. Experiments are often designed to support the hypothesis being tested and it is unusual for the author(s) to acknowledge evidence that is contrary to their findings. Malcolm Gladwell's books are further examples of this bias and their popularity serves only to perpetuate an ill informed public. Richard

Linda said...

The only Michael Moore movie I've seen was, I believe his first, or if not, a very early one - "Roger and Me." It was a long time ago, but I remember loving it - thinking it was an entertaining and very funny way to do a documentary. But also made me think about the subject beyond the headlines and editorials - which is a good thing. Don't know why I have not watched any other of his films - no reason, just never got around to it - so many good movies to see, good books to read, life is too short.

I know that many critics are tough on Moore because they think he manipulates the facts in order to manipulate his viewers. Maybe so, but he's certainly not alone in doing that.

I agree with you and Dom - seems impossible to get balanced, nuanced views on anything these days, and we all have our own confirmation biases that make objectivity even more difficult (except I know I'm really right about how wrong a lot of people think). I force myself to read the crass Wall Street Journal just to balance my susceptibility to the fine writing in the New York Times.

Which makes me stop and think about your comment about a writer skillful enough to write a balanced report - I can think of only one individual who can do that and who does it consistently. David Brooks writes columns in the NYT and appears every Friday night on PBS. I love to read his columns and listen to his opinions. But I have this uneasy suspicion that he is a CONSERVATIVE! It doesn't seem possible, as his writings and commentings are so thoughtful, balanced, nuanced, and insightful - but there you have it. I can't be sure how he leans. [If you know, don't tell me.] I believe that is the kind of skill you are talking about.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: Thank you for your "balanced" comment. I encourage you to watch other Michael Moore films. They are similar in tone and message. What is his message? There is too much wrong with our society. Who could disagree with that? He may select the evidence that supports his view, but there's enough truth in them to take them seriously. Yes, David Brooks is not entirely free of bias, it is a more subtle one than most. His opinion pieces in the Times are sometimes thoughtful, especially his more recent comments on character and society. But if you watch his Friday night dialogue with someone of a liberal bent, they are not without their conservative themes.. And do you think reading the WSJ does, in fact, balance what you read in the Times? Thanks again for posting a comment. Richard