For the last post of the year, I’ll be dissecting my second Michael Moore film. I’ve had this doco in my sights and finally consumed the feature just recently. Where to Invade is an ambitious production that has the viewer hopscotching around Europe and the Middle East. The title draws from the director’s practice of visiting countries, identifying their greatest strength, and planting the American flag. The doco, a pessimistic take on American culture, is classic Moore. Released in 2015, Where to Invade was a critical success. Moore’s modulated, and pleasing voice would captivate neophytes while the sweeping visuals would surprise even long-time fans.
Italia and Francophiles
In this presentation, Moore begins his quest in Italia. Aside from the sun and the dandy food, Italians pride themselves for having a luxurious amount of paid annual leave. As Moore would find out, they are being paid to go on vacations, and are being reimbursed for months of parental leave. They are also known for having two-hour lunch breaks, where employees would rush back home to prepare delicious suppers. Despite all of this, some Italians still yearn to go to the U.S., ‘the land of opportunity’, not knowing that they would not find the same perks.
After Italy, Moore troops to next-door France. Here, in a Podunk town, he discovers that kids’ cafeteria food is worthy of Michelin stars. When he shows the Americans’ versions to the French kids, they are shocked. These are little ones who have not tasted Coke, and who have a cheese option with every meal. The French pay a little more tax than their American brethren, but they get heaps more services. Furthermore, unlike the Yankees, they know where their money is going as this is itemised. The French also believe that the US spends way too much on the military.
Done with the French, Moore goes Scandinavian with Finland. Here, he is dumbfounded as the Finnish barely get any homework. They have revolutionised learning, spending less time in the classroom and more time learning what they really want. They also advise the Americans to get rid of that godawful standardised tests if they want any chance of catching up. Instead of mind-numbing coursework, they focus on being better readers, linguists, and dancers. When Moore went around the room, everyone knew a second language, and some could even speak four. They have also eliminated multiple choice on tests. Unlike the whimsical American Dream, the Finnish truly believe that they could be anyone they want to be.
Norway is another Scandinavian state that Moore visits. This was the site of the infamous 2011 attacks which neo-Nazi Andres Breivik perpetuated. The latter targeted a summer camp for youths, the locus of a bloodbath. When Moore confronted the father of one of the casualties, he did not wish capital punishment for the murderer. In so doing, the Norwegian dad epitomises his nation in offering a very fresh perspective than the Western status quo. They took a page out of the Finnish and applied this to their prison system. The number doesn’t lie: only twenty percent of their prisoners re-offend.
Meanwhile, in Iceland, women have shown that they can be just as potent leaders as men. Women control fifty percent of company boards, and half of the seats in parliament. As Moore noted, ‘Where women have power and treated as equals, people were simply better off’. While chicks have been carving up boardrooms, men have to settle for a comedian being mayor. When asked if they were Iceland’s finest, ‘The best party’ could not say that they were the best. Unlike in America, their bankers were held accountable, many even sent to gaol.
In Germany, the education system does not skirt their dark past. Unlike Uncle Sam, who eschews discussions of slavery and segregation, the Germans openly teach their students about past horrors. They also take enviable care of their workers, who could get three paid weeks off just to recuperate on spas. Asked what advice they could give to their American brothers, they simply said ‘do good to others and accept prior atrocities’.
I’ve skipped a few ‘invasions’ but you get the point. Towards the close, Moore stands with a colleague at the Berlin Wall. They reminisce of the time they were both there with the fall of the Wall. As Mandela and the latter proved, ‘anything can happen; just get a hammer, chisel, and it’s done’. Moore ends with a feel-good monologue. I’m not sure if he does it with every doco, but he did it too with 9/11. He points out that Mayday did not originate with Moscow or Lisbon but with Chicago in 1886. ‘The fight for the 8-hour day, American unions, the no-capital punishment was ours’. Michigan was the first US state to abolish the death penalty. ‘This wasn’t Euro ideas, these weren’t new ideas; these were OUR ideas. There’s no need to invade and steal; they were already ours. Yes, you have and so have we, we always had it.’
I take this opportunity to wish everyone a blissful New Year. In 2020, may we share more stories and insights, inspiration and fun.