Sunday, June 17, 2007


Michael Moore's Sicko is now available for torrent download and Google Video. What follows are some thoughts. Spoilers ahead.

Probably the most interesting part of Sicko was imagining the right-wing response to it. When it opens on June 29th the ambient cliche will probably be that the film is Fahrenheit 9/11 about Healthcare. In fact though, Sicko is more closely analagous to Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight than it is to Fahrenheit 9/11.

While F9/11 focused primarily on the venality and corruption of the individuals in the Bush Administration, Sicko's view of the healthcare problem is less concerned with individual actors and focuses primarily on the system as a whole. This is one of the elements of the film that I suspect will really tie the wingers in knots. Most of the vitriol directed at Moore for what he said in F9/11 stemmed from his attacks on the person of Bush and his deconstruction of the Dear Leader image. Moore offers his detractors no such target here. If he's not jamming a hot-poker into the Strong Daddy Cortex of the lizard-brain, how will they know what to froth about?

Of course Moore is aware of this. For all his faults as a filmmaker, his omissions, manipulativeness & disingenuousness, he's one clever motherfucker. Indeed he even baits his enemies with a hagiographic portrait of Hillary Clinton circa 1993. "Smart. Sassy. Sexy", he intones over flattering photos and celebratory footage of the early Clinton years. As he portrays her as a noble crusader for justice you can practically hear the steam coming out of conservative ears while they scribble furiously in their notebooks that he's just made a campaign commercial. Disgusting! Partisan! Propaganda! But not five minutes later he pulls the rug way the fuck out from under them by showing the Republican defeat of Hillarycare and her subsequent sell-out to the insurance industry. Now the wingers are in a bind: should they break out the smug smirk and gloat that Hillary has been unmasked as a sellout to corporate interests? But then they'd have to admit that our politicians are bought and paid for...wait a minute...Damn you Mooooooore!!! Cue fist-shaking.

On it goes as Moore continues to smash the shibboleths and bugaboos of the Right: the French, Canadian healthcare, Cuba, the sacralization and betrayal of 9/11 heroes. Not only that, but all the while he's making appeals to patriotic sentiment by comparing the US to other countries and explicitly calling for our nationalistic feelings of solidarity to trump our individualism. What's more he even takes pains to show that socialist policies will actually lead to the fulfillment of the American Dream. Showing comfortable middle-class everyfolk in countries with socialized medicine he makes it clear that every desire of our inner consumer will be satisfied once we bring the corporations to heel. Watching consumerist propaganda turned against its creators is truly a beautiful thing to behold.

This is far and away the most overtly socialist film to hit wide release in my lifetime. If I had to guess I'd say that this is what will be most aggravating to the Right and even to Liberals. He's not just stealing their language and using it to talk about liberal ideas, he's treading firmly into leftist territory. Not only that, but he's doing it very skillfully using humor and compassion to put his detractors in the awkward position of having to reveal themselves to be the callous grim predators that they are. Who doesn't want Mom to have a new kidney? Clearly, only very bad people. After 16 years of "support the troops" it's a singular delight to watch these rhetorical guns turned back on their masters.

Even more subversively he suggests that we can actually do something about it. It's not a central point of the film, but there are enough shots of ordinary folks fighting back to take it out of the realm of the usual lefty diatribe that leaves the viewer more exhausted and depressed than hopeful and emboldened.

I've been taking a look at some radical sites that are critical of some of the choices Moore makes in the film, in particular his cringe-inducing portrayal of Guantanamo as a playground. Overall though its really heartening to see something that's relatively radical get such wide play. Although Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn't enough to sway the election after watching Sicko I actually (foolishly?) felt some hope that the national discussion and policy might change on this issue. The jury's out for now, but Moore definitely deserves props for pushing the boundaries not only of what can be portrayed in a mainstream film, but how much a film can actually affect politics.


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