Where to Invade Next Tells It Like It Is (even if you don't want to hear it)

Directed by Michael Moore
Dog Eat Dog Films
110 minutes, R (language and naked people jumping into water—Really?)
* * * * *

Two stories we love to tell: (1) The United States is the greatest nation on earth. (2) The world envies us. The first isn’t remotely true and you have to crawl pretty far down the pole for the second to be the case. The USA is number one in the world in military hardware, graduate school education, and medical technology­, and the last two only if you can afford access. As for being the envy of the world, sure, if you’re from impoverished sub-Saharan Africa, a dictatorship, or from a war-torn failed state like Libya, Somalia, or Syria, though some of them are so desperate even the shattered economy of Greece looks pretty good. Still, Americans like to delude themselves into thinking life doesn’t get any better. Maybe that’s a necessary coping mechanism; as Michael Moore shows in his latest documentary—his best to date–it’s pretty damn depressing to consider how far we've strayed from American ideals.

Moore opens with a funny, but cheesy set-up: the military has come to him for answers as to why it hasn’t won a single conflict since World War Two, and okays his plan to “invade” Europe and steal its best ideas. (The US military really hasn’t won a war since 1945, unless you want to count Grenada, a nation with an army the size of the Massachusetts State Police but with less firepower.) Moore sets off for Europe, draped in an American flag, which he intends to plant and claim like a modern-day conquistador whenever he encounters an idea worthy of emulating. His sojourn takes him across Europe and into northern Africa. For the most part, though, Moore isn’t on camera as much as he usually is—he lets the details speak for themselves.

Moore has been denounced as a propagandist. Interesting word: propaganda. These days it tends to mean anything that makes us uncomfortable, even if it’s true. We never call the things with which we agree propaganda; we use nicer terms: advertising, marketing, infomercial, public relations….. So spin these and tell me what’s wrong with them: free health care supported by taxes that are less than what Americans spend on insurance and co-pays (Germany); 80 paid vacation days per year (Germany, Italy); two-hour lunches (Italy); factory owners who think wealth should be capped and welcome employee input (Italy); a government that is half women (Tunisia); or a land without student debt (Slovenia).

Moore’s travelogue reveals things that make American minds boggle. Finland has the world’s best schools, yet has abolished homework and standardized tests; Portugal decriminalized all drugs, saw addiction rates plummet, and now has money to spend on treatment, which is cheaper than prosecution and incarceration. The maximum prison sentence in Norway is 23 years and that only for true sociopaths; most of its jails are like summer camps—even for murderers—and even prisoners to maximum security facilities are greeted by a video of guards singing “We are the World.” French children eat school lunches worthy of top-rated restaurants and are aghast when shown pictures of American hot lunches. (And they eat yummy meals that cost less than US Mystery Meat specials!)

Best idea? Maybe Iceland. The US press was all over its 2008 financial crisis—one endlessly propagandized, sorry—“reported”—by outlets such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal as “proof” that “socialism doesn’t work.” Did they report that a bank owned and operated by women did not engage in disastrous speculation and spearheaded the effort that led to full recovery in less than three years? And did you read about how Iceland jailed the bankers responsible for the 2008 crisis?

Moore’s guerilla documentary style makes a lot of people nervous, but it doesn’t make him wrong! Put down the laissez-faire Kool-aid and dare to ask the hard questions Moore poses: If other countries can do this, why can’t we? Is American business and government too male? Is testosterone poisoning holding back America? Or is just greed? This film made me wonder whatever happened to the attitude that Americans could do anything. When did a “Yes we can!” nation degenerate into an “It’s too hard/It costs too much/It’s not my problem/I blame it on the [fill in blanks]” bunch of whiny losers?  Think I’m overly harsh? Moore asked three Icelandic female business leaders a seemingly simple question: "What would you like to say to Americans?" He was met with stony silence, until one woman finally said, “Tell them I don’t want them to be my neighbors. They are not good neighbors.” Are you fine with the fact that none of the three could think of a single thing they found admirable about US society, its culture, or its people? I'm not and neither is Moore—who is a much better patriot than most of the idiots who wrap themselves in the flag.

Oh, yeah, ignore Michael Moore. Call him a propagandist. Keep on paying for an inept military that wastes billions daily. We wouldn’t want to build a safety net that would ruin our “self-reliance,” would we? Who needs the rest of the world? I call such thinking narcissism, self-deception, and fantasy. I call it the superhighway to self-destruction. This film should be required viewing.

Rob Weir

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