Saturday, June 16, 2007
Sicko posted by Richard Seymour
Michael Moore is a smarter guy than many people realise. I thought that when I saw his last, and I think so again. He is excellent at manipulating the American language of sentimentality, and at ironising at the correct moments as well. He is not a world-class debater, and nor do I credit him with any special academic rigour: but he is exceptionally good at packing well-conceived arguments in a cinematic format, and at hinting at thousands more. In Sicko, he tells Americans that socialism isn't such a bad idea, and that their problem is they have been too politically timid and cowed by anticommunist propaganda to think otherwise.
Much of the film is concerned with showing how ruthless and callous the American healthcare system is, and comparing it with those pertaining to other societies (British viewers may get a patriotic boost, til they see what French people get). As such, the usual stunts come into play: he asks some recent parents in an NHS hospital, "how much did ya have to pay for that baby?"; and he demands that 9/11 volunteers get the same healthcare that the 'evildoers' supposedly get in Guantanamo, before taking them to Cuba to get fixed up (a fairly powerful moment itself). Most of the comedy and the pathos comes from the affected 'culture-shock' in which Moore, playing the legendary oversensitive American nativist, is appalled and intrigued by every detail of how foreigners live. Witnesses explain that you don't pay anything to get your spine fixed here, and Moore grimaces and pretends to be baffled by this communistic experiment. In fact, the state might be obliged to pay you (what the hell is this anyway?). There is also a great deal of discussion about wider political themes, including some entertaining interviews with Tony Benn. However, most of it is concerned with how the US healthcare system actually works, and how it could be simpler and better, and why it wouldn't threaten the earnings of professional middle class doctors, and how the taxes are actually much easier to handle than the bills from medical companies.
However, if there is one thing that stands out in this film, it is how ruthless and brutal the American ruling class really is. It is unmistakeable: they are the master race, and they're out for every last cent. I was going to say what a shock it was that so many ordinary Americans would say on film that they expected the companies to live up to their advertising slogans, but then I compared it to the fact that I myself - for all that I should know better - am still shocked by the extremity and barbarism of the people who run the United States. The conclusion is that one must be as ruthless as they are to get even the slightest penny back from them. Most of those in the film who did get ruthless did so in a highly individualistic fashion, through their lawyers, and left the system intact. What is obviously needed is for the kind of single-minded determination and class solidarity that American CEOs display to be shown on the streets and in workplaces. You could describe it as revolutionary realpolitik: the practises of power, learned and practised by the poor, and the marginalised, and those who like to imagine they're 'middle class'. When Moore showed French protesters filling the streets, he might have added that many of them were on strike: it is (still) in their centrality to the production of profit that American workers are best placed to hit the system most effectively, regardless of what Uncle Sam or his many pollsters or television dramas have to say about it.