Revolutionary documentarian Michael Moore took his latest film on the road to the UK this week. Oscar shortlisted, "Where to Invade Next" premiered in the UK on June 10, 2016. The film is a satire that features Moore receiving orders from the Pentagon to take over for them. They concede that ever since World War II they have basically failed and they ask the Moore to handle all future invasions. We next see an ironic shot of Moore draped in the US flag and heading across the Atlantic shouting "USA. Yeah!"
Hilariously funny and sharply poignant the film pokes ironic fun at the idea that pretty much every other developed nation -and some decidedly less developed nations-- he visits have better quality of life than we do here in the United States. He takes in French school lunches--which include a cheese course, learns about the extraordinary paid leave for Italian workers, interviews women leaders in Iceland, and learns about abortion rights in Tunisia.
Given that the film is centered on the idea of Moore traveling to Europe and North Africa to invade other nations for their good ideas and bring them back to America, we could expect the Brits to have fun having a good laugh at the follies of their former colony.
But there's a catch.
Even though the film travels to eight different European nations, it skips the UK. And it does so deliberately. In interviews this week Moore referred to the UK as a "toxic place." At a London press conference he explained that "It was a conscious and purposeful decision to not come to the UK," said Moore. "I mean this with respect, we didn't feel like there was anything left to learn here. And that you had given up on yourselves."
Pointing to the push towards privatized healthcare, the increase in university costs, and the ongoing legacy of Tony Blair's decision to support the Iraq War, Moore claimed that the British had almost as much to learn from his new film as the Americans. Regarding the Brexit vote, he remained perplexed that a nation that had rescued Europe would abandon it.
"Why would you do this? You saved Europe. Europe today is, in large fact, because of you. You sacrificed and suffered in the 30s and 40s to save Europe. Why would you want to leave? It costs too much money? Immigrants? Really?! That's not who you are, come on."
While the film is clearly a patriotic effort to ask Moore's fellow citizens to reject a politics of fear and embrace one of possibility, it is clear that at its core the film is about more than the future of the United States. Rather, it is about the deep ways that a neoliberal economy is changing the world. Profits and markets take precedence over people. Those nations founded on a commitment to democracy, the common good, rights and reason are watching the logic of capital infect every aspect of daily life.
This is Moore's most important work yet and it promises to have impact well beyond the borders of United States. The racism, anti-immigrant bigotry, and punitive social practices Moore documents taking over in the United States are well on display in the UK as well.
Moore points out these grave concerns with a style that wins over viewers by using humor and lighthearted scenes up against ones that are deeply disturbing. The key to the film's success is that it offers viewers Moore's signature satire--a blend of sharp critical insight, irony, hard facts, and goofiness. It's a form of humor that the Brits love, which is why his TV series, "The Awful Truth" was produced by the British channel 4 from 1999-2000.
And that is why it is worth watching how Moore's new film plays in the UK context. Will his British viewers see the film as just another way to mock our failings or will they see themselves? At a time when our own American exceptionalism is at an all-time high, will our British exceptionalist cousins see the common connection? Moore's recent interviews will certainly make it hard for them to ignore "the awful truth."