From Webster's Dictionary:
Documentary -- based on or re-creating an actual event, era, life story that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements.
Propaganda -- Ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause.
Michael Moore is known as a documentary filmmaker, and there's no doubt his films strike a populist chord, the result being enormous grosses for a limited audience art form. However, he has a tendency to go beyond the "point of view" aspect of documentary filmmaking which most such filmmakers undertake and in his latest work, Where to Invade Next, he has, for me, gone too far.
Mr. Moore is more of a propagandist, and while most of what he portrays is technically true his editing and narrative are in large part misleading. It's the old chestnut of whether an omission is actually a lie, and I believe it is a lie if what's omitted creates false impressions.
As the film hasn't been released, I won't give away many "spoilers," though Where to Invade Next is hardly a Who-Dun-It. Even the title is somewhat deceptive, as we quickly realize that, instead of suggested mock invasion areas, Moore travels to countries whose ideas and practices he believes are better than ours and then "conquers" them to bring these solutions home. That said, the title is my least concern.
The problem is, while I support what Moore finds better achieved in the countries visited, he has cherry picked aspects of their social and political lifestyle and has left stuff out, distorting the big picture. For the purpose of this article, I'll deal with his trips to France, Germany, Norway, Italy, Iceland and Tunisia. What does he find particularly exciting about France? Why, the food, of course.
He tantalizes us with scrumptious menus, showing what's on the plate and then reveals it's lunch served at an elementary school cafeteria. There's little doubt the kids' meals are superior to those served in America, but Moore couches it in a manner that makes France a purveyor of health, as opposed to the lesser fare in our schools. Clearly Moore goes overboard when to prove his point he pulls forth a coke and offers it to a horrified boy, who refuses to touch it. A braver female classmate downs the beverage with a shrug, but why does Moore imply Coca Cola is shunned in France?
It's sold in most supermarkets, and while the French cafeteria cook exclaims he's never had a hamburger, there are McDonald's throughout the country and one prominently on the Champs-Elysee. Other such establishments exist, including Subway, Chipotle and Burger King. According to NPR, fast food comprises 54% of all French restaurant sales.
Even so, these omissions pale next to some others.
He rightly indicates health systems in Germany and France are better than ours. But his "graph" suggesting Europeans are taxed totally only slightly more than Americans while still getting health coverage, social security and college tuition is not true. Nor is the health coverage (while better) the panacea Moore makes it out to be.
In fact, French citizens pay 20% of most of their income to pay for health care, retirement and unemployment insurance beyond their average taxation of 30%-41% (for income $30,000 to $165,000) and still pay 30% of most medical costs. If desired, they pay $50-60 a month more for a mutuelle policy that covers co-payments. Plus a VAT sales tax up to 20%.
The Germans pay 20%-25% more income tax than we do on incomes from $90,000 to $150,000 and must choose between a government health plan or a private one and then pay additionally for higher standards of care and reimbursements. If they choose a government plan, their social security and health fee is 20%, plus they pay 8% if they belong to a church and an extra 5.5% more to support the eastern states. Their VAT is 19%,
In America, single folks pay 15% for $37,450 and above that up to 25% through earnings of $90,000. Additionally, we pay 7.65% for social security and Medicare and an average of 8% for state taxes, with sales taxes up to 9-10%. Health coverage not covered by a job can be expensive, but remember how much more costly is the European tax system.
While university tuition is much lower than here, only public colleges in Germany are free. The private ones are high-priced. Moore leaves that part out, and that the higher tax structure contributes to lower or free tuition, endowed even by citizens who have no children attending the schools.
Moore says plans to charge tuition in Europe caused great demonstrations there, then the film cuts to a few kids in America socializing happily on a campus meadow. Has Moore never seen the great protests "Our Position No Tuition" or the recent "Million Student March" across our country earlier this year?
In the course of his German visit he suddenly shifts to Nazism, comparing it to American slavery, and indicates the former horror is taught and discussed in German schools whereas it would appear American kids know little or nothing of our country's great stain. Really? American children are not taught Lincoln freed the slaves or about Jim Crow laws or the Civil Rights movement of the 60's or seen mass media events such as Roots or more recently 12 Years A Slave? And he says nothing of many Germans' treatment of Turkish immigrants.
In Italy he talks to a couple who say their country guarantees seven weeks of vacation (though reports I've read indicate it's four to five weeks) and remarks in America there's no such assurance. Later, he admits if you have a union you might get two weeks, sometimes three, but a four-week vacation is unheard of. Apparently he's not aware most companies give employees vacations, (77%), and at many companies, some get three and four weeks, not to mention four weeks to our military. It's still better in Italy, but why does Moore depict ours as so bad?
He also lists many countries celebrating May Day, extolling workers, pointedly mentioning the USA does not. Evidently Moore has never heard of Labor Day.
He shows us prisons in Norway, and it's true prisoners appear to be better treated than in our country, but he never mentions "Club Fed" minimum security prisons here, also without gates, such as Butner Federal Correctional Facility in North Carolina or Mahoney State in Pennsylvania and others listed among the 50 most comfortable prisons in the world. Naturally, he juxtaposes the Norwegian prison experience with guards beating minority prisoners here, as if this is daily happenstance.
Next, we are in Tunisia, where Moore celebrates the Arab Spring, causing an uprising that brought equality to women in the legislature. However, discussing the change with one of the former leaders who left the government, Moore asked if women had to wear head coverings. The man said "I ask my wife to do that," but then indicated the government could not do so.
Freeze Frame. What? Did Michael Moore, in suggesting how much better women have it in Tunisia, fail to take in that this man had full control of his wife and thought little of taking him to task?
Finally, he interviewed Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland, the first democratically elected woman president in the world, then presumed if only women were our leaders there'd be a different set of thinking and little or no war. Never mentioned was Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir, or that Indira Gandhi in 1975 suspended democracy in India for 19 months. He implied female business leaders are better, having apparently not heard of Carly Fiorina's disaster at Hewlett-Packard.
Look, things could be better in the USA, but my main concern is there is so much misinformation in this film it is preaching to the choir, and those who might be swayed to reform our health and educational systems, e.g. independent voters, might have their new feelings dissipated by right-wingers like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who could easily point out the half and quarter truths of Moore's film.
That is the danger this film presents, and why Where To Invade Next is not a documentary but a form of propaganda that may ultimately prove harmful.
Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com