Thursday, July 9, 2009

Downsize This! by Michael Moore

“Each man, finally, outside his professional activity, carries on some form of intellectual activity, that is, he is a ‘philosopher’, an artist, a man of taste, he participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought.” Antonio Gramsci wrote these words in “Intellectual and Hegemony”, which discussed the ideas of a power elite, the social oppression utilized by the elite class, and what a common man’s intellectual could do. Michael Moore fits the bill of a Marxian intellectual in that he “participates in a particular conception of the world”, has a “conscious line of moral conduct”, and tries to contribute “new modes of thought”. This is evidenced in his book Downsize This! where he discusses the power elite of the corporate America and their socioeconomic dominance of the labor class, leading to the destruction of American jobs.

One particular example of how affected he is by what he perceives as social (and economic) injustice is: “My parents called yesterday to tell me that GM has announced two more plant closings in Flint (are there any left to close?). Another 3,000 lives will be torn apart.” He then goes on to discuss how many of these workers came from Oklahoma City after the Federal building was bombed, and then GM closed the factories in Flint, forcing more workers to another plant in Lansing. This describes what Gramsci wrote in his article: “The ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.” I believe that Moore participates in a sort of Marxist conception of thought, where the underprivileged class that he is part is stuck in a cycle of poverty and misery due to the higher classes exploitation.

What I think Moore’s main message is that the labor class silently gives consent to these large economic and political forces to make policies that continually reaffirm the public conception of their lives. Michael Moore argues the policies and ideologies that have become the norm asking, “Why must we do it this way?”, and occasionally proposes solutions based on his beliefs of moral conduct that big business should follow. An example of a proposal that Moore came up with is “Prohibit corporations from closing a profitable factory or business and moving it overseas. If they close a business and move it within the U.S., they must pay reparations to the community they are leaving behind.” Some of his solutions are economically impossible, such as taxing profits earned at 100% when corporations and business leaders gain from social losses. I say this because those are the incentives to continue to build up businesses. Still, I believe Moore’s social conscience is the voice of generations of exploited American workers.

In our modern era, Michael Moore targets large, multi-billion dollar corporations in his perception of these dominant fundamental groups. Furthermore, Moore believes that “our union leaders let the right wing and corporate honchos take our country away from us, without a peep from anyone in labor”, which matches up with Gramsci’s belief that “the apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively.” I interpret this statement as saying that Gramsci believed that the workers’ struggle is forcefully broken the major powers in the world of production. This is the notion I glean from the book; Michael Moore believes that modern homo fabers (in Gramsci’s words) have become dominated by such a large alliance of entities (such as labor unions and corporations), which could be likened to the “superstructures” described by Gramsci. The answer to this, Moore suggests, is that the labor class have the ability to change their plight by banding together and forcing the “juridicial” government to pass laws to further protect them since it is the natural right of a citizen.

In Downsize This!, Michael Moore tells a story of a rapidly shrinking American workforce, the negative effects of job-shrinking, and how the American Dream became the American Nightmare. One of the more interesting statements in Moore’s book is “You work hard, your company prospers, and you lose your job”. Moore deals with the fact that big corporations like GM are constantly cutting costs to increase the revenue, but at the expense of the workers. Much like how Gramsci described an intellectual and the world of production, Moore “participates” in a conception of the world where workers are treated unjustly and not represented in mass media. His strong moral compass and social perception drives Michael Moore’s anecdotal method of revealing injustices; his desire to change the way we think about the world around us is - not surprisingly - Marxist.

1 comment:

  1. Very nicely done, and a very interesting subject. One place that could be further bolstered: how does spontaneous consent manifest itself in the populations Moore describes? I don't know this work, but I know other films of his, and the dynamic as I usually see it is little guy versus big evil corporation, where the 'little guy' is purely a victim. Interesting to think about how that model might be complicated by thinking about how the 'little guy' participates in the general system that keeps him or her in their unfortunate place.