This evening we watched Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next. We have seen all of his movies, from Bowling for Columbine to Sicko, and each one takes a particular issue in American culture and society and places it under a microscope. In Bowling, it was gun violence and Moore won an Oscar for that one.
Fahrenheit 911 came out in 2004 when this country was embroiled in Iraq. We were being told it was all good, that Saddam had to be brought to his knees, that we would be welcomed as liberators, that all that Iraqi oil would be ours…Remember those lies? Waterboarding was suddenly legal, Gitmo was the prison where the worst terrorists were sent, and every night Cheney was on the news, snarling about how dangerous the world was and how necessary the war on terror was.
I remember sitting in a local theater, watching Moore dismantle the Bush administration, the lies, the zillions being spent, the lives that were sacrificed. And I remember how at the end, nearly everyone in the theater leaped up and applauded.
In Sicko, Moore’s microscope was focused on health care in this country – the expense, the millions that were uninsured, the corporate greed. So where does he go to drive home the point? To Cuba, where health and dental care are free, where university education is free…
In Where to Invade Next, Moore travels to various European countries with an American flag draped over his shoulder, and “invades” each country in search of ideas that he can take home.
In Finland, which has one of the highest ranked education systems in the world, Moore takes home the idea of an education system so unorthodox that I, a former teacher, couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There are no standardized tests, kids go to school for just 20 hours a week, and the teachers encourage their students to learn to be happy. Students are encouraged to think for themselves, to socialize with friends, spend time with their families, to make independent decisions, and, most of all, to have fun with learning!
In Norway, Moore visits prisons. Having worked as a librarian and teacher in a state prison in Florida, this segment of the movie astounded me. There isn’t any death penalty in Norway. The maximum sentence anyone can receive is 21 years. The concept of “punishment” isn’t about deprivation except that inmates are denied daily contact with their loved ones.
Otherwise, the prison is like a summer camp. The 115 inmates are “guarded” by just four prison officers, who aren’t armed. They have classes they can take in art and music, cooking, and academic subjects. Their rooms have private bathrooms, flat screen TVs, and comforts we associate with home. These prisoners are even allowed to vote and politicians running for office come to the prison to talk about their platforms. There’s an amazing sense of community.
Even the maximum security prison that Moore visited is nothing at all like its equivalent in the U.S. Here, even murderers are rehabilitated through education, the encouragement of their creative endeavors, and their camaraderie within the community. Moore interviewed the father of a young man who was killed in 2011 along with 54 other students and kept asking the father, “But don’t you want to kill the man who killed your son?”
And the father kept shaking his head, no, no, that isn’t what we do here, the father said. He didn’t want to climb down the ladder to the level of the man who had killed his son. The cultural attitude, the collective consciousness, is vastly different in Norway.
The most moving parts of the movie for me was Moore’s invasion of Germany, specifically of Nuremberg, and of his invasion of Iceland. In Nuremberg, Moore takes us through an education system that doesn’t try to sweep its collective dark side father back into the shadows.
Children are taught the history of Hitler and the annihilation of Jews through hands on activities. Bring one thing to school that you couldn’t be without if you were told you had to leave your home and get onto a train. They are surrounded with reminders of what Hitler did – plaques on buildings that commemorate the Jewish families who lived in particular buildings and were forced to leave them. There are signs on streets with particular dates and what happened on those dates. Moore asks, “What would such signs look like in the United States?” And offers a few examples from the Civil Rights movement.
In Iceland, we discover that it was the first country to elect a female president – back in the 70s – and that women really are equal in that society. By law, all corporations must have no more than 60 percent or men or women on their boards, that female CEOs are as common as male CEOS, and that the only bank out of four that didn’t melt down in 2008 was run primarily by women. One of the women he interviews sums it up succinctly- for men, it’s about me. For women, it’s about their families and the larger collective; it’s about others.
Iceland arrested and convicted more than 70 bankers in the country responsible for the financial meltdown. In the U.S., by contrast, only one Wall Street guy went to prison – and he was a Muslim. Everyone else got bailed out
Moore pretty much nails what is wrong with this country, disparities that have become glaringly apparent during this campaign season. But in the end, there’s a note of optimism. Moore points out that nearly every progressive idea he has taken away from the countries he “invaded” had its genesis in the U.S.
Perhaps we have only detoured from our better selves.