The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Roger & Me

leave a comment »

Straw Men
Blame me for the Photoshopping butchery, but I think it captures the spirit of the movie.

Blame me for the Photoshopping butchery, but I think it captures the spirit of the movie.

When Roger & Me came out in 1989, more than 20 years ago and made a hero of a young, pudgy Michael Moore, I refused to see it. It was a cheap gimmick that couldn’t have held up.

Business executives, especially at Roger Smith’s level, at the top of the heap at General Motors, don’t justify themselves to anyone, much less self-appointed reporters. In fact, they’re really not obligated to, unless their interrogators are either the law or the very rare board of directors that asks questions.

Look at it rationally. It would be crazy for an executive of a big company to answer questions on demand, from anyone at any time. Just as it would be for the President in the White House to answer a complaint line for ordinary people. It’s not arrogant. It makes sense. I certainly hope they have better things to do.

I know Moore had some experience as a journalist, and he poses in the movie waving a microphone, but in reality, he was an unknown. Roger Smith was not at the beck and call of any reporter, not even those working for the big powerful news media. Like all corporate executives, he’s insulated, and relied on an expensive public relations machine to keep intruders away. If Smith happens to talk to some reporters, it’s his choice. Whatever Smith’s faults, and those of most executives, they are extremely busy people, facing pressure that most of us never dreamed of.

I was a newspaperman for many years, and most news outlets that I know have relatively open policies for the newsroom. You can telephone the New York Times and ask for the City Desk, or the Foreign Desk, and be connected to a living, breathing news person, more than likely a news clerk, and be treated relatively politely. But good luck reaching the publisher, or the executive editor. They’re too busy to field weird calls.

I can tell you from first hand experience that people who are smart and gainfully employed don’t waste their time calling newspapers, Congressmen, or corporate titans. Those people are too busy to telephone randomly. The people who do call, to be gentle, are strange. And they call over and over and over again. You can win the lottery 10,000 times before you’re going to get a useful anonymous call from the public.

Despite my misgivings, I watched Roger & Me a few days ago on DVD. Partly because I know a lot of people who think his films are great. These are all partisan people with strong loyalties. They are the choir to Moore’s preacher man. I knew that, but I felt I shouldn’t allow myself to get carried away by my skepticism.

I have to say that I was right for all these years. The drama that carries his documentary is a bogus gimmick. Bogus for all the reasons above, plus the fact that I do not believe that Michael Moore today would answer my phone call or yours, and certainly wouldn’t travel from Detroit to Flint — which is what he was asking Roger Smith to do — because you petulantly asked him to.

On a deeper level, the argument in the movie was built upon dubious juxtapositions that imply all of Flint’s woes were due to General Motors’s withdrawal in the late 1980s. You can look it up yourself in the census data, or an encyclopedia, or elsewhere, but Flint, like thousands of old mill towns in the country were in decline economically and in population since the 1960s.

Moore makes the point that Flint’s downtown business district had become a ghost town by the time he made the movie. He’s ignoring a host of very real problems of small cities throughout America, including suburban sprawl, the rise of shopping malls, white flight, as well as the deindustrialization of America.

Instead, he offers us a cheap gimmick, eerily similar to Clint Eastwood’s lame theatrics at the Republican convention last summer.


Written by theunbiasedeye

May 23, 2013 at 11:12 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: