Michael Moore grew up in Flint, Mich., in the 1950s. The men in the Moore household, pre-Michael’s generation, worked for General Motors. The GM of Michael’s youth was marked by the wholesome sponsorship voices of Pat Boone and Dinah Shore and promises that GM jobs would be eternal. Then came the late 1980s. GM downsized Flint to near oblivion. In his 1989 documentary Roger & Me, Moore told the story of his shelled-out home town, of how those corporate promises had been brutally broken, of the dispossessed and the repossessed. Given what has happened since through the broad expanse of corporate America, Roger & Me should have provided a springboard for Moore to attack the other companies that have downsized. As he asks in Downsize This!, why can’t $7 billion—that was GM’s profit last year—be enough?
Instead Moore has produced a book that is irritatingly true to its subtitle: Random Threats from an Unarmed American. He takes readers inside the madness of campaign contributions, sending real cheques from made-up organizations (Pat Buchanan’s treasury cashed the one from the John Wayne Gacey Fan Club). Such pranks are marginally amusing, but $28.95 is a hefty price to pay for funny bits. The book’s best parts turn on corporate greed, corporate welfare and corporate crooks. This is where Moore appears most comfortable—perhaps too comfortable What made Roger & Me so compelling was the droll, wide-eyed approach he took to stalking his subject, thenGM CEO Roger Smith. When Moore stepped into the elevator at GM headquarters and pressed the button for the 14th floor, he really seemed to believe that anybody could request an audience with Mr. Smith. Moore’s failures made the movie a hit.
In Downsize This! Moore has lost that. He comes off as cocky, even arrogant, and is not smart enough to carry it off. Perhaps he has lost touch with Middle America, though he insists he has not. Perhaps he could make amends by writing the book he should have written in the first place, the one he would have to bleed for, just like those downsized victims have done.
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