A World of Possibility

Michael Moore trots the globe looking for ways to improve America

Michael Moore: A different kind of American hero.
Michael Moore: A different kind of American hero.

Alas, the Americans who really need to see this movie will go out of their way to avoid it. I'm talking about the people who get all of their "news" from FOX, and "know" that Norway and Italy are communist hellholes. These people also "know" that rabble-rousing documentarian Michael Moore hates America.

Perhaps it is a smack in the face to those people that Moore literally wraps himself in the American flag in Where to Invade Next. He "invades" other nations — stalking into Norway and Italy, and also France and Germany and Finland and Iceland, even Tunisia — in search of great ideas America can steal, with the Stars and Stripes draped around his shoulders, and then he plants a flag when he finds great ideas to claim.

It's hilariously bellicose, self-deprecating in a personal way and ironic on a cultural level: the film opens by juxtaposing grand speeches by recent American presidents about American freedom and power and beneficence with the collapse of American infrastructure and social unrest. There is love in Moore's stance here — it's not just satirical — but also anger and disappointment. He doesn't hate America. But like many of his fellow Americans, he doesn't understand how, if America is the greatest in the world, as it keeps insisting it is, so many other nations are doing so many things so much better?

What are other nations doing better? How about six weeks of paid vacation in Italy — and an extra month's salary to pay for relaxing holidays — and a two-hour lunch every day? How about four-course gourmet meals in French school cafeterias and sex-ed classes that focus on physical and emotional well-being, not fear and abstinence? Want to reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system (the U.S. has one of the highest rates)? Maybe our prisons should be more like Norway's (with one of the lowest rates); minimum security looks like a summer camp, and maximum security looks way nicer than the college dorm I once lived in. And maybe we could completely decriminalize drugs, like they've done in Portugal, which has so far refused to collapse into a postapocalyptic wasteland.

Moore lays out an excellent and persuasive case that citizens of these other nations are happier, healthier, have more power at work while working fewer hours, have more free time, are better educated, and just overall get a lot more enjoyment out of life than Americans do. Human dignity matters in these places in ways that seems to be missing in America.

As Moore sadly sums it up: "The American dream [seems] to be alive and well almost everywhere but America." He does not deny that other countries have their share of problems, but his "mission" here, as he says, "is to pick the flowers, not the weeds." Moore isn't saying — as the reflexive America-love-it-or-leave-it crowd would have it — that anyone unhappy with the course America is on should move elsewhere. He's saying this: If America really is the greatest country in the world, it should be able to plant those flowers and make them grow even better than France and Italy does. Shouldn't it? ♦

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    Maryann Johanson

    Maryann Johanson