By Anna Novgorodova
What should the United States take from Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs, Slovenia’s free university education and Italy’s plentiful paid leave? Michael Moore’s documentary answer, “Where to Invade Next”, is an impassioned and comedic argument for curiosity, humility and solidarity.
American flags are fluttering all over Europe, and not just on the embassies and consulates: they are now on schools, factories, prisons and even government buildings. Michael Moore plants the US flag in all these places, but to what end?
Parodying the US obsession with world domination, he proposes a new mode of invasion: the invasion of ideas. Travelling across the Europe and post-revolution Tunisia, Moore looks for the best to export to the US.
However, he does not evaluates these ideas’ suitability for the US — a country with different institutional dynamics, and a different conception of society and democracy. Describing the situation in black and white, and favorising comedy over analysis, Moore remains faithful to his tradition of parody.
“Where to invade next” is the logical continuation of a classic filmmaker’s criticism of US policies. This time, Moore moves beyond his criticism of US failings in areas such as healthcare (Sicko, 2007), or capitalism (Capitalism: A Love Story, 2009) and tries to find examples of how the system should work to improve the quality of US citizens’ lives. Moore ignores the classic preoccupation like US economic performance, the rise of China and the threat of ISIS; his fundamental concern is the well-being of every regular US citizen.
He does not go to China or Singapore in order to study a miracle of economic growth. He goes back to the US’s roots in old Europe, from which Moore thinks the US can learn a lot. He identifies the keys to a idealized social democratic transformation in the US. Country by country, he discovers a new idea for the US to take — the main objective of his “invasion”.
Moore finds out that some of these ideas are not so new; his Nordic interlocutors explain that they took their ideas from the US sources. It is difficult to say whether these statements are credible, but this refrain gives a rhythm to Moore’s narrative and shows his vision of making America great again. He emphasizes the neglected benefits of the European welfare state, with its five weeks of paid holiday, and debt-free universities.
He stresses the spiritual basis behind these policies: the respect for human dignity which prohibits the death penalty, dictates equal treatment so everyone can go on holiday, or get a higher education. This leads to solidarity, so each individual contributes to the well-being of all.
It is clear that Moore only shows the bright side. He does not: show the realities of Casal di Principe in Italy, where the unemployment and lack of skills push many youngsters to work for Camorra, or the nearly 20% unemployment rate in Spain; mention that the minimum wage in some countries, such as Slovenia, does not exceed 300 euros; or talk about recent success of far-right parties in France, Austria or England. He presents an idealized Europe as a promised land. Conversely, he undoubtedly exaggerates the condition of US employees and blackens the US political system and media landscape.
But he shows that each country deserves interest; there is always something we can learn from other cultures and political systems. To the left, Moore’s egalitarian focus on social issues will feel like a welcome corrective to growing xenophobia and fear-mongering western narratives on terrorism and immigration. Regardless of the film’s manichaeism, it succeeds in raising neglected and pertinent questions.
Ultimately, Moore tries to make us realize the importance of humility for all. Because at the end of the day, is there any unanimity on what is the meaning of “being a great country”?