|Michael Moore Returns to the Scene of the Crime|
October 5, 1992
In 1989, filmmaker Michael Moore launched a hilarious, if often cheap, shot at General Motors and its chairman, Roger Smith. "Roger & Me" chronicled the misery that beset Flint, Mich., after GM layoffs. Since then, the film has made more money than any other U.S. documentary; Moore has signed a lucrative contract with a big corporation, Warner Bros., and GM has announced 74,000 more layoffs nationwide. In a short update, "Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint," which premieres this week on PBS, he revisits the film's 11 "real-life characters" to catch up on their comic horror stories. Moore bids farewell -- from a distance- to Smith, who retired from GM without responding to the film. NEWSWEEK'S Jolie Solomon asked Moore about his defiant --some say simplistic-- message and the reaction to it.
NEWSWEEK: The new film suggests that, since 1989, many towns have shared Flint's fate. Was "Roger & Me" a warning of sorts?
MICHAEL MOORE: After the party that Reagan threw for the rich in the 1980s, the bill was going to come due. A place like Flint was paying its bill early, but it would come everywhere. But I didn't set out to be a prophet. I wanted change.
NW: Has the film had any effect?
MM: Well, I get a lot of mail and calls from teachers-- junior high, high school, college. It's used [to discuss] class distinctions in our society that We don't necessarily talk about. The Norwegian school system even issued a study guide for teachers on how to use " Roger & Me". . . The working person gets to give a Bronx cheer to management. I think people left "Roger & Me" with that sense of " Yeah! Finally, one for our side."
NW: How has the other side reacted?
MM: I have received calls and letters from CE0s, and the reaction goes one of two ways. One, they're aware of what I'm really saying --that I am opposed to our economic system-- and they're angry. The other group says the film was great because it was about GM, which they believe is just a terribly run corporation. They say, "Yeah, that's GM. Not me. You never could have made that film about my company."
NW: In fact, you do "demonize" GM, instead of looking at more complex issues, like global competition and technological change.
MM: The only reason this film is about GM is accident of birth. I happened to be born in Flint and my dad worked [at GM] for 33 years. [Focusing] on a single corporation or single individual was a device, to speak to a much larger issue --about the system we live under. We've got to find ways where the people who are affected by the economy have a say in how that economy functions. Employees are going to have to take more control, in terms of ownership, sitting on boards of directors.
NW: Can unions do much to protect workers?
MM: It can't just be strikes. They have to work on many fronts --political action, legislation. There should be laws [against replacement workers] and companies shouldn't be allowed to remove their assets from this country if it means the loss of jobs.
NW: Are there realistic options for change?
MM: There aren't many right now ... But we have to create those avenues. The challenge is ... how do we develop a democratic economic system? It's not called capitalism and it's not called socialism. A system that on one hand is fair to everyone -everyone gets a decent slice of the pie-- but on the other hand doesn't stifle creativity, that encourages an individual to excel and to help us all progress as a society. That's the kick, right there.
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