'Pets or Meat' Hits an Economic Nerve
September 27, 1992

Jim Zebora

When last we left filmmaker Michael Moore, his hometown of Flint, Mich., was falling apart after the closing of a major General Motors assembly plant.

What was good for the largest private company in the world was a disaster for the city where millions of Buicks and probably billions of spark plugs were made.

GM has done a lot since the scathing 1989 documentary "Roger & Me" became a hit, like announcing 74,000 layoffs over the next five years and the closing of dozens of manufacturing plants.

Even Bristol's Delco Chassis, the ball-bearing manufacturer that formerly employed thousands of Meridenites as New Departure, is being sold -- or more likely shuttered.

Moore revisits his home with "Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint," a Public Broadcasting System special airing Monday at 9 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television, and finds the gloom has gotten gloomier.

Flint, says Moore, is "the birthplace of the depression that we and you and the rest of the country are now experiencing."

It's not funny how much Flint looks like Meriden, especially as it promotes itself as a tourist destination -- "We've added festivals," says the tourism director.

One of Flint's best features, the tourism people note, is that it's only 30 miles from Frankenmuth, a "Bavarian village" and theme park in the middle of Michigan.

But one of Flint's worst features is its economy. Another 10,000 residents have been laid off since "Roger & Me" was made.

Official unemployment is at 17.3 percent, but a Labor Department spokesman estimates that it's actually 3 to 5 percent higher.

Business is up at Flint's soup kitchen and gun shop. Street people complain that "you can't steal nothing because there's nothing to steal." Rhonda Britton, "Bunny Lady," has filed for bankruptcy and now sells rats and mice to snake owners who want to feed their pets.

Moore was inspired to film this sequel to "Roger & Me" by General Motors' misfortunes. It seems that executive pensions were cut by GM Chairman Robert Stempel, and former Chairman Roger Smith is out $100,000 per year.

The filmmaker calls to offer his erstwhile "co-star" 100,000 big ones, figuring he can share the largesse earned from the original "Roger & Me." Alas, Roger never does call back, and the check never gets in the mail.

"Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint" is less a scathing attack on corporate actions than it is a reflection of our new economic time, and the despair that so many feel at losing the jobs they thought were theirs for life.

The program unfortunately doesn't have an answer, but hey, who does? It will make viewers ponder who or what is going to lead the American economy out of its depths, and thinking about it has to be better than doing nothing.

"Pets or Meat" will be shown on a special two-hour edition of "P.O.V." which begins with the original "Roger & Me." The package is perfect, but for American workers, it's just a little frightening too.

Copyright 1992 Record Journal

 

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