ROGER AND ME is a feature-length documentary film chronicling the efforts of the
world's largest corporation, General Motors, as it turns its hometown of Flint, Michigan, into a
ghost town. In his quest to discover why GM would want to do such a thing, filmmaker Michael Moore,
a Flint native, attempts to meet the chairman, Roger Smith, and invite him out
for a few beers up in Flint to "talk things over". In between his efforts to see Smith, Moore, the
son of a Flint autoworker, takes us on a bizarre journey through Flint accompanied along the way
by Ronald Reagan, Miss America, Pat Boone, Bob "Newlywed Game" Eubanks, and TV evangelist
Robert Schuller--all of whom show up to save Flint from destruction.|
But, like a modern-day version of the "Grapes of Wrath," the situation seems hopeless--and the scenes from Flint are startling:
--20,000 people standing in line at one location to collect federal surplus cheese and butter;
--Large sections of the city filled with abandoned homes and boarded up stores, looking more like a war zone than an American town;
--28,000 people who have lost their homes and their life savings and have packed up and headed south in search of work;
--The social cost of 25% unemployment: record rates of suicide, spousal abuse, alcoholism, and, surpassing Miami and Detroit as the city with the highest rate of violent crime.
These are a few of the results of General Motors laying off 40,000 people in Flint in the past nine years. It is expected that GM will eliminate another 10,000 Flint jobs in the next few years. 50% of Flint's GM workforce will have been abolished by 1989, an event of unprecedented proportion in American history.
Yet, since 1983, car sales have steadily risen and GM has posted record profits of nearly $19 billion. So why lay off all of these people? Moore points out that he and his friends were raised on the American Dream which promised that if you worked hard and the company prospered, you would too. Now, it seems, GM has changed the rules: you work hard, the company prospers--and you lose your job.
The film shows that GM has used these profits not to create jobs, but to buy data processing companies (EDS) and weapons manufacturers (Hughes Aircraft), automate their current assembly lines, and build new plants in Mexico and Asia. In addition, GM has bought a controlling interest in Isuzu, entered into a joint operating agreeement with Toyota, and has become the second largest mortgage holder in the United States. Flint, Michigan, it seems, is no longer part of the GM plan.
In the midst of this rapidly crumbling city, the town leaders have gone a little crazy. They quickly devise a series of desperate schemes that seem more like a Marx Brothers movie than serious urban planning:
--The mayor of Flint pays TV evangelist Robert Schuller $30,000 to come to Flint and hold a giant revival meeting, complete with live television coverage, to "heal" the city of its unemployment plague.
--The city, along with the Flint-based Mott Foundation, spends $100 million to build an amusement park tribute "to the glory and wonderment of the automobile" called "AutoWorld"--the world's largest indoor theme park. Over one million tourists a year are expected to visit Flint and AutoWorld. Few toursits show up and AutoWorld closes in six months.
--The city of Flint spends $13 million in tax funds to build a luxury Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Flint, expecting to draw major conventions to the city. The place goes bankrupt in the first five years.
--The Flint Chamber of Commerce, spurred on by a survey that shows that 45% of Flint's residents say they would move out of Flint immediately if they could, installs a number of large billboards around the city to "help improve the citizens' self concept" (the signs read: "Tough Times Don't Last--Tough People Do!" "Flint--It Means So Much To Be Here" and "Visit Flint--And Leave the Real World Behind!").
--The city health department holds a press conference and announces that the rat population in Flint has surpassed the human census. The department blames it on the fact that the city can only afford to pick up the garbage twice a month and offers a bounty for every dead rat brought in by a city resident.
--A group of laid-off auto workers show up at the GM annual board of directors meeting with a Brinks truck and demand that GM return the millions of dollars in tax breaks it has received for promising to create new jobs.
All the while, the filmmaker, Michael Moore, has been trying to see Roger Smith. He arrives at GM world headquarters in Detroit and is immediately escorted out of the building. He then shows up at the GM board meeting and is removed from the audience's podium. He attempts to track down Roger's estate in Bloomfield Hills, but to no avail. From the Yacht Club to the Golf Club to the Hunt Club, Moore takes us on a tour of the havens of the rich and powerful in his seemingly futile, but finally succesful, attempt to talk to Roger Smith.
ROGER AND ME is both a dark comedy and a compelling indictment of an American Dream gone awry.
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