Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Roger and Me

Tonight I watched Michael Moore's Roger and Me. I didn't realize Moore and I had so much in common - born in the Midwest, children of GM employees and UAW members. He even lived in SF for a while too. Of course, I like to think I'm not a ham-handed douche bag... Roger and Me (1989) is amusing for its interviews with with one celebrity or politician after another who refuse to feel pity or provide real solutions for the thousands of people who lost their jobs as a result of the massive layoffs in the 80s. I think, as usual, Moore missed the point, which, as I see it, is the question of how much responsibility corporations should have for their employees, and what obligations corporations should have toward local communities. Sure, the interviews of wealthy people on golf courses heartlessly saying the unemployeed people of Flint should just "get jobs" or "do something" are ridiculous, but why is it their responsibility to come up with answers?

I grew up hearing about GM's expansion to Mexico and the challenges faced by unions. My dad has a refrain that to corporations "you're just a number", which, generally, is pretty true. He's nevertheless fiercely loyal to American car companies, and even told me, after we bought a Toyota, that he questioned whether he had "brought me up right." I was laid off myself, in the tech bust of the late 90s. I guess the difference between San Francisco and Flint, MI is that one corporation didn't dominate the work force in SF like GM did Flint. I think most towns are too easily falling for the promises of corporations - Walmart comes to mind immediately - they're notorious for destroying communities while demanding taxes cuts and environmental concessions. Well, don't get me started on Walmart... But seriously, I think what's needed is a change in perception - large companies and corporations act like they're doing communities a favor when they move in, but they should really have to continually have to prove their worth.

6 comments:

Kathy said...

This is interesting. I've always understood that mid-westerners had a very different perception of the responsibilities of corporations to their employees, especially in the automotive sector. I feel like a front-row spectator with my grandparents and many, many family members associated with the auto industry, etc but no real personal investment in it...

I think its wicked the way Michigan cities (and others) have been allowed to die as imported cars have become increasingly attractive, affordable and reliable options for American buyers. I don't blame the corporations, though. I think the leadership of those communities carry a heavy burden of guilt (or should) for allowing their communities to become so reliant on a single employer, or even industry.

I would encourage you to read Rivethead by Ben Hamper if you haven't already. Non-fiction, first hand account of an auto assembly line worker, darkly hilarious. It really tells a story about what the industry required of American workers --- its an amazing and affecting book. I just saw that there's a newer edition than the one I read years ago---this one with a foreword by Michael Moore. I think I might look for the original....

Special K said...

Yes, you're absolutely, right, town councils need to be much more strict about what corporations are allowed to do. My hometown has been absolutely devastated by a Walmart that pushed out all small businesses. To make matters worse, they closed down the "old" Walmart and then opened one of those ridiculous Super-sized ones, and, of course, no business could possibly fill the old empty one, so it just sits there, basically a gigantic pile of trash.

Carrie said...

The older M-ville wal-mart was a pile of trash before they opened the super one. It was so dirty inside and out with little investment from the "associates" who worked there. Why should they be invested in a company that paid them wages that kept them in the working poor?

As for the car companies, I blame them for not making a more competive product. Honda and Toyota (to name just two) kick their butts because they let them. I mean where is GM or Ford's Hybrid. That's the next car I'll buy, but they don't have one for me.

Kathy said...

Yeah, right---American car manufacturers producing vehicles that don't keep us shackled to fossil fuels? I'll bet the lobbyists have a big laugh over that one!

Indiana Fan said...

I'm not sure the point was missed, or maybe I'm misunderstanding what point you thought was missed.
What did you think Moore was trying to say, and what did you think the actual point should be?

Special K said...

Well, just like in Bowling for Columbine where he chases Hestner around for an apology, he's doing the same thing for Roger Whatshisname. To me it's more interesting to really examine where responsibility and obligation lies. Moore always goes for the cheap and easy gag - it's frustrating, because I think the issues he addresses deserve attention, I just wish he approached them more intellectually.