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Talking With Michael Moore
Page 1Page 2Page 3    by Gary Johnson -- page 1 of 3

Using a fictional organization called "Abortionists for
Buchanan," Michael Moore mailed a contribution
to the "Pat Buchanan for President" organization.
Here, he holds the cancelled check.

(©1998 Miramax. All rights reserved.)

Michael Moore is currently touring the USA in support of his new film, The Big One (scheduled for release in April 1998). As he did in Roger & Me, Michael Moore is out to expose the problems in corporate America, where companies that are producing record profits are eliminating jobs at a record pace. This time, Michael is looking beyond just Roger Smith and GM. Now, he is after Borders, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson Controls, Pay Day candy bar, and others.

The Big One was filmed while Michael was on a publicity tour for his Random House book Downsize This! He called up some of the people he had worked with on Roger & Me and "TV Nation" and asked them if they could drop everything they were doing and join him on the tour. And join him they did. With funding by the BBC, the camera shutter started clicking again, capturing Mr. Moore as he handed out his "Downsizer of the Year" awards to major corporations. In addition, the camera follows Mr. Moore as he investigates problems at companies such as Borders Bookstore, where workers in Des Moines, Iowa have to pay for health insurance even though the HMO has no doctors in Des Moines. Most notably, the movie also shows us as Michael finally gets past the security guards and talks to a real corporate CEO--Phil Knight of Nike--and reveals that Nike shoes are produced in Indonesia, where girls as young as 14 years old work in the shoe factories.

I recently had the opportunity to join a round table discussion group when Mr. Moore visited Kansas City. Here is a transcript of the discussion:

The conflict or the irony of talking against corporate America and yet having to go on a book tour for a big corporation (Random House); having Roger & Me released by Warner Bros., a big corporation; having The Big One released by Miramax, a big corporation that's owned by Disney--how has that worked out?

It's worked out with me getting away with it (laughs). And I wonder how much longer I'm gonna get away with it. It is an interesting irony and it is not an irony that is lost upon me. I believe that these companies that distribute my book, or film, or TV show do it only because they believe they can make money. All the decisions are based on their bottom line, and it's one of the wonderful flaws of capitalism that they will actually produce and put forth that which is actually against their best interests--if they believe they can make a dime off it. Because they are so blinded by the desire for money, they will put you out there even though you really are against everything that they stand for. It's interesting to me, that they believe, these big media conglomerates, that there are billions of people out there that would want to watch my movie, or my TV show, or read my book. They believe our numbers are larger than we believe they are--"we" meaning those on the left or liberal end of the political spectrum. Most liberals of the last fifteen years have felt like part of a small niche, out of the loop somewhere. When George Bush got that 90% approval rating after the Gulf War, it suddenly felt like "Oh, I'm one of the 10%. I'm so lonely." It's just odd to me that these corporations don't see it that way. They believe that there are millions of Americans who are upset and distressed over what has happened. And they should know because in part their brethren have helped create the situation. And the irony that is built upon that irony is that they produce entertainment for those very masses that they helped to disenfranchise. "Okay, now, we're going to put joke boy up on the screen for an hour and a half, and it'll be good for you. But ultimately, we know that you can't do anything about it. Or better--we know you won't do anything about it." That's really why they put out my stuff--they know it's not a threat. They know that the audience is so dumbed out at this point, so numbed out, that they will not leave the theater and go out and try to change this [country] politically. It's safe to put it up there as long as the public does nothing. Once the public starts doing something, once people actually start to take the country back and put it into our hands--take it away from the big money, take it away from the politicians who are bought by big money--once that starts to happen, you won't see me anymore. I'm actually hoping to put myself out of business because I want you to leave the theater and get involved and do something. And eventually, if everyone does their part, there won't be a need for me.

How would you define your audience?

My audience is made up of working stiffs, of people who come from the working class, and it is rare that you hear our voice in the media. We don't own newspapers, we don't have TV shows, yet we make up the majority of this country. I want the average working Joe or Jane to be able to go to the movie theater and sit down and, for an hour and a half, laugh and feel like here's one for our side. They've been sticking it to me for years and now, here for 90 minutes, we're gonna stick it back. It's like payback time. And payback is always a good feeling, especially if you can do it legally and without any bloodshed.

What type of luck have you had so far in mobilizing people? Your book, Downsize This!, ended with a chapter called "Mike's Militia." What's happened with that? Have you had any luck mobilizing people to act?

We've got about 40,000 people signed up on the Web. (Mike's Militia, for those of you who didn't read the book--don't be scared by the word militia--it's a militia for all of those feeling left out by the militia movement and who are firearm challenged. There's no weapons.) I get great mail from people everyday about the things they're trying to do. I still have a sense of optimism that things are going to get better. That's why I end the film with the kids at Borders--not only having their union victory but they run across the street to tell the baggers at the grocery store. These kids get it. They get it. I don't want to listen to another baby boomer complain about young people these days. They are smarter, hipper, more aware, and more angry at the situation that we left them--because we only went halfway with it. The women's movement has only gone halfway. All these things have only gone halfway. Whereas our parents, that came out of World War II, were able to get a job, have a home. I think most of your dads, at least in my age, probably owned their first home in their mid twenties. None of these kids here will own a house in their mid twenties. They'll be still living at home in their mid twenties. My feeling is that corporate America is doing the organizing for us. By treating those kids like you see in the film--these kids have college degrees, they're paid $6 an hour, they've got to pass a test to prove they know the great works of literature to work at Borders, and on top of that they take money out of their paychecks for a healthcare plan, an HMO, that has not a single [local] doctor listed. So for 9 months they beg, "Please give us the healthcare that we're paying for." They wouldn't give it to them. So what'd they do? They called the union. I met with the head of Borders, and I said "You're complaining about the union in there organizing and causing trouble and all that." (Believe me these union leaders have been so damn lazy for the last 20 years. They're just padding their own pockets and making life easy for themselves. These kids went and did it on their own.) "The chief organizer, Mr. Flannagan, was you. You took money out of their paycheck and didn't give them healthcare. You don't consult with them about the hours they have to work, so they never know from week to week how many hours they're getting paid." You can't build a life like that. If there's no sense of job security how do you figure you can buy a house or should I get this car, should we have another kid? All those things that people go through--they can't go through anymore because nobody has a sense of job security. Allan Greenspan, chairman of the Fed, commissioned a poll last year. He wanted to know what the level of fear was in the American work force. How afraid are people of being downsized? There were more people afraid of being downsized in 1997 than there were back in 1991 when the recession was going on. The level of fear has risen--even though the economy is supposedly better. And that's what they want. They want that fear, because fear keeps people down. If people are afraid that they're going to be downsized they won't have parades, they won't form a union, they won't give any lip when the boss says you gotta work a couple more hours and you're not getting home until 8 o'clock at night. That's how they get away with it. When someone retires they don't hire somebody to fill their spot. They just say, "You'll take over here and Sally'll take a little bit of it. If you'll just work harder." That's what's going on. That's the underreported story. 4.7 percent unemployment, lowest in 20 years. That's not the story. That doesn't tell me anything. That doesn't tell me that the guy who worked at IBM and made $40,000 two years ago is now working at Denny's or Taco Bell off I-80 for $25,000 a year. That's the story, that that dad is now making $15,000 less. The 14 and 15 year olds now have to go work at McDonald's to put money into the family kitty.

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