Michael Moore is a man for the times. The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has come along just as the institutions of globalization are suffering from a severe crisis of legitimacy. They can only hold their ‘summits’ amid the chants of protesters and the sting of pepper spray. So they need to reinvent themselves and use classic jujitsu techniques to appropriate the language of their critics.
Enter Mike Moore. In a recent speech to the Swedish socialist youth federation he announced that he had always been a ‘labour man’. It is true that Moore comes from the Labour Party in Aotearoa/New Zealand where he held the trade portfolio and spent a few brief weeks as a lame-duck Prime Minister. But it was a Labour Party that had transformed itself into its opposite. Its ‘Rogernomics’ policies, inspired by Finance Minister Roger Douglas, had more in common with those of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher than with even the most tepid socialism. A local business weekly compared it to Pinochet’s Chile ‘without the gun’. It also plunged the country into recession and achieved rates of unemployment not seen since the 1930s. By 1990 the voters had had enough and pitched the Labour Party out of power.
Moore’s career was going nowhere fast. But then the WTO job came up. Moore’s pugnacious style and glib soundbite mentality offered the corporate globalizers just the kind of populist gloss they needed. He projects a shoot-from-the-hip, tough-guy-trade-unionist image that bemuses those who remember him playing fast-and-loose with workers’ rights back home.
Moore portrays anyone who stands in the way of the corporate agenda as reactionary losers. He characterizes his critics as ‘a few deranged misfits on the edges of obscure universities, people who tuck their shirts into their underpants, the remnants of pressure groups and a few geriatrics who claim that Marxism, like Christianity, has never been tried.’ If you have any doubts about his globalist vision you are a yogurt-guzzling defender of North Korean isolationism. Critics are neo-fascist reactionaries, luddite losers clinging on to the past or closet Stalinists with authoritarian designs – depending on the circumstances.
But it’s not all invective. Moore likes to think of himself as an intellectual heavyweight, a ‘big picture’ kind of a guy. He trots the globe giving speeches ‘In Praise of the Future’ – and who can be against the future? He portrays the search for corporate profits as a kind of ‘vision thing’ – lifting humanity from poverty and oppression into a golden age of freedom. He tends not to dwell on complexities and contradictions. So he praises China for its opening to consumer prosperity but there are no words for the political dissidents or independent trade unionists sitting in jail. Ironically, speaking about abstract History and the inevitable Future makes Moore sound very much like the Stalinists and Fascists he claims to despise.
In a review of one of his books, Big Picture, Nick McBride compares Moore to an attention-seeking child with grandiose dreams who is drunk with his own self-importance. The child sulks and pouts when he doesn’t get his own way and reverts to name-calling. McBride concludes that Moore ‘has none of the endearing qualities of children, he isn’t cute or innocent and, sadly, he doesn’t have the potential to mature into an adult’.
Maybe this underestimates him. After all, the media to whom he plays have a short attention span and are addicted to colourful soundbites. Free trade is badly in need of a huckster – and Moore knows it’s hard to hit a moving target.
So when he laments that ‘far too many people are still poor – 2.8 billion live on less than two dollars a day, barely enough for a Big Mac’, he subtly suggests that poverty may be an outrage but it can only be solved in a McFuture. He must be anticipating that no-one will think too hard about this – crowded camps of refugees all chewing on their Big Macs.
If infamous or not-so-famous big shots are beating up
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