Michael Moore’s new movie is uncharacteristically optimistic. He tackles many social welfare problems by visiting countries that have solved them, beginning in Italy where a pleasant couple enjoy several weeks paid vacation, having taken a paid honeymoon previously. The title refers to Moore’s method of taking these ideas by force, by planting a flag in each country where he discovers a solution to an American problem.
Italian companies tackle stress in the workplace by honoring unions’ demands which are seen as helpful suggestions, ensuring there is a balance between work and time off. Some employees even go home and cook lunch for the whole family in the middle of the day before returning to work.
In Germany, an executive of a pencil manufacturer beams with pride about his products and explains that if employees are stressed, they might qualify for three weeks at a spa. Work hours are strictly regulated. Children learn about Hitler and the Nazis in school, and plaques around towns honor slain Jews from this shameful episode in German history.
Education in Finland features teachers and students working three or four hours a day with no or little homework, allowing time for children to enjoy their childhoods. In Iceland, women enforce laws which guarantee equity to women. The first woman prime minister elected in 1974 is interviewed, along with three women who run banks after the 2008 bank collapse forced out the men in charge, some of them now serving prison terms.
In Norway, even though the country experienced a horrific mass murder (unusual in Europe), their prison system is focused on rehabilitation and the prisoners, even murderers, are allowed to use knives in the kitchen.
Nutrition is part of the daly curriculum in French lunchrooms, as cooks wearing chefs hats serve gourmet food on tables set with table cloths, and four courses, to the children, with the meticulous attention of a four star restaurant.
In Slovenia, college is free, even if you don’t live there, and just want to avoid high tuition costs. As Michael Moore prepares to visit the president of Slovenia and plant an American flag at the conference table as a symbol of how we need to claim this idea for America, I realized that the only thing I don’t like about Michael Moore movies is his physical presence in them. Call me a fuddy duddy but it seems wrong to to visit the highest ranking official in a foreign country wearing baggy clothes and a baseball cap poorly balanced over your shaggy hair.
The optimism of the movie comes from the various countries saying that they got many of their ideas — such as free education, the rights and duties of the workplace, sexual equality, non punitive prisons — from the United States in the first place. In an election year that has gone crazy with extreme positions, Moore’s message is on point, a valiant kind of patriotism that is touching. Still, I would like to introduce him to my hair stylist.