Cultural Conflict in Michael Moore’s Roger and Me

Category: Conflict, Michael Moore
Last Updated: 13 Jul 2020
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In Dario Fo’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” a character asks: “Where are all these poor people I keep hearing about? I go to a lot of parties, and I never meet any of them.” In his movie “Roger and Me” Michael Moore depicts the story when the general public can meet those poor people.  The film is a documentary about the effect of General Motors plant closing in Flint, Michigan, in the mid-1980s.

From the critical point of view, “Roger and Me” constitutes a sardonic picture of corporate social responsibility, everlasting social and cultural conflict (once greatly emphasized by Marx) between working class and capitalists, now often covered in the image of managers and corporate specialists.  Simultaneously, the film can be perceived as unsuccessful attempt of the artist to abstract from pitiful effects of the event (plant closing) and to create unbiased actual picture. Practically, Moore’s “Roger and Me” represents documentary of satire, social revolt and prejudice.

After the closing of plant Michael Moore tried to get in with Roger Smith, head of GM in Detroit, to invite him to Flint for a look at what had happened to people there. Practically, Moore never got near Smith, therefore he created a documentary, where people and some facts spoke for themselves.  The conflict between big company and workers regarding the issues of corporate social responsibility remains to be urgent and sensitive.  From the critical point of view, there is nothing wrong with attacking General Motors.  This company along with the vast majority of multinational corporations surely deserves to be attacked. Criticism, fair or unfair, whether de­served or not, is a price people pay to live in a free society.

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Thus, Michael Moore had every right to make his smash-hit documentary film.  Like any advocate, surely he had the right to present only one side of a case. Simultaneously, there is a difference between fair and unfair criti­cism, just as there is a difference between truth and factual distortion.  Fair criticism challenges the actions of a person or an organization, examines something your opponent has done, and attacks him or her for it. Even if it may hurt the person criticized, fair criticism contributes vigor and health to a free society. It helps check abuse of power, corruption and wrongdoing.

Unfair criticism uses lies and distor­tions to accuse someone of things he has not done and wouldn't do. Unfair criticism blames him for things beyond his control. Unfair criticism uses innuendo to attack him for things that can't be said outright because they are untrue. Unfair criticism employs dirty techniques of filmmaking (or other distortions) and degrades and endangers a free society, because it dam­ages public trust in our institutions. Indi­vidual judgment decides at what point unfairness becomes outright dishonesty.

Michael Moore begins his story by saying, “Maybe I got this wrong, but I thought companies lay off people when they hit hard times. GM was the richest company in the world, and was closing factories when it was making profits in the billions... GM Chairman Roger Smith appeared to have a brilliant plan: First, close 11 factories in the U.S., then open 11 in Mexico where you pay the workers 70 cents an hour. Then use the money you save by building cars in Mexico to take over other companies, and prefer­ably high-tech firms and weapons manu­facturers. Next, tell the union you're broke and they happily agree to give back a couple billion dollars in wage cuts.”  The situation depicted by Moore seems to be outrageous.

However, if critically examined GM could not sell Flint-made cars unless it modernized obsolete factories.  Moreover, in during that period GM’s average salary under the United Auto Workers contract was $15.36 compared to the national industry average of $9.07 (Kauffmann, 10). General Motors did build Mexican facto­ries and employ low-cost, unskilled labor to assemble wire and cable "harnesses" for GM cars. The wire and cables in those harnesses were manufactured in the United States.

To stay competitive, GM had to reduce the cost of hand-assembly of the harnesses. So, it worked out an agreement with the Mexican government to provide needed unskilled jobs in poverty-stricken areas of Mexico. The Mexican government then allowed GM to manufacture more cars for the Mexican (not the U.S.) market (Kauffmann, 11).

Moore's camera shows an auto worker who had suffered a mental breakdown. "He cracked one night while working on the assembly line. He was now shooting hoops at the local mental health center." Was Moore honest in blaming GM and Roger Smith because his friend had a mental breakdown? GM refuses to dis­cuss whether the man had a previous record of mental instability, because, the company says, personnel records are con­fidential.

Was Moore honest in showing a gun-toting crazed man shot down in the street by police, to support his claim that GM layoffs had caused crime rates to soar in Flint? Moore failed to mention that crime has dropped 13 percent since 1986, when the major layoffs took place (Schwammenthal, 7). Instead of soaring, as Moore says, crime in Flint dropped 5 percent in the first half of last year, while violent crime across the United States increased 5 percent during the same period (Schwammenthal, 7).

If assesses critically, Michael Moore technique can be characterized as untruth persuasion since he, being a talented director and experienced persuader, focused exclusively on the negative sides of the closing, hence corporate social responsibility in the context.  From the personal point of view, Moore abstracts from the core of the problem, social conflict, and speculates on “working class mentality.”

Bob Eubanks of "The Newly-wed Game" is included as he ridicules Jews with a vile anti-Semitic remark. Moore himself ridicules a pretty young Miss Michigan, who, at the time of his "ambush interview" was more concerned with being chosen as Miss America than she was qualified to discuss economic conditions in Flint (White, 1). Moore ridicules a ho­mosexual in a way that the film critic of the Chicago Tribune called "the lowest kind of gay-bashing, a crude crowd-pleasing gesture" (Schwammenthal, 7).

Moore’s documentary becomes the picture full of controversies. Practically, the film could consolidate the general public and authorities over the problems in Flint, however its sardonic, nihilistic and controversial character does not offer any resolution and brings the conflict to the very top.


Kauffmann, Stanley. “Films & the Arts: Cars and Other Vehicles,” The New Republic. Washington: Jan 22, 1990. Vol. 202, Iss. 4

Joseph B. White. “Movie That Attacks GM, Roger Smith Opens in Flint, Michigan.” Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition), New York, N.Y.: Dec 21, 1989

Daniel Schwammenthal. “In the Fray: Michael's Manipulations,” The Chicago Tribune. Chicago, May 19, 1990



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