Roger And Me Documentary Essays

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Roger And Me - essay

Posted by Antoniya Ganeva on November 23, 2000 at 14:57:47:

Antoniya Ganeva
Economics in Popular Film
Prof. Gabriel

Roger And Me:
Applications of Myrdal�s theory of the circular and cumulative causation

Roger And Me is a documentary that carries a considerable economic significance by presenting a modern version of capitalism, and by depicting an interesting example of Gunnar Myrdal�s theory of the circular and cumulative causation. Flint, the hometown of the filmmaker Michael Moore, has been built around the factories of one of the largest auto corporations in the world � General Motors. For decades on end the company has been prosperous, making high profits and keeping its workers loyal and content with their jobs and payment. Everyone in Moore�s family has worked for General Motors; the Flint residents have become not only economically but also spiritually and culturally connected with and influenced by the company � a fact that additionally explains the devastating effect of the closure of the eleven GM factories. That is where and when the tragedy begins, that is the push that sets Myrdal�s dynamics cycle in motion. General Motors close 11 of their factories in Flint, Michigan, laying off more than 30 000 workers. For people involved in capitalist economic processes that presents a disaster, since except for GM �there�s nothing out there [workers] can depend on�, says one of them � people are suddenly left with no employer to sell their labor to.
The decision of GM to close down the factories is met with frustration and lack of understanding on the part of the workers, since the company is not closing down factories because of economic or financial difficulties, but because they want to realize more and more profits than they already have (and they have realized record high profits already - $5 billion in 1989). One way to satisfy the greed for higher profits is to set up production in Mexico, where GM would be able to pay $0.70 per hour � much less than the minimum wage paid to American workers. The GM�s board does not hesitate to take this step although it means destroying jobs in the US and hurting the interests of the American workers. Employing Mexicans for such minimal wages implies a peculiar kind of a 20th century imperialism as well: GM is able to extract enormous profits and to become the world�s largest corporation by super-exploiting labor in a country less well developed and economically influenced by the USA.
Of course, the board does not confess to satisfying the greed for higher profits by taking these unpopular steps; they present all the process as catching up on the competitors. �GM has to do what it has to do in order to stay competitive, even if it means laying off thousands of people�, says a member of the board, and thus makes it more than clear that in a capitalist society the managers and the directors are concerned only with the profit maximization and with their own welfare, whereas the employees have to fight for their jobs in more and more unfavorable conditions. More than 30 000 workers have now lost their jobs, whereas the company�s chairman Roger Smith has just made $2 millions himself. The unions are no help at all in this moment. Supposed to increase the workers� bargaining power, the unions have now become useless, since �too many people in the unions friends with the management� whose interests, in this case, are completely the opposite to those of the workers.
The closure of the factories is the first step toward the devastating tragedy of the town, and, as if deliberately observing Myrdal�s theory of the circular and cumulative causation, things tend to get worse and worse. The laying off of thousands of workers triggers many other negative processes: a great number of workers leave the town in search of employment elsewhere; people�s living conditions worsen because of the sudden drop in earnings � the rat population has �surpassed� that of humans. This, on its part, leads to the spread of physical illnesses, and is a symbol widely associated with poverty. Poverty only leads to more poverty, as most of the laid-off people are no more able to pay their rents and get evicted from their homes. Throughout the documentary we witness more and more people, even children and old persons, being evicted by the Eviction Deputy of Flint. Besides, there has been a tremendous increase in the crime rate of the town, and there are not enough prison cells for the criminals anymore. Thus, the negative effects and consequences accumulate to form a vicious circle, from which there is no an easy way out. The economic bottom is reached when Flint is declared the unemployment capital of the country, and is qualified by the Money Magazine as the worst place to live in the United States.
However, people who live in a capitalist society have to fight to get a job in order to survive. That�s why many of the laid-off workers seek alternative employment � much more unfavorable in most of the cases, but still paying them wages for their labor. Some are trained to work for Taco Bell, others � as prison guards; still others get involved in the production of lint-rollers. Even raising rabbits for pets, meat and skins is a way to make a living. Eventually, none of these occupations turns out successful or satisfactory. This, combined with people�s effort to find an external solution, seems to strongly reinforce Myrdal�s theory that things worsen once they get bad, and that the way out is something external to happen. The first step toward breaking this cycle is the change of attitude: people have to get rid of their passivity, despair and feeling of helplessness in order to start all over again. That is why the sheriff pays an evangelist preacher to come and raise the spirits; that is why President Raegan comes to help with ideas. The second step is the idea to turn the city into a tourist attraction � an idea that seems to attract a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy. And money as well. More than $13 million are spent to build a luxurious hotel, even more go for the construction of the Water Street Pavilion. The attractions grow in size and number, but ironically, the tourists never come to Flint, and six months later the Pavilion is closed due to lack of visitors. The explanation given in the documentary is that people don�t like to celebrate human tragedy while on vacation. This fact influences the economic growth (or revival, to be more correct) of the town, thereby emphasizing on the interaction between the cultural and economic processes taking place in Flint.
Therefore, tourism is not, as it appears at first, the way out of the crises and out of Myrdal�s cycle. Unemployment, poverty, desolate houses, crimes, even more poverty� - the circle remains closed. To a great extent, it is kept closed due to the polarization between the managers and the workers, due to the inequality gap that remains between the better and the worse off. The wealth and the greed have modified the minds of managers and directors; the lack of money has had a similar effect on the unemployed and the poor. Somewhere in this interaction between economic and cultural influences one may seek the explanation and the reason why �rich get richer, poor get poorer� � the closing line of Moore,which very clearly implies Myrdal�s theory and its perfect application with respect to the economic processes in Flint, Michigan.


Post a Followup

For the American Dad! episode, see Roger 'n' Me.

Roger & Me is a 1989 American film written, produced, directed by and starring Michael Moore. Moore portrays the regional economic impact of General MotorsCEORoger Smith's action of closing several auto plants in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, reducing GM's employees in that area from 80,000 in 1978 to about 50,000 in 1992.[4] As of August 2015, GM employs approximately 7,200 workers in the Flint area, according to The Detroit News, and 5,000 workers according to MSNBC.[5][6] In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."[7]


Moore begins by introducing himself and his family through 8 mm archival home movies; he describes himself as the Irish AmericanCatholic middle-class son of a General Motors employee assembling AC spark plugs. Moore chronicles how GM had previously defined his childhood in Flint, Michigan, and how the company was the primary economic and social hub of the town. He points out that Flint is the place where the Flint sit-down strike occurred, resulting in the birth of the United Auto Workers. He reveals that his heroes were the Flint natives who had escaped the oppressive life in GM's factories, including "Flint's most famous native son", game show host Bob Eubanks.

Initially, Moore achieves his dream of avoiding blue-collared factory life after being hired by a magazine in San Francisco, but this venture fails for him and he ultimately travels back to Flint. As he returns (in 1986), GM announces the layoffs of thousands of Flint auto workers, whose jobs will go to cheaper, non-unionized labor in Mexico. GM makes this announcement even though the company is achieving record profits.

Disguised as a TV journalist, Moore interviews some auto workers in Flint and discovers their strong disgust for GM chairman Roger B. Smith. Moore begins seeking out Smith himself to confront him about the closing of the Flint plants. He tries to visit Smith at GM's headquarters in Detroit, yet he is blocked by building security as Moore hasn't made an appointment for an interview or of his intentions clear. A company spokesman exchanges contact information with Moore, but ultimately refuses to grant Moore an interview due to Moore's lack of credentials and fear of negative portrayal. Over the course of the film, Moore attempts to track down Smith at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and the Detroit Athletic Club, only to be told either that Smith is not there or to leave by employees and security guards.

From there, Moore begins to explore the emotional impact of the plant closings on his friends. He interviews Ben Hamper, an auto worker who suffered a nervous breakdown on the assembly line and is residing at a mental health facility. From here, to the Beach Boys song "Wouldn't It Be Nice?", is seen a montage of the urban decay enveloping Flint, interspersed with news reports about increasing layoffs, residents not being able to move out and rapidly increasing rat infestations. Moore also talks to the residents of the affluent suburb of Grand Blanc, who display classist attitudes about Flint's hardships; at a roaring twenties-themed party they are hosting, Moore takes note when they hire laid off workers to be human statues.

Moore changes course and turns his camera on the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau, which promotes a vigorously incompetent tourism policy. The Bureau, in an effort to lure tourists into visiting Flint, permits the construction of a Hyatt Regency Hotel, a festival marketplace called Water Street Pavilion, and AutoWorld, hailed as the world's largest indoor theme park. All these efforts fail, as the Hyatt files for bankruptcy and is put up for sale, Water Street Pavilion sees most of its stores go out of business, and AutoWorld closes just six months after the grand opening.

High-profile people are shown coming to Flint to bring hope to the unemployed, some of them interviewed by Moore. President Ronald Reagan visits the town and suggests that the unemployed auto workers find work by moving across the country, though the restaurant he visits has its cash register stolen during the event (off-camera). The Flint mayor pays television evangelist Robert Schuller to preach to the town's unemployed. Pat Boone and Anita Bryant, who have supplied GM with celebrity endorsements, also come to town; Boone tells Moore that Roger Smith is a "can-do" kind of guy. Moore also interviews Bob Eubanks during a fair near Flint, during which Bob cracks a joke about Jewish women and AIDS.

Moore attends the annual GM's shareholder meeting, disguised as a shareholder himself. However, when he gets a turn at the microphone to air his grievances to the board, Smith appears to recognize Moore and immediately shuts him out and has the convention adjourned, despite Moore's attempts to interrupt him. In a close-up of Smith, he is heard joking about his action with a fellow board member before leaving. Meanwhile, Moore meets and interviews more residents of Flint, who are reeling from the economic fallout of the layoffs. A former feminist radio host, Janet, joins Amway as a saleswoman to find work. Another resident, Rhonda Britton, sells rabbits for "Pets or Meat";[8][9] Britton is featured killing a rabbit by beating it with a lead pipe. Prevalent throughout the film is Sheriff's Deputy Fred Ross, a former factory worker whose current job now demands that he go around town carrying out record numbers of evictions on families unable to pay their rent.

During all of this, Flint's crime rate skyrockets, with shootouts and murders becoming all too common. Crime becomes so prevalent that when the ABC News program Nightline tries to do a live story on the plant closings, someone steals the network's van (along with the cables), abruptly stopping the broadcast. The county jail also fills to its maximum capacity of inmates; due to this a second jail is built. Living in Flint becomes so desperate that Money magazine ranks the city as the worst place to live in America. The residents react with outrage and stage a rally where issues of the magazine are burned. Ironically, the residents play the song "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen during the rally, seemingly unaware it is about a town becoming overcome by crime and poverty.

At the film's climax, Moore finally confronts Smith at the chairman's annual 1988 Christmas message in Detroit. Smith is shown expounding about generosity during the holiday season, concurrently as Deputy Ross evicts another family from their home. After Smith's speech, Moore hounds Smith, addressing him from a distance. The face-to-face encounter between Michael Moore and Roger B. Smith is shown as this:

Moore: Mr. Smith, we just came down from Flint, where we filmed a family being evicted from their home the day before Christmas Eve. A family that used to work in the factory. Would you be willing to come up with us to see what the situation is like in Flint, so that people...?

Smith: I've been to Flint, and I'm sorry for those people, but I don't know anything about it, but you'd have to...

Moore: Families being evicted from their homes on Christmas Eve.

Smith: Well, I'm... listen, I'm sure General Motors didn't evict them. You'd have to go talk to their landlords.

Moore: They used to work for General Motors, and now they don't work there anymore.

Smith: Well, I'm sorry about that.

Moore: Could you come up to Flint with us?

Smith: I cannot come to Flint, I'm sorry.

Dejected by his failure to bring Smith to Flint, Moore proclaims in the final shot that "as we neared the end of the 20th century", as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and "it was truly the dawn of a new era." After the credits, the film displays the message "This film cannot be shown within the city of Flint", followed by "All the movie theatres have closed."


This film, financed partly by Moore's mortgaging of his home and partly by the settlement money from a lawsuit he filed against Mother Jones for wrongful termination, was meant to be a personal statement over his anger not just at GM, but also the economic policies and social attitudes of the United States government during the Reagan era, which allows a corporation to remove the largest source of income from an entire town. The film proved to be the most successful documentary in American history at the time in its theatrical run (since surpassed at the box office by Moore's later documentaries Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11)[citation needed] and enjoyed wide critical acclaim. Despite its success, the film was not nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award in 1990.[10] In response to the documentary, General Motors threatened to pull advertising on any TV show that interviewed Michael Moore.[citation needed] Despite the company's public opposition to the film, its humorous and buffoon-like portrayal of Roger Smith made it widely popular inside GM; by the time of the film's release, GM had lost 8% of its market share and was taking on significant financial losses, leading many employees and executives to become disillusioned with Smith's leadership.

Roger & Me was filmed under the working title A Humorous Look at How General Motors Destroyed Flint, Michigan.[11]

Warner Bros. gave Moore $3 million for distribution license, a very large amount for a first-time filmmaker and unprecedented for a documentary. Part of the distribution deal required Warner Bros. to pay rent for two years for the families evicted in the film and give away tens of thousands of tickets to the unemployed workers.[12]

Moore returned to the subject of Roger & Me with a short documentary called Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint (1992), which aired on the PBS show P.O.V. In this film, Moore returns to Flint two years after the release of Roger & Me to see what changes have taken place. Moore revisits Flint and its economic decline again in later films, including The Big One, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Capitalism: A Love Story.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics.[citation needed] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 100% based on reviews from 29 critics, with an average score of 8.8/10.[citation needed]

Film critic Pauline Kael felt the film exaggerated the social impact of GM's closing of the plant and depicted the actual events of Flint's troubles out of chronological order. Kael called the film "shallow and facetious, a piece of gonzo demagoguery that made me feel cheap for laughing." One such criticism is that the eviction at the end of the film occurred on a different day from Smith's speech, but the two events were intercut for emotional effect.[13] Moore addresses this criticism in the DVD commentary, stating that "there are no dates in the film; we'll be going back and forth throughout the decade of the '80s."

In March 2007, Canadian filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine appeared on MSNBC's Tucker to talk about their documentary Manufacturing Dissent. They reported to have found that Moore talked with General Motors Chairman Roger Smith at a company shareholders' meeting, and that this interview was cut from Roger & Me.[14][15] Moore acknowledged having spoken with Roger Smith at a shareholders' meeting in 1987, before he commenced filming, but said the encounter concerned a separate topic unrelated to the film.[16] The filmmaker also told the Associated Press that if he had managed to secure an interview with Smith during production, then suppressed the footage, General Motors would have publicized the information to discredit him. "I'm so used to listening to the stuff people say about me, it just becomes entertainment for me at this point," he remarked. "It's a fictional character that's been created with the name of Michael Moore."[16]

Critic Roger Ebert wrote an article entitled, "Attacks on Roger & Me completely miss the point of film" that defends Moore's manipulation of his film's timeline as an artistic and stylistic choice that has less to do with his credibility as a filmmaker and more to do with the flexibility of film as a medium to express a viewpoint using the same methods that satirists have used. Ebert argues that the point of the film is not to present a completely cut and dried presentation of facts, but instead to create a jumping point for interest and dialogue through use of humor and irony.

Critic Billy Stevenson described the film as Moore's "most astonishing," arguing that it represents an effort to conflate film-making and labor, and that "it's this fusion of film-making and work that allows Moore to fully convey the desecration of Flint without ever transforming it into a sublime or melancholy poverty-spectacle, thereby distancing himself from the retouristing of the town-as-simulacrum that occupies the last and most intriguing part of the film."[17] As of August 2014, Roger & Me has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100%, with all 27 cited professional reviews being positive.[18]

The film received the 1989 Best Documentary award from the National Board of Review.[19]

See also[edit]

  • Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint
  • List of documentaries
  • Final Offer - a documentary film that shows the backroom 1984 General Motors contract negotiations that would result in the union split of the Canadian arm of the UAW. It also shows how the UAW was more willing to negotiate with General Motors than their Canadian counterparts. The film depicts some of the events that would lead to the closing of plants in Flint and other plants around the United States. GM Chairman Roger Smith is featured in the film.
  • The Corporation shows the history of the corporation and some of its potential downfalls. Michael Moore appears in the film.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line is an autobiographical book by Ben Hamper on life and work in the GM plant, with a foreword by Michael Moore.
  • Bernstein, Matthew: Documentaphobia and Mixed Modes. Michael Moore's Roger and Me In: Grant, Barry Keith; Sloniowski, Jeannette (eds.) 2002: Documenting the documentary. Close readings of documentary film and video. pp. 397–415, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0814326390


External links[edit]

  1. ^"ROGER & ME (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 23, 1990. Retrieved February 16, 2016. 
  2. ^"Roger & Me, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved March 20, 2012. 
  3. ^"Roger & Me, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 20, 2012. 
  4. ^Steven P. Dandaneau (1996). A Town Abandoned: Flint, Michigan, Confronts Deindustrialization. SUNY Press. pp. 21–. ISBN 978-0-7914-2877-1. 
  5. ^Burden, Melissa; Wayland, Michael. "GM to invest $877M in Flint truck plant". The Detroit News. The Detroit News. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  6. ^LEE, TRYMAINE. "The Rust Belt: Once Mighty Cities in Decline". MSNBC. MSNBC. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  7. ^"Library of Congress announces 2013 National Film Registry selections" (Press release). Washington Post. December 18, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  8. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 10, 2010. Retrieved August 25, 2010. 
  9. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2010. 
  10. ^Ebert, R. (n.d.). Oscar and "Roger & Me". All Content. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  11. ^Pierson, John, Spike, Mike Reloaded, pg.137
  12. ^"Roger & Me," commentary by Michael Moore in special features added in 2003 to the DVD. December 2003
  13. ^Kael, Pauline (1990-01-08). "Review of Roger & Me". The New Yorker. 
  14. ^Leydon, Joe. "Manufacturing Dissent",Variety March 11, 2007. URL accessed April 4, 2007.
  15. ^Melnyk, Debbie. "Taking on the Big Man"Sunday Telegraph. April 15, 2007. URL accessed May 30, 2008.
  16. ^ abFlesher, John (2007-06-16). "Michael Moore has harsh words for critics". MSNBC. Retrieved 2007-06-17. 
  17. ^Stevenson, Billy. "A Film Canon - Roger & Me". Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  18. ^"Roger & Me (1989)". Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  19. ^"1989 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2017. 

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