August 25, 2017

“Roger & Me” 25 years later: Is GM to blame for decline and fall of Flint?

David MenziesMission Specialist

It is rare when a feature-length documentary makes it to the big screen, and even more rare when it emerges as a box office smash. Yet that was the case with Michael Moore’s Roger & Me.

The 1989 documentary full of scathing satire, black humour and heart-rending pathos chronicles the rapid decline of Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, which also happens to be the birthplace of General Motors.

In the late 1980s, GM, under the direction of then-chairman Roger Smith, mothballed eleven plants in Flint and laid more than 30,000 workers.

GM's diminished presence in Flint proved devastating for the community; the unemployment rate soared, along with the crime rate. Overnight, businesses failed and thousands of former breadwinners found themselves collecting Social Security.

Within a few short years, a once-vibrant hub was proclaimed the United States' worst city by Money magazine.

Some 25 years later, I visit Flint to see if anything has changed since Roger & Me was released.

Watch as I show you the scenes, and ask citizens if they agree with Michael Moore's thesis, namely:

That since GM began in Flint, the company had an ethical and moral obligation to remain fully committed to the city.

(And I wonder what, if anything, Moore is doing to help the hometown that made him famous.)

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commented 2017-08-26 12:25:50 -0400
Back when I was in university, my intro to sociology professor showed this movie to us.
commented 2017-08-26 02:21:27 -0400
The only things Micheal Moore is ethically obligated to remain committed to are Twinkies.
commented 2017-08-26 02:20:13 -0400
And of course Michael Moore stands with people who drive jobs away. Quite the paradox. If he ever made a film about the effect of heavy taxation and socialism i would be pretty shocked.
commented 2017-08-26 02:18:59 -0400
Julie Jay they left because they were about tot be raped by liberals.
commented 2017-08-25 16:28:47 -0400
Said like a craggy old Scotsman would say " the cars were just a load of crap" .It certainly didn’t help that the product was inferior and or outdated or unattractive to the public. But union pressure, government and political interventions and regulations and a reticence on the part of GM management to face the facts a decade before lead to the perfect storm that hit Flint.
Hard to say that it was avoidable given the inertia that Flint had built in the preceding decades when GM was King.
commented 2017-08-25 15:47:28 -0400
Interesting piece and great questions David. We know that corporations have no moral or ethical obligations (except to the extent that immoral/unethical conduct may, sometimes, create reputational damage which affects the bottom line) so there’s not much point in expecting them to act morally or ethically and those who do will be disappointed.

Flint, Detroit and many other auto industry cities crashed because they relied on a single industry (in some cases, a single business) for their viability. People were lulled into a false sense of security by this and assumed that the industry would remain static although industries never do. Municipal politicians and bureaucrats made no efforts to diversity the local economy and no one saw the train coming. That said it’s very sad to see how devastated these communities were. The people are not at fault. They were led to believe, by their employers, unions and civic leaders, that the jobs would be there forever and all they had to do was keep showing up for work and believing what they were being told. Hopefully these communities can rebound but it will take some out of the box thinking for that to happen.

I’m wondering if, during your assignment in the Detroit area you’ve seen signs of the early stages of the renaissance that some say is taking shape there?
commented 2017-08-25 15:17:14 -0400
Great reporting David. I am 57, my father was a GM auto worker in Oshawa. I have been to Detroit many times in their hay day. GM absolutely devestated not only Flint but southern Ontario as well when they began shipping jobs off to Mexico. This is a big complicated story, thanks for doing it.