This Day In History: December 20

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Documentarian Michael Moore's first film, Roger & Me, opens in theaters on December 20, 1989. The film follows the economic impact of GM shutting down several auto factories in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan. 

Though Moore leavened his movie with goofy anecdotes and absurdist set-pieces, the humor did not disguise his rage at what had been done to Flint, a city that had once been so thriving that people came from all over the country in hopes of landing one of its thousands of blue-collar jobs that paid a middle-class wage. 

By the end of the 1980s, however, Flint was falling apart—in part because of mismanagement at GM and in part because of forces beyond the company’s immediate control, like deindustrialization and globalization. Abandoned factories dotted the landscape, houses fell down and displaced auto workers did anything they could to make ends meet. At the end of the 1980s, Money magazine called Flint “the worst place to live in America.”

In the late 1970s, GM plants employed almost 100,000 people in Flint; today, they employ fewer than 7,000. General Motors CEO Roger Smith, who never bothered to see Moore’s film—“I’m not much for sick humor,” he said, “and I don’t like things that take advantage of poor people”—died in 2007.

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