An equally pithy and well-crafted piece of agitprop, The Way the Eagle Shits sets itself the “modest” goal of accusing, recriminating, and provoking every bourgeois and white-collar professional it can think to name in a damning list that ends up including: intellectuals, journalists, humanitarians, government workers, not to mention everyday citizens. Using a montage of repurposed advertisements as a rhetorical device to parrot and parody the feel-good stories that allow the myth of American opportunism to persist, journalist Al Levin seeks to bring to the fore what he sees as the inherent fallacy of the capitalist system. Namely, that capitalism represents an even playing field allowing for upward social mobility. Instead, Levin avers, “poverty is the root, and prosperity is the blossom.”
Promoting cynical disillusionment as a badge of honor, the film’s call to action is vaguer than its distain for anyone who thinks they have grounds to take issue with Levin’s central claim that poverty is the fuel on which America runs. In a pugnacious attempt to provoke the viewer into raising an objection, Levin rhetorically asks, “My credentials?” before going on to assert, “I’m a journalist, but what the hell have credentials got to do with it anyway? [. . .] Credentials are nothing more than a license to lie!” Reiterating many of the claims made in Herbert J. Gans’ The Function of Poverty (1971) in a more incendiary fashion, Al Levin’s carefully constructed rant warrants comparison to the Russian masters of agitprop: Pudovkin, Eisenstein, Vertov, and Dovzhenko. The tactical use of voiceover narration, combined with Levin’s feel for classical montage and irreverent attitude toward advertising’s iconography, collectively lends a great deal of poignancy to his tirade against hypocrisy. Perhaps Levin’s greatest display of rhetorical virtuosity is his self-described “ode to the poor,” “without [whose] sacrifice, sickness, shorter lifespan, and wonderful patience and passivity, the rest of us would be worse off.” Anticipating the rallying cry of the 99% during now-defunct Occupy Wall Street movement, Levin’s one-man show is best understood as something of a misplaced time capsule, documenting the attitudes not of his time, but forty years into the future.