Less Michael, Moore Filling
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 1/3/03
This past New Yearís Day Jessica & I went to see comedian &
documentarian Michael Mooreís acclaimed doc called Bowling For Columbine.
I left feeling a bit disturbed- not over the supposed Ďgun problemí that MM
to think is ruining the USA, but over a greater problem that he shares in- the
American problem with telling the truth- or its lack. Donít get me wrong, the
film is potent & GREAT propaganda- as agitprop itís a 10 of 10, but as a
piece of journalism, a true documentary, itís about a 1 or 2. The best part of
the film, however, was a cartoon about American History, created by South
Parkís animators, specially for the film.
MM 1st came to light in 1989ís Roger & Me- a doc that had some truly funny moments, & was a refreshing blast against the corporate masters that run this world. After some other filmic projects, failed TV shows, & a highly successful book called Stupid White Men, which came out the day before 9/11 & was subject to attempted publisher censorship, to which MM stood up to & won (the book spent almost a year on the best-seller lists), BFC has been hailed as MMís crown jewel- his cementing of his reputation has the heir apparent to being the leading liberal light in America- a place once held by such luminaries as actor Alan Alda & talk show host Phil Donahue.
Unfortunately, BFCís very success as a piece of art is its undoing as a piece of social commentary. Before I go on let me briefly sum up the film: MM attempts to discover what is wrong with America- specifically violence in America. The Columbine shootings in spring of 1999 are MMís starting point. MM tries to point out the dubious links posited by the media monster- brilliantly portrayed in a montage of Ďscaresí thrown out by the media- things from Halloween candy to weight loss products. This is an avenue worth pursuing, & the Ďscaringí of Americans into becoming consumers of anything that will substitute as a nipple is a great point. But itís made by shock rocker Marilyn Manson (a Columbine scapegoat), not MM, & then immediately dropped. MM also is at his best when he details corporate Americaís need to portray black men as Ďthe problemí despite far more crime being perpetuated by white & white-collared sorts. Instead, we get a whole bunch of amusing, but pointless red herrings- the Michigan Militia, the Nirvana of Canadian existence (aptly showing how good the Canadian health care system is, but woefully neglecting the severe curtailing of Canadian civil liberties- most notably free speech- in pursuit of this goal), workfare programs- which I agree are terrible because they perpetuate an underclass, yet do not let a bad single mother whose 6 year old son killed another 6 year old girl off the hook (as MM tries to imply), a nasty Dick Clark- who employed said bad single mother for slave wages in a mall restaurant, a doddering & senile Charlton Heston- whom MM dishonestly snookered in to an attack interview, & then- in the filmís most pompous & sickening moment- left the murdered 6 year oldís photo on Hestonís property, as if to imply that CH was responsible for her death- not the boy, nor the mother. I admire- & LOVE- how MM uses the mediaís tools against them in such a screeding fashion. But he has become what he hates with this distortion. Nowhere does MM follow up on the publicís & mediaís appetite for sensationalism- instead he uses 2 dimwitted boys who survived being shot at Columbine to shame K-Mart in to removing bullets from their storeís inventory. 1 can argue the rightness or wrongness of this act- I think they were within their rights to demand such, but itís ultimately a futile act. BUT the point is this was not done for any other reason than to bring MMís film to a climax. Instead of showing a problem, discussing its causes, & effects, & then proposing a solution- which a true documentary does, MMís film simply drops the ball at the end, settling for its own 2 hours of sensationalized splendor in MMís sun. The film is much more about Michael Mooreís need to preen & pat himself on the back, than in provoking any real debate. Behind us, at the theater, was a typical professorial type who Pavlovianly jeered at the right wingers, tsk-tsked at the appropriate moments of their stupidity, all the while, under his breath, mm-mming at the enlightened left wingers who, truthfully, to an objective viewer, came off being just as stupid as the Michigan Militia men- in their own predictably obtuse ways. Think long of Pogoís injunction about enemies while viewing this film.
Still, the film would make Leni Riefenstahl proud. & it would make Ďtrueí Liberals proud, as well, were the film not so laced with Ĺ truths & such. MM has stated that he thinks only 10-20% of people who see his work will get it right away- therefore he has to distort with humor. Well, the same ratio might apply when it comes to the truth in MMís docs.
In BFC MM astutely points out that Canadaís gun ownership rates rival ours & unemployment is worse off up north, yet violence is missing. But no effort at contextualizing is made. For example, Canada is a larger country (by area) yet has 1/10 the population- do you think that population density contributes to squalor, poverty, & violence- hmmm? But something this manifest is never asked. Also, Canada has a cradle to grave health plan, as well as generous unemployment- in other words, Canadians are not in dire peril of their lives being destroyed by a catastrophe- a point MM raises briefly, then drops in favor of sensationalism & ambush interviews.
Then again, MM probably feels justified in his distortions since he comments on so many by others & his own work is repeatedly distorted. Some rightists have attacked the film for its use of George Bush the Elderís infamous ĎWillie Hortoní ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988, claiming MM distorted the footage by superimposing text that was not in the original ad. But anyone watching the film can tell by the textís font that it is not part of the original ad, & that used by MMís film throughout. They also charge that MM claims Bush said Horton killed on his prison furlough release by Dukakis, while he committed rape. Again, MMís film uses captions throughout to depict MMís view of things. The caption is obviously what Bush MEANT, & what MM wants us to know what Bush meant by the ad. However, these spurious attacks only further embolden MM to distort more impudently.
MM seriously distorts any # of facts in a montage of alleged US atrocities of the last 50 years- from the # of people killed by Americans in Vietnam, to the urban legend of millions in US aid to the Taliban up till 9/11, when in reality Afghanistan got food & medical aid. The sad thing is that some of the truths that are hidden within this montage thereby suffer in credibility. MM would counter, no doubt, that the best way to lie is to wrap a few in a bundle of truths- something heís learned from Corporate America.
Perhaps the silliest piece in the film is a bit where the violence that occurred in Littleton, Colorado- where Columbine H.S. is located- is somehow the byproduct of the nuclear weapons plant owned by Lockheed Martin. When this dubious, & flat-out weird, proposition is hurled to some of the folk at Lockheed Martin, & in the town, MM uses their puzzled reactions to his non-sequitur to impute some sort of guilt. Yet, when the media & rightist fringe uses these same tactics to demonize Marilyn Manson & a couple dozen other weird Ďcausesí MM is on their asses like a priest in a cathouse. Just as odd is his assertion that the day of the Columbine killings was 1 where the US bombed more heavily in the Balkans than any other. Like so many in the media he excoriates, MM is all-too willing to cop out for the most simple-minded of possible answers. Unthought of, however, is that if the Military Industrial Complex is behind American violence then why are the other Western democracies not just as violent?
The true villains in the film, however, are Charlton Heston & the NRA, whom he unfairly compares to the Ku Klux Klan. But, unanswered by MM, is this bit of salience: he claims gun ownership rates in Canada rival those in America, Canadians see as much violence on TV & film, & their economy is as bad or worse than ours; yet our violence rate is so much higher- why? & MM seems to revel in the mediaís exploitation of violence without any substantive solutions- YET, his film does the exact same thing!
Hereís an online quote from MM which illustrates the discombobulation of his thinking:
Ultimately, getting rid of the guns will be the answer. I think if we got rid of all our guns in the U.S., we would still have the psyche problem: the problem that says we have a right to resolve our disputes through violence. That's what separates us from these other countries.
All those countries [with low gun deaths in a year] have all banned the death penalty. They believe it's immoral to execute other human beings. There are so many other things you could go through and point out, about how they structure their societies.
OK, in paragraph 1 MM says getting rid of guns is the answer to the violence problem. In the same paragraph, however, he admits that guns are not the real problem to begin with! Furthermore, in paragraph 2, MM uses the death penalty red herring- as if what we do with someone AFTER theyíve committed a crime has any bearing on preventing their actions BEFORE the crime. The really frustrating thing about MM, though, is in the same interview he can go on with great clarity:
easier to get elected, again, playing off people's fears. Run a law-and-order
campaign. Promise you're going to lock everybody up. Play on the racism of the
white voters, and let them know you're going to lock up the black community, or
as many of them as you can. We've got two million people in prison now. You
know, that's the easy way to go.
The hard way to go is to say, "You know what? If we work toward full employment and if we had a safety net to catch anybody who wasn't employed, where we made sure everybody had the means to get through day and the week and the month, we would have an enormous decrease in crime."
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