More on Moore

Michael Moore’s latest project, entitled “Fahrenheit 911”, explores the relationship between the Bush and bin Laden families, apparently going back two generations. In an ironic twist, after a competitive bidding project, Moore secured a pretty lucrative contract from Republican Mel Gibson’s production company, Icon Productions. Moore’s success in getting the very people he attacks–staunch Republicans, publishing companies, etc.–to back his work is interesting; I’d like to think that his backers are expressing a democratic ideal of open access and funding work based on its quality, not its ideology, but I think it probably has more to do with the money to be made from a controversial best seller and maker of incredibly profitable (and cheap) documentaries. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to see Moore back in the studio.

But I worry about this new project. Moore seems to be at his best when tracking nebulous ideas through their possible permutations, rather than when attacking a particular person or organization. “Roger and Me” succeeded not because of its portrayal of Roger Smith, GM’s president, but because it attacked the much more difficult topic of profitability versus responsibility, of corporate ethics versus community. The weakest point of the otherwise brilliant “Bowling for Columbine” was, in my opinion, Moore’s attack on K-Mart, not because they didn’t deserve it, and not because it wasn’t interesting to watch K-Mart PR flacks deal with their own corporate hypocrasy, but because it worked directly against the rest of the movie’s strengths. Moore’s examination of the roots of violence in America suggested that just having guns didn’t make people more likely to kill each other, that there was something deeper in our national identity that promoted violence as a useful and meaningful reaction to adversity and fear. Now, I support tighter gun control laws, but it’s not a position that is supported by Moore’s film, and so the protest at K-Mart seemed more like an easy media trick than a part of the unfolding narrative.

Now Moore is proposing a film that is composed entirely of a localized attack on one person (or, rather, on one family), which doesn’t seem like it will leave a lot of space for the cultural, social, and political factors that have fed into American foreign policy for decades, that fuel American anti-Islamic sentiments, that have allowed us to view government as a set of business relationships. These complexes date far earlier than any Bush’s worldly power, and are far more far-reaching than that of even a White House occupant’s power.

Of course, I don’t know what Moore is planning–after all, he did manage to look at a pretty wide swath of the American cultural landscape through the small lens of the Columbine shootings. But I fear that Moore is allowing himself the luxury of partisanship, of targeting and taking down a personal enemy, instead of exploring and explaining the political landscape at large, which he does so well.

As long as I’m on the topic, I want to discuss Moore’s ample girth. Fighting Nation writes:

Hey Michael Moore, I challenge you to drop your tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken, your bag of White Castle Burgers, your 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew, your box of Twinkies and your bag of Doritos and run a mile to protest the war. I bet it can’t be done! You fat windbag.

It’s common to see rightists describe Moore as “fat” but it’s not very rare to see even lefties doing so. The implication is that Moore pretends to represent the poor working class and to care about starving children and such, but he’s fat, you know, so how much solidarity can he really feel with the hungry masses? The thing is, poor people are fat, and getting fatter. Go into any K-Mart (on your way to the gun section, perhaps) and visit the large, clearly marked “Big Men’s” section. You’ll notice that it’s just about as big as it’s “normal” men’s section. Now, K-Mart’s clientele are fairly diverse, but one group is distinctly absent from its demographic, and that’s the rich. Check out Fat Land and Fast Food Nation for the inside skinny (sorry, I couldn’t resist) on how fat has become America’s calorie of choice, particularly among the working classes. Moore may have his share of faults, as a person and as a documentarian, but as far as I can tell there is nothing about his size that interferes with his ability to do the work at which he excels.

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