The River

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Friends don't let friends type complascent

We actually make friends here in the blog world. For my money, it's one of the best aspects of blogging. The South African Blogger, Mr. Lake of Fire, he of the unrivaled PageCount, Mike Golbfinger himself is one such friend.

YBLOG GOLBY? If you have to ask you'll never know.

Then he went and did a silly thing. He went and attacked my hero! -- a champion of the little guy, the American public, and my friends and neighbors who are so thouthlessly exploited by the collusion of corporate, media and governmental power. Yes, I'm referring to this blog's favorite subject of late, Michael Moore. Golby has some problems with Moore and the media hysteria surrounding the new movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. He couldn't believe I'd publish such a gung-ho and uncritical review. Well, hell, I'm a populist at heart, and so is Moore. So I'm glad he's doing well with his populist messages.

Anyway, I can be critical, but I'm usually one to gloss over the problems in a work in favor of promoting the successes. Such has been the case with F911.

But I think Golby and I will find common ground in a good, critical review of Fahrenheit 9/11, which I found yesterday thanks to new-to-me blogger The Thistle.

Below is a fairly long snippet, but I hope readers check out the whole thing.

No question, Moore has hit on a winning formula, and after the Academy Award he won for Bowling for Columbine, not to mention a box-office haul unprecedented for a non-fiction film, Moore has absolutely no reason to change his m.o. Unless, of course, the different stakes and scope of the new picture demand a different or more sober approach. Bowling for Columbine, like almost all of Moore's work, drew reams of criticism, not just from NRA allegiants and political conservatives but from scrupulous, fact-oriented critics across the political spectrum, for occasionally embroidering the realities and episodes on which the film is based, and for barreling through a discursive and broad argument with such high-velocity aplomb that key distinctions and caveats got lost, and for making Moore himself so conspicuous and grand at the forefront of the picture that it almost served as an extended advertisement for his own brand of snarky baseball-cap activism (undergirded, of course, by deep pockets and a seemingly endless network of inroads, connections, and accomplices). A good deal of this criticism seemed fair, and it is occasionally downright embarrassing how reductive Moore can be in presenting the facts of a case, so superseding the notion of editorial bias as to seem flippant about genuine complexities and/or as ideologically motivated as his habitual targets in the political right and corporate élite.

At the same time, Bowling for Columbine plays as a highly personal essay on a unique problem of the American cultural imaginary, the paradox by which one of the "freest" societies on the globe is inveterately receptive to all kinds of social paranoias and hegemonically imposed fears—often culminating in the kinds of policy legislations, civil-liberty restrictions, and actual violence that give a film like Columbine its primary impetus and its air of moral gravity. When venturing such an argument about national temperaments and national prejudices, considerable leeway remains for concerted exaggeration, tone-setting illustration, and jaunty, opportunistic connections. The omnipresence of Moore himself within Bowling for Columbine's mise-en-scène—especially aggravating when he escorts children to KMart Headquarters on a diplomatic appeal but then immediately hogs the spotlight once their requests are approved—is nonetheless a constant and honest reminder that Columbine really is a personal film rendering personal hypotheses about a set of cultural symptoms.

Not so, or at least less so, when the subjects at hand are the conduct and shadowy infrastructure of an existing administration and the motivations for their involvement in a costly, inhuman, and ongoing martial conflict. At an auteurist level, Moore seems to understand this need for a shift in tone and approach—hence his uncharacteristic and thus much-ballyhooed decision to mostly absent himself from the second hour of Fahrenheit 9/11, as the purview of the movie expands and the fates of its participants and interview subjects grow darker. Oddly, while congratulating Moore for tactfully reducing his own role in the movie, many of Fahrenheit 9/11's staunchest supporters are simultaneously allowing him free-rein to assemble whatever argument he wishes—even the most loosely composed aggregate of "evidence" and circumstantial logic—as long as the film succeeds in stoking anti-Bush sentiment and, in the most optimistic prognoses, contributes to his downfall in the November elections.

I don't think Moore presents a coherent thesis on what's behind the (phony) "war on terror" and its champions in the White House. As I said in my review, he puts out a lot of info, with his obvious slant/opinion attached, for you to consider, to scratch your head and go, "holy shit, it's never been presented to me like that before (this would be non-blog readers). What the hell IS going on here?"

Anyway, if you haven't seen Mike Golby's takedown of F911 and Moore, here's the link again.

I sent him an email with my response, paragraph-by-paragraph. He then summed up what I sent (beautifully), and published it on his blog as ...

An Alternative View

Criticism of the above post added July 8, 2004

Bruce Partridge, the famed Atlantan blogger who makes The River flow, has taken time out to trash my above entry by e-mail. That's after doing so in the comments feature below. As a journalist who cares little for anything remotely "fair and balanced", I suppose I should take umbrage and wipe the blogs with Bruce, a liberal-pinko-commie terrorist who'll get his comeuppance spending Christmas in an Atlanta concentration camp.

But, what the hell, he has seen the movie and is entitled to his principles. For what it's worth, they're principles I admire and he uses them to balance my take-down of Michael Moore and his film. Bruce is fair and balanced and he counters every point I make with a valid counter point. Because of this, and because there are two sides to every story, I asked him if I could summarize his mail and append it to this post.

I didn't wait for a response as I had to get this in before work, so I hope I do justice to what is a thoughtful rejoinder.

For my entry on F9/11, I use a couple of quotes to illustrate the pervasive rot trotted out second nature by the U.S. media. Partridge gets straight to it, addressing the first piece of propaganda issued by Associated Press. He points out, quite correctly, that it's written from within the media-manufactured socio-political context that Fahrenheit 9/11 seeks to obliterate. Nothing like going for the jugular at the outset eh, Bruce?

As for my scene-setting introductory paragraph, in which Moore's rabid fans march on Capitol Hill (there to ensconce their hero in public office), Partridge offers an off-hand "Would that it were so." Can I argue with that? Moore in office? Hell, I wouldn't want to argue with that. Most anything's better than Bush and the likes of Moore are infinitely better than the dirt-brains currently cluttering the Beltway or beating at the White House Door.

I then equate Moore to Hannity and Limbaugh. This upsets Bruce because "...the level of dishonesty in their rhetoric is so far from equal." Stay upset, Partridge, they've been around longer than Mikey and know what it takes to succeed. I'm not a great fan of 'moral equivalence' or whatever it would take to measure the quantity and quality of mud slung or rolled in. I more readily accept that one should point out that, in F9/11, on TV, and in public life, Michael Moore retains his obvious humanity. The Limbaughs, Coulters and Hannitys of the infotainment circus do not.

How could they. They had none to begin with.

I'll also readily agree with Bruce that, if Moore is playing catch-up, he's doing so in a market ripe for exploitation. Like it or not, Moore's business (making movies) is either about giving the audience what they want or making them believe they want that which you're giving them. Infotainment might be fast-food data poison, but if Americans want it, why should the right hog manufacturing rights? Besides, Hannity is trailer-trash humor. At least Moore is capable of both nuanced humor and cogent argument, no matter how circumstantial his evidence (and most of it is more than circumstantial).

Denigrating the movie by associating it with the general media's reaction to it? Okay, that's unfair. As Bruce asks, what did I expect of the media? Well, let's not start... Why is he so keen on the film? Simple. It's a "...powerful anti-war, anti-war-cheerleading statement, based on a true story." As for it being a mockumentary ("What's wrong with that?" asks Bruce), it does offer (or hide) good journalism " the sense that there is information here, some of which can be read in NYT, much of which has never been presented, and none of which has ever been put out with the questions/interests of everyday people as its foundation."

Fact is, as far as Bruce is concerned, this thing is unique. "This ain’t Sam Smith, John Pilger, or Greg Palast, it’s Michael Moore, and that’s OK." What does Moore deliver? A "...powerful anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-media movie..." I think part of Moore's attraction for Bruce, and his need to refute my entry, derives from the way Moore actually engages his characters and his audience. I can't argue with that. "Hey, it’s not what Moore says, it’s who he talks to. Poor kids, peace activists, senior citizens, recruiters, military officers, and Lila Lipscomb. Plus authors, FBI agents, ex-congressmen..."

Backatcha, as it were. Humphhh...

Will F9/11 have lasting effect? To my mind (and because the average U.S. citizen appears to have none), a movie released in July will be erased from memory by November. Yeah, well, Yankees may be dumb but they're not stupid. Bruce tells me the DVD will be released November and, unlike this neck of the woods, most people in the States are in a position to watch DVDs. Why keep it in memory if you can save it to disk? Indeed. Why? It'll be around at the end of the year.

But this is where, for a foreigner, things get interesting. Bruce says "...much of [this material] has never been presented." He further avers that the movie is generating praise because it allows Americans to see "...real people talking about the war, they’re seeing a little bit of what the war looks like, and plenty of other things they should have seen on the news..." Given what I think of the U.S. media, why am I not surprised they don't see these things on network TV?

Again, Partridge delivers: "We don’t have a free press; it’s completely beholden to the corporate dollar. We do have the Internet. Unfortunately, that ain’t nearly enough." It ain't and, as he points out, we do not live in a perfect world "...that would see Bush and other war criminals in the dock. Would that America withdrew troops and sent out diplomats, would that power didn’t corrupt and absolute power didn’t corrupt absolutely."

Why's this guy not working for Michael Moore? Sorry, I forget. He is. And he accuses me of "...attacking the American public..." rather than the schools, the media and the world we live in. God, they don't come more patriotic than that. Mind you, such patriotism is so rare and irrefutable, it's bloody refreshing.

Does Bruce hold out much hope the movie will achieve what it sets out to do? In large part, yes. But, as far as he's concerned, it's not up to the movie to do that. It's up to the American public to eject Bush from the White House in November. After that? Well, I guess that's when the struggle really begins...

Indeed. Thanks, Mike.

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