catapult magazine

catapult magazine


fahrenheit 9/11


Jul 11 2004
10:04 am

Michael Moore, the populist, humorist and satirist commentator on current events, recently released a manipulative agi-entertainment video-clip essay on the current debate about the war on Iraq. It is manipulative because Moore uses all the emotional tricks that one can use as a wink or a nod while presenting information. It is agi-entertainment because it is constructed to move the audience to laughs, agitation and many other emotional reactions. It is a video-clip essay because it uses a huge amount of actual video footage and ties it together to support some very opinionated claims of its writer. I lifted those three descriptions from various critics. This is a biased, opinionated and audacious gathering of footage and commentary. I loved it. Here?s why.

Moore is being pretty clear in his life and consistent behavior that he is biased and that he knows it. His upbringing in Flint and the story of his life has a lot to do with his biases, and as a human, the best we all can do is recognize that we are nothing if we are not biased by our limited range of experience, understanding and insight that at its most expansive, remains that of one human stumbling through the first and only draft of his life.

Moore knows his audience. The mom and son behind us spent some time trying to get a handle on all the names as their images appeared in the opening of the movie: Who?s that? Ashcroft. How bout him? Oh that?s Dick Cheney. I don?t know who that is. Paul Wolf? We are an audience that does not read, does not watch C-Span and gets most of our understanding of current events from Fox News. We have no clue about the games played by television networks to limit our exposure to certain images and ideas, and to play to our fear and vulnerabilities about the sneaky, shadowy killers who could be anywhere. So Moore says, this is what the networks do to you. And he plays their game to show how easily all this footage can be spun another way, using the sound-bytes, sawing violins or supposedly balanced commentator voice over. Moore proves to us all that the power and manipulation that goes along with presenting information in such a way means: we all need to pay attention and get our butts involved in this democracy! Wendell Berry pointed out in his opening essay of Citizenship Papers that Thomas Jefferson?s main reason for pushing universal education was this very democratic idea: citizens need to be educated so that they can have a healthy mistrust of the powerful ones in their government. Where there is no mistrust or education, the democracy is probably very much a hollow term for what?s going really going on. I am glad that Moore does what it takes to get the average American thinking a bit more critically about some questions we all should be asking anyway: Why are we going to war? What really makes our homeland more secure? Why do they play us with the color-alert system?
No regular full-time working citizen has the time or the universal access to keep abreast of the events that happen daily or throughout a presidency. I could get scared thinking about this, knowing there?s no way I can see what?s really going on. What comforts me is to know that news organizations, scholars, private citizens, all admittedly driven by motives more complex than ?just getting the truth out there,? are sifting through the files, memos, sound-bytes and taking the time to tie it together to make a point. When the opinions clash, I don?t fret, because I know all about selective interpretation. Instead I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that both biases are coming through loud and clear. As long as that happens, I tell myself that the citizens in this democracy can put their views on the table and open up the discussion. My hope is that every citizen has access to this discussion, even if it?s the manipulative tactics of Fox News or Michael Moore that helps them get a foot in the door. My hope is that they will think twice about how easily they can be swayed, then respond by reading more history, finding out the names of their legislative reps, paying more attention to Condy Rice than Courtney Love, and maybe even seeking some understanding of logic to recognize the fallacies (used by any source) that may currently be manipulating them.