catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 14 :: 2003.07.04 — 2003.07.17


Now what?

I took in a lot of Michael Moore before I got to this movie?the various incarnations of his TV shows, “TV Nation” and “The Awful Truth;” some of his previous documentaries; and his book Stupid White Men

. What keeps me coming back to his material is (1) his in-your-face and yet strangely endearing humor and (2) the way he opens my eyes to issues I didn’t know about. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt his popularity with me that he’s a dumpy and hairstyle-challenged nobody-much from the Midwest and yet still successful.

Bowling for Columbine has the humor, and it opened my eyes to new ideas, issues, and theories, and yet it also has what bothers me about Michael Moore: (1) overreaching on some conclusions, (2) possible obfuscation of some facts, and (3) no real direction on where to go from here.

It’s the last that bothers me the most. I can accept that people exaggerate when they’re impassioned. I do it, making earthshaking absolutes out of isolated examples. I can understand that when people want to prove a point that they believe is valid (and I do agree with Michael Moore’s overall dismay about gun violence in America and the need to curb it) that they’ll concentrate their efforts on getting that point across, even if it means being occasionally contradictory (saying available ammo isn’t the reason for the U.S. record of gun murders and then crusading against Kmart for carrying ammo), embarrassing (a go-nowhere accosting of Dick Clark over bad welfare legislation), or rude (a squirm-inducing interview of a feeble Charlton Heston). I’ve come to expect that I won’t agree with everything Moore says or does, and that doesn’t over concern me.

What does leave me wanting is the question he almost always leaves unanswered: “What now?” In other words, what do I do with this knowledge? Moore’s conclusion about the issue of America’s high level of gun violence is that the U.S. (the media, especially) breeds fear over gun violence, thereby scaring Americans into owning guns, thereby scaring Americans into using guns, a vicious spiral. Now, granted, he says that violent crime is actually on the decrease, so the fear is unnecessary sensationalism on the media’s part. He shows a Canadian TV news show doing a story on speed bumps, as if Canadian news as a whole is small-town peaceable.

Moore makes a big deal, too, of the lack of fear in Canada, implying by several interviews that no one even in big-city Toronto locks doors. People tell him, “Oh, sure, we’ve had a few break-ins. They just take some booze and rough up the place a bit. No biggie.” Even Moore seems surprised that they would consider this no biggie, but that’s exactly my point: Are we Americans supposed to stop locking our doors? Will that solve the gun-violence problem? Is locking doors an indication of fear and mistrust or of good sense (or both)?

If it’s the media’s fault for instilling fear, what can I do about it? I already don’t watch TV news anymore (no reception, even in hilly Seattle, in our ground-floor apartment), and I don’t subscribe to a newspaper. I read news online, picking what stories interest me. I don’t own a gun and don’t plan to. What else can I do? Write letters to the media, demanding they stop scaring people? Start my own TV news show that concentrates on speed bumps, curling, and moose sightings? Moore’s chosen the role of spokesman as his action; he decided at 18 to run for his local school board, and he’s been out disseminating information and trying to inspire people to make decisions ever since. The only problem is, he gives the information without a clear idea of what he wants people to do with it. From Stupid White Men, it seemed like he thinks everyone should run for political office or become a media blockbuster like he is. Naturally, that makes no sense, even if everyone were cut out to be a persistent, impassioned loudmouth. Writing letters actually does sound like a good idea for a quiet person like me to do, but just from this movie, I have no idea whom to write or what to say.

My favorite Michael Moore moments are when he does make a change. In one of his TV episodes, for instance, he campaigns loudly and long enough on behalf of some immigrant maids at a Holiday Inn who were about to be deported (they had tried to form a union) that the INS actually takes pity on him and the maids and works out the situation so that they can stay in the country, working to send big bucks home to their families. Moore seemed just as surprised as anyone else that his complaining worked. In the Kmart scene in “Bowling for Columbine,” he seems surprised again. In one sense, it’s as if he’s gotten so many doors slammed in his face that that’s what he expects. And, in another, it’s as if he thinks the complaining is good enough. But I need expected results, a goal in mind and action to take to get there. Bowling for Columbine makes me think about the gun problem, but it doesn’t give me any idea what to do about it.

Discussion topic: Now what?

Watching Bowling for Columbine tends to leave people with a grave sense of defeat, as though we?re powerless against violence and the media, because it offers no real solutions. But what practical steps (no matter how small) can we take, as individuals or as communities, to address the problem of gun violence?

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