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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Topic: Dissent

More on Moore -

Over at the web log Whiskey Bar - whose motto displayed at the top of the page is "For if we don't find the next Whiskey Bar, I tell you we must die." (Bertolt Brecht) - you will find this comment in a longer item on Michael Moore's new film "Fahrenheit 9/11" -
... if Moore has become the Ann Coulter of the left - but with a sharper wit - then I can see no better target for his considerable talents than the Man from Crawford. If ever a president deserved to be the subject of a vitriolic, one-sided, emotionally manipulative diatribe of a documentary, Bush is it.

It's still not clear to me whether Fahrenheit 9/11 lives up to that description, or justifies the nonstop right-wing whining now saturating the airwaves (Call it Unfair-enheit 24/7). I haven't seen the movie yet. But if it does play a little loose with the facts, omits some key details, implies more than it can prove, and generally takes after Shrub with a cinematic hatchet, I won't be surprised. But I also won't mind.

For years now, Limbaugh, Coulter and their inferior imitations have been passing off their slanted misreadings, unproven allegations and flimsy lies as factual reporting. When caught out on a lie or a smear, they either ignore the evidence, or - like Limbaugh - retreat into the phony defense of arguing that all they're doing is expressing a subjective opinion. "I'm just in the entertainment business," Rush likes to say.

Well, now there's someone on the left who knows how to play their game, and play it brilliantly. Moore may be an egomaniac, and a huckster showman in the best (or worst) tradition of P.T. Barnum and Walter Winchell, but, man, he's effective. He's learned to play the mainstream media like a Stradivarius.

No wonder the right wingers are scared of Moore - he's even better then they are at using the media as an unwilling amplifier. Which is why all the conservative caterwauling and all disapproving tut tuts from the "responsible" press have only helped ensure Fahrenheit 9/11 a wider distribution.

In other words, Moore's managed to break the code. He's figured out how to sell an angry radical (or at least semi-radical) message to a mass audience.

That's a major accomplishment. And if the end result isn't exactly my idea of a civilized political discourse (I'll reserve judgment for now) it clearly is a powerful and successful example of fighting fire with fire.

And right now, a little fire may be what the American left needs most.
And this from my friend Bonnie in Boston -
Well, I saw Fahrenheit 911 yesterday afternoon at four in Boston. The theater was nearly filled with a very diverse audience, age and race-wise. When we were leaving, the lobby was thrumming with a packed incoming crowd.

I thought the film was great. From the little I know about Ann Coulter and Rush Limberger, their stock in trade consists of lots of name-calling and vituperation. Moore indulges in neither. Like any good artist, he presents images and words, skillfully arranged for effect, and lets them speak for themselves. Show not tell. Sure, the impact of his selection and arrangement of images and music manipulate the viewer to infer certain things. But that's what movies do. But his subjects speak for themselves, from the mother of the dead soldier to Bush to a former FBI agent, and it all feels profoundly truthful and authentic, not to mention witty and downright hilarious at moments.

Of course, I'm already on board with most of what he offers up. I remember the Boston Globe's reports of Bin Ladens being flown out of town while my husband was stranded in St. Louis after 911. I have long believed that Cheney et. al. run the show and use GW as a front man who, without someone telling him what to say, is clueless as a deer in the headlights. I believe the war is being fought for oil.

But what surprised me is that I found myself in the bathroom after the show, heaving great sobs behind the closed stall door. The movie pushed the cerebral hatred I have for this administration right down into my guts and made it visceral. I wept hot tears of hate, something I can't ever remember doing before. (A margarita and a plate of pulled pork, plus some good conversation, restored my spirits soon thereafter.)

I am thrilled that so many people are going to see it, talking about it, writing about it. The Globes whole Letters to the Editor section was devoted to the movie this morning. And I especially love the web address at the end of the film. DO SOMETHING. There, one finds information about how to register and get others registered to vote.

For my money, Moore is a patriot. Let the right rant. Let the people vote.

Maybe we can get the Bushes out, come fall, after all.
Moore is a patriot? The other day, on the CNN show Crossfire, Robert Novak called Moore un-American. Simply un-American. Of course Novak is the man who gladly published the name of an undercover CIA agent (Valerie Plame) who had been working on our efforts to get nuclear stuff off the black market. He blew her cover to help punish her husband for exposing Bush and crew fibbing about Iraq trying to buy yellow-cake uranium in Niger. He sees no problem with that. Yeah, he knows a lot about a being a good American.

Oh well. Folks are choosing sides.

Kevin Drum, a writer out here in Irvine, California, posted this. He says the film is either worthy of Henry James, or simply a mirror of all the crap we get from the right.
... What to say? The argument over the film mostly seems to revolve around whether it's factually accurate and presents a logical case, a conversation so pointless as to be laughable. I mean, it's a polemical film from Michael Moore, not a Brookings Institution white paper. It's like complaining that editorial cartoons are unfair because they don't portray the nuance of serious policy discussions.

Now, as it happens, I thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was a bit mediocre even as polemic, but the thing that really struck me about the film was the almost poetic parallelism between its own slanders and cheap shots and the slanders and cheap shots of pro-war supporters themselves over the past couple of years. If Moore had done this deliberately, it would have been worthy of Henry James.

Take the first half hour of the film, in which Moore exposes the close relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud. Sure, it relies mostly on innuendo and imagery, but then again, he never really makes the case anyway. He never flat out says that the Bush family is on the Saudi payroll. Rather, he simply includes "9/11," "Bush," and "Saudi Arabia" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that George Bush is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the Saudi royal family.

Which is all remarkably similar to the tactic Bush himself used to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11. He never flat out blamed Saddam, but rather made sure to include the words "9/11," "Saddam Hussein," and "al-Qaeda" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that Saddam had something to do with it.

Or take Afghanistan. In a lengthy and nearly unreadable screed in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes Moore to task for arguing in 2002 that the war in Afghanistan was unjust but then arguing in the film that Iraq was a distraction from the real war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Surely I'm not the only one who's reminded by this of the ever-shifting rationales for war from the Bush administration itself? In 2002 it was mostly about WMD. But there was no WMD. So then it became al-Qaeda. But there were no serious al-Qaeda ties. How about liberation? Maybe, except the Iraqis don't seem especially happy with their liberators. Democracy? Stay tuned.

Finally, the last half hour of the film includes a piece of street theater in which Moore accosts congressmen on Capitol Hill and asks if they'll try to get their sons and daughters to enlist in the military. It's a brutally unfair question, but one that echoes a standard debating point of Hitchens and others: "Would you prefer that Saddam Hussein was still in power?" It's a question that's unanswerable in 10 words or less, and about as meaningful as Moore's ambush interviews with congressmen.

So is Fahrenheit 9/11 unfair, full of innuendo and cheap shots, and guilty of specious arguments? Sure. But that just makes it the perfect complement to the arguments of many in the pro-war crowd itself. Perhaps the reason they're so mad is that they see more than a little of themselves in it.
Yep, everyone is in the gutter now.

But some of us are looking at the stars. (Apologies to Oscar Wilde, of course.)

Posted by Alan at 18:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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