Thursday, June 24, 2004

Just another Smackdown 

For some time, now, there has been something about the "left"'s response to Fahrenheit 9/11 that has bothered me but I just couldn't put my finger on it until I read a quote by Jason Kottke in Jeff Jarvis’ blog:

"The film, while entertaining -- very funny in parts and at times powerfully moving -- was ultimately disappointing for me...."

This is a film that is supposed to be exposing deception and malfeasance of the government at the highest levels and Imperialism at a scale that exceeds the expansionist heyday of the Spanish-American War. A film that asserts that the President willfully misused his power, sent hundreds of young Americans to their death, instigated the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and endangered the entire country by enraging terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East, and that he did so for the sake of personal gain and cronyism and as a result of wonton negligence and incompetence. That so many who seemingly agree with the premise of the film see it as "entertaining" or "funny" is a completely foreign and frankly disturbing concept to me.

In the course of the comments, the questions of truth and perception were raised and someone opined that most of Moore’s supporters believe his version of events represent the truth. But the almost celebratory response and cheering don’t seem to match. If these allegations were really true we would not only be talking undoubtedly about the single most corrupt and, dare I say it, evil President in the history of our country but the possibility of a long and horrible struggle ahead to purge our country of this influence. As a corollary, I believe whole heartedly the Nazis were one of the clearest incarnations of evil in the 20th century, but when I see the French documentary Night and Fog and witness evidence of this I feel neither entertained nor am I inclined to cheer for the film. It is a harsh, sobering experience. Likewise, if I believed half of what Michael Moore purports I could not imagine having a lighter reaction to a similar visual representation of evidence. Therein lies what I see as contradiction.

I rather believe, as I say, that Moore’s ardent supporters don’t care if it is true or not, as long as it serves the purpose of helping to achieve their common goal (in this case, removing President Bush from office). If one makes this assumption, then the "gotcha" gamesmanship, the idea of entertainment or humor in the film begins to make some sense, as it really becomes a "mockumentary" or a satire of itself to a degree. But is it? Moore’s work seems to have neither the subtlety nor style of Swift’s Modest Proposal nor the gonzo panache of Spinal Tap. It rather resounds with the frantic sincerity and fury of the corner judgment day street preacher. And while I will leave aside the question of Moore’s motivation (Mad Hatter or snake oil salesman), I can’t help but think that not everyone who cheers the message and messenger has really drunk the Kool-Aid.

In thinking of this, I am reminded of the single definitive event that poisoned my attitude against Hillary Clinton. Early in the first term I remember a televised pity-party she was hosting to drum up support for her health care plan. Complete with children afflicted with rare terminal illnesses, I watched as she, with a tear in her eye, bemoaned how she just didn’t understand why the insurance companies only want to insure those who will never need their service. Now, say what you want, but she’s no dummy. As such, no one will ever be able to convince me that as an intelligent woman and a lawyer she doesn’t know how the business model for the insurance industry works. But the thing is, she was talking to some who honestly did not. In using her intelligence to blatantly manipulate the emotions of those either less knowledgeable or less capable she lost, probably forever, any chance of respect from me. And in this movie I see the same pattern.

The deceptive editing, the half-truths, the subliminal cuts and juxtaposition of images, all designed with one goal in mind. To manipulate the fears of the less informed. The pleasure derived from slamming your opponent, a stinging slap that is all sound and fury but really signifies nothing. That there are people who would willfully take the most important issues of the day and turn them into little more than the bluster and bluff of a WWE pay-per-view is from where my discomfort comes. And, frankly, it sickens me.

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