Monday, September 14, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Moore

Like any self-respecting liberal in North America, I must confess some love for Michael Moore. The reason for the slightly guilty tone you may detect in the preceding sentence is that Moore can simultaneously be the most inspiring and infuriating media personality around.

When he first made his mark, with the brilliant Roger & Me, it was a very different time. You see, up until the very early 1980s, the working class in the U.S. were resolutely liberal. The working class were the backbone of the Democratic party. Then came Jimmy Carter. Now, Carter has long been deified by the left, but he was, frankly, an indecisive mess as a president. He tried to rewrite the wheel so much that he came off as a detail obsessed kook who wanted to put solar panels in the Rose Garden. And then came Ronald Reagan, a man who appealed so much to white, blue collar voters it was simply unreal.

So, Democrats lost the white working class, and they've never really gotten them back. The odd thing is that the 1980s were pretty depressing for the white working class. Jobs were being shipped overseas, labour unions were beginning to die a slow, agonizing death, and the government had embraced the rah-rah capitalism of the times and were using it as a machete, whacking great sections of the working middle class into the lower working class. Whole towns dried up. Towns like Moore's Flint, Michigan, which was dependent on the GM plant to survive.

So, Moore, who even at this point seemed more of a propaganda machine than a documentarian, made Roger & Me, a funny, ironic and searing examination of the effect of GM's plant closures on his hometown of Flint. It touched a nerve with people because they needed a voice, a guy who would stand up to the corporate and government interests that effectively controlled every single aspect of their lives.

I'm not going to go through the rest of his resume, because we all know it, don't we? If you don't, Google the guy and find out. Suffice to say, he has become a polarizing figure. while I usually have nothing but support for the premises of his films, I always get embarrassed by how far he goes to support his point. Bowling for Columbine was by far his most even keeled film, and even that one could only be characterized as an attack on the values of the right.

So, when someone recently asked him about the state of newspapers in the US, in his customary way, he started off sounding totally reasonable and logical, and ended up sounding like a crazy person.

Here's the beginning:

I interviewed David Simon, he used to work at the Baltimore Sun, and of course did The Wire and other projects, and he was talking about way back in the early 90s, when he left, when he was bought out, when they were trying to downsize the Baltimore Sun, they got rid of the courts beat, they got rid of the crime beat, they got rid of the labour beat, they got rid of the poverty beat reporter. I don't know if you've ever been to Baltimore, but poverty? Courts? Labour? If you stop reporting on the things that the people in the town are really concerned about, they may stop reading your newspaper. But the bottom-line bean counters who've come, the corporations who've bought out these newspapers, they come in and they say, 'How can we get more news for less money, less employees?

Makes sense. He's decrying the profit oriented concerns that have overwhelmed creating the best possible product, right? Now, here's a little later:

How did we create so many illiterate and ignorant people? It's because we have made education such a low priority in the United States. And what party has led the way? The Republican Party. Every convention they have a thing in their platform about dismantling the Department of Education. Americans, right, they want to get rid of the Department of Education. They hate the teacher's union. They give it as little money as possible.

Now, look, I'm not saying that he isn't right a little bit. There's absolutely no question that the American school system is in serious trouble. But to lay ALL the blame at the Republicans is the type of over-simplification and propaganda that makes a lot of liberals embarrassed for Moore. There's Democrats out there who have done just as much damage to the school system. And there's some Republicans that have propped that system up with both hands, doing everything they can to help.

Well, here's a review of his new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, a film that apparently calls for the socio-economic systems's complete eradication. I'm not sure he's wrong, but I am sure that he's going to be hit with the same complaints he always gets hit with; that he's too one sided, that's he's liberally biased, that he's more of a rabblerouser than a serious documentarian.

Well, here's his reponse:

You asked me back there, 'You're biased. You have only one side.' Well, yeah, I have a bias. I have a bias on behalf of the little guy who doesn't have a say. I'm lucky enough to be able to have this bully pulpit, to be able to say the things I say, on behalf of the people who don't have a voice. The pharmaceutical companies and corporate America, they've got their voice. They own the networks and they can say whatever they want, all the time, and they do. So can we just have two hours for this side to have their say? I hope so, I think so. That's what I'm trying to do.

So, yeah, sometimes he makes me cringe as he goes waaaay too far. But at least it's too far in the right direction, right?

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