In October 2000--a mere month before the election that would bitterly divide this country and send us spinning toward a conflict in Iraq--my wife and I attended a Michael Moore "guest lecture" at Florida State University. Having enjoyed the documentary Roger & Me, in which Moore rakes corporate America over the hilariously hot coals of cleverly edited footage, we were eager to hear the filmmaker's latest broadsides prior to what everybody in Florida knew would be a tight race.
Instead, we stumbled into a Ralph Nader rally. As registered independents, we had no investment in Al Gore. But when Moore made the case that there was no difference between Gore and Bush (a stance he has since disavowed), and that both were intent on leading America down an evil path, we were horror-struck. In fact, as recent events confirm, there was a vast chasm of difference. And anyone with any sense knew that, once elected, Bush would spill blood for oil.
Since then, Moore has improved as a filmmaker, even if his ideas remain weak. Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 are brilliant propaganda, or to borrow a term from the liberal arts, first-rate "creative nonfiction." Indeed, as a satirist in the tradition of Voltaire, Moore is good at what he does: antagonizing people in powerful positions.
Moore's books, however, are another story. They stink. And they stink for the simple reason that it's difficult for Moore to entertain with words alone. In order to avoid sounding like an ideologue, he requires footage of moronic Hollywood hacks like Pat Boone, Dick Clark and Charlton Heston saying outlandish things to make us laugh and cry at America's gross inequality. Stripped of his camera, Moore is just another boring voice.
I'm still bitter about how Moore helped sabotage Gore's presidency by stumping for Nader, so I confess that I looked forward to reading Tucson lawyer David T. Hardy and Web designer Jason Clarke's cumbersomely titled Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man. (For more on Hardy, see "Moore or Less," Currents, July 15.) Indeed, I licked my chops in anticipation. Takedown time, baby!
But Michael Moore makes for a paltry meal. Instead of a blistering deconstruction of the filmmaker's moral façade, the book is an anthology of anti-Moore essays written by other right-wing columnists and buttressed by "Notes and Sources," most culled from the selected rants themselves. And let's face it--the term "L.A. liberals" on Page 6 is off-putting to someone craving a fair-and-balanced evisceration.
Also, it's odd--not to mention monotonous--to read Hardy and Clarke's major revelation that, in fact, Moore wasn't born in Flint, as he claims, but in a rich suburb just outside of Flint called Davison, and then read the same revelation in the next essay by someone named Kay Hymowitz. Never mind how many residents claim they're from Tucson when they're really from Oro Valley: How can Moore be a man for the people, the "authors" suggest, when he's not even a man of the people? Whatever, guys.
But the main issue for these guys is that a "major thesis of Moore's documentary (Roger & Me) was based on a (sic) invented timeline." This where the book becomes somewhat interesting, as Moore's trickery is broken down frame-by-frame to show you how he fudged the facts to fulfill his ideological aims. Still, Hardy and Clarke can't diminish the hard kernel of truth at the core of these films: CEOs are greedy schmucks; many NRA members are gun-waving lunatics; and Dubya is an idiot. Yeah, Moore distorts chronology, but how does this change the absurdisms that consistently emerge from the mouths of Roger, Heston and Bush? Well, it doesn't.
There's more nonsense, though: "Powell sat on the board of Gulfstream, a company which makes jets for 'Hollywood honchos and foreign governments like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,' and Rice, a former director of Chevron, has an oil tanker named after her. How Moore can see these scraps of information as compelling indictments is beyond us."
It's not good when someone who's ambivalent about Moore, like me, finds himself writing in the margins: "Because 15 of the 19 WTC killers were from Saudi Arabia, and because many believe our invasion of Iraq has to do with oil!"
No, not good at all.
Worse, at the end of this "book," I felt sympathy for Moore, much in the same way my heart went out to the ambushed, Alzheimers-stricken Heston at the end of Columbine. So I guess Hardy and Clarke deserve Moore, and vice-versa. Though, really, the authors should've composed a valentine to the filmmaker, since he helped Dubya win Florida.