FRIDAY, JULY 9, 2004
BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: What makes Ellen Goodman mad? Read each exciting installment:
PART 1: George Bush lied the nation to war. But thats not what riles Ellen Goodman. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/6/04.Now, for todays last installment:
MAKING ELLEN MAD (PART 4): In our view, Fahrenheit 9/11 has major flaws. Moores linear reasoning is very undisciplined; after seeing the film three times, and reading through such transcripts as exist, we still dont know what hes actually claiming in several major parts of the film. And some of his work just seems to be wrong. Moore seems to suggest that the war in Afghanistan was really about that pipeline project; when challenged about this by Nicholas Kristof, he seemed to have little to say. No, the film doesnt have as many gaps of information and logic as pseudo-con hacks have been happily claiming (often with the support of liberals and lefties). But Moore does himself a large disservice by failing to discipline these aspects of his work. He helps his critics direct attention away from his films powerful elements.
And yes, Fahrenheit 9/11 does have major strengths, a fact youll rarely hear in the press corps. For starters, Michael Moore is actually funny, a rare condition among modern humorists. He understands his comic persona, and uses it in this film as he has done since Roger & Me—juxtaposing himself, the shambling Everyman, with varied collections of fakers and phonies found at high levels of society. Repeatedly, Fahrenheit 9/11 juxtaposes the faces and manners of empty elites with images drawn from other parts of the world—for example, when Moore asks a blatantly phony member of Congress to sign up his children for service in Iraq, or when he shows us a gum-popping, post-human Britney Spears urging faith in Americas president. (Honestly, I think we should just trust our President in every decision that he makes and we should just support that. You know? And, um, be faithful in what happens.) And Moore has another Major Strength beyond that; Michael Moore has a strong class perspective. The strongest parts of his film are found near its end, when he delivers two short speeches about the way Americas classes interact. Evil begets evil, he says in one speech, showing footage of American soldiers mistreating the body of a dead Iraqi—and he says that this is what you get when you send otherwise decent kids off to fight an unnecessary and poorly-planned war. The other short speech makes Moores largest point about the way our elites use the poor. He has shown unflattering footage of Marine recruiters trolling an underclass mall near Flint. And omigod! He has spoken to the young people being trolled, recording their thoughts about their life situations. One of them says he wishes he could go to college without risking his life in a war zone first. They serve so we dont have to, Moore says of the children of the underclass who have signed up to fight in this war.
Moore brings a powerful class perspective to Fahrenheit 9/11—a perspective rarely seen, and often punished, in our celebrity press corps. It is rarely expressed for an obvious reason. Our modern press is itself a high elite; despite pious tales about Buffalo boyhoods, its opinion leaders are all multimillionaires, and even hard-charging young elite scribes know theyre on the millionaire track—and theyre careful not to blow it by getting outside the narrow confines of their elders world view. Most of these upscale scribes have little class perspective to suppress in the first place. But beyond that, they have no incentive to challenge their groups perspectives, and that helps explain the nasty treatment Moores film has received in the press. After all, is there any elite more phony and fake than the one that is currently trashing Moores film? And make no mistake—these overpaid and pampered poodles tend to identify, not with Moore, but with the powdered phonies he mocks. Indeed, try to believe that the following happened! Try to believe that, when Moore showed the vacuity of pop idol Spears, Noy Thrupkaew—writing in the American Prospect!—spoke up in anguished protest:
THRUPKAEW: At times it seems as if others suffering becomes just a convenient peg from which to hang his argument. He shows an Iraqi woman at the very extremity of rage and grief. Her uncles house has just been bombed; it will be her fifth funeral. I can only count on you, God, she screams, Where are you, God? Moore then cuts to Britney Spears, chewing gum and saying, We should just trust our president. I know the point Moores trying to make—here some of us are, bovine, plastic, blindly following our president, while others feel abandoned by their God. But goddamnit, Michael, do you have to be so callous to show us our own lack of feeling? My notes at this point in the film accelerated into illegible profanity.Yes, thats the way the film was received in one of Americas progressive publications! Michael, Thrupkaew vainly implores. Please dont show us how empty we are! But then, other progressives (and many mainstreamers) have complained that Moores interviews with those congressmen were somehow unfair—the latest cheap shot directed at Washington. Incredible, isnt it? Its now unfair to let us see the fake/phony face of our political elites. Its now unfair to mock politicians! For the record, those interviews were something beyond unfair—those interviews were actually funny! Did these troubled pundits fail to hear the laughter around them in the theater? As noted, weve seen Moores film three times, and the double-take by an unnamed congressmen got the biggest laugh every time. Normal Americans seeing this film think these congressmens conduct is funny. But all around your press elite, even progressives raise their hands to complain that its all so unfair!
So yes, dear readers, you might as well know why Moores film is so strangely trashed. Why do you read accounts of its failings that are wildly ginned up? Why do you read few accounts of its strengths? You are reading these oddball accounts because the Washington press corps is now made up of men and women of the presidents class—men and women who instinctively side with Bush, not with an underclass shambler. We cant enter the mind of Ellen Goodman, but her recent column, treated as literature, seems to present a perfect example. Poor Goodman! She says that Bush has lied us to war. She says he has toyed with our terror alerts. Youd almost think shed be outraged at Bush. But instead, shes upset with those who oppose him. Just listen to what she has gone through:
GOODMAN (pgh 1): Maybe it was because the man of my left was doing a play-by-play when any member of the Bush team came of the screen. Maybe it was because the movie was within pitching range of Fenway Park.Poor Goodman! Yes, she agrees with Moores stunning claims—that we were misled into Iraq, and that the White House has used the terrorism alerts as a political toy. But so what? [A]t some point, I also began to feel just a touch out of harmony, she reports. And, reading Goodmans column as literature, the explanation for this is plain. Poor Goodman! She finds herself thrown in with the proles, right there in the city—and some arent showing perfect decorum. (Our three audiences were all quite restrained.) Later, a letter-writer to the Times also gets under her very thin skin. And so she spends the bulk of her column complaining about the things Moore has said. Has Michael Moore lied us to war? No, its something far worse than that. Hes shown us footage of a boy in Iraq, Goodman says, throughly troubled.
But then, Ellen Goodmans odd reaction is precisely what Fahrenheit 9/11 is about. The film is about the way our elites dont give a sh*t about those found far down below them. Alas! Your mainstream press is a high elite; its members tend to punish those who intrude on the pleasures of their upper-class aeries. Moore isnt just saying Bush lied us to war; hes also saying that people should care. But, judging by her puzzling column, theres no real sign that Goodman does, and she seems to lash out at the shambling man who brings this small flaw to the surface.
THE GANG OF THREE: Weve looked at Goodmans column all week. But shes one of a Gang of Three at whose work we have recently marveled. Oddly, all three scribes accused Bush of vast crimes, but seemed more upset with his critics.
In last Wednesdays Times, Nicholas Kristof made an a striking claim (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/1/04). In fact, of course, Mr. Bush did stretch the truth, he said. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations. Yikes! All about exaggerations! But Kristof didnt aim his anger at Bush—he aimed it at uncouth fellows, including Moore, who were brand these exaggerations as lies. Bush may have misled us, but he didnt lie, Kristof strangely insisted.
Two days later, in the Post, Richard Cohen also unloaded on Moore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/04). The scribe said he himself had been stupid in the run-up to war in Iraq. I spent more time and energy arguing with those who said the war was about oil (no!) or Israel (no!) or something just as silly than I did questioning the stated reasons for invading, he lamented. And yes, he admits that this was stupid—that it caused him to overlook the fact that the Bush Admins stated reasons were flawed, perhaps bogus. But now, his earlier feelings return. What effect did Moores film have on Cohen? It made him feel sorry—for Bush:
COHEN: Some of that old feeling returned while watching Moores assault on the documentary form. It is so juvenile in its approach, so awful in its journalism, such an inside joke for people who already hate Bush, that I found myself feeling a bit sorry for a president who is depicted mostly as a befuddled dope.But just what sort of awful journalism produced this same old feeling in Cohen? The scribe devoted almost half of his column to a single sentence from Moores film—a single sentence that is perfectly accurate! (And quite unremarkable.) Why in the world would this trouble Cohen? Again, well present a wild thought:
Why did Cohen feel sorry for Bush? Lets suggest the obvious reason—he was expressing the instincts of his class. Before the war, and now again, he found the proles presenting claims which he simply couldnt abide. And guess what? The rabble was again upsetting him more than Bush—even when, as in Moores case, the rabble was saying things that were perfectly accurate! Like Goodman, Cohen didnt seem to care a lot about things happening around the world. In effect, he really cared about the fact that there was some kid in some movie theater whose deportment wasnt perfectly decorous.
Cohen was upset with Moore—because he said something perfectly accurate. Goodman was upset with Moore—because he showed a brief shot of a boy in Iraq. Surely, these cant be the actual reasons for the reactions of these High Pundits. Might we suggest a more obvious thought about why these pundits were landing on Moore? Here it is: Members of your High Pundit Class dont really care about people in Flint! Nor do they care about people in Baghdad. And when a shambling man suggests that they should, they begin to find themselves getting offended. They start feeling sorry for poor abused Bush. They complain about kids in a theater.
Readers, we hate to break the news, but Britney Spears really is somewhat empty. But as weve seen for year after year, so is the gang which makes up our High Press Corps. Goodman averted her gaze for two years while they invented their tales about Gore, and now she recites their overblown claims about a dude who comes from Flint and dares to make her spend twenty seconds on the fate of a young boy in Baghdad.