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MAKING ELLEN MAD (PART 4)! Ellen Goodman’s odd reaction is just what Moore’s film is about:
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 that’s not what riles Ellen Goodman. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/6/04.

PART 2: Goodman listed Moore’s “cheap shots.” We puzzled at what makes her mad. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/7/04.

PART 3: Goodman’s hatred of “cheap shots” didn’t do much for Clinton or Gore. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/8/04.

Now, for today’s last installment:

MAKING ELLEN MAD (PART 4): In our view, Fahrenheit 9/11 has major flaws. Moore’s linear reasoning is very undisciplined; after seeing the film three times, and reading through such transcripts as exist, we still don’t know what he’s 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 doesn’t 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 film’s powerful elements.

And yes, Fahrenheit 9/11 does have major strengths, a fact you’ll 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 America’s 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 America’s 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 Moore’s 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 don’t 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 they’re on the millionaire track—and they’re 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 group’s perspectives, and that helps explain the nasty treatment Moore’s film has received in the press. After all, is there any elite more phony and fake than the one that is currently trashing Moore’s 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 uncle’s 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 Moore’s 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, that’s the way the film was received in one of America’s “progressive” publications! Michael, Thrupkaew vainly implores. Please don’t show us how empty we are! But then, other progressives (and many mainstreamers) have complained that Moore’s interviews with those congressmen were somehow “unfair”—the latest “cheap shot” directed at Washington. Incredible, isn’t it? It’s now “unfair” to let us see the fake/phony face of our political elites. It’s 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, we’ve seen Moore’s film three times, and the double-take by an unnamed congressmen got the biggest laugh every time. Normal Americans seeing this film think these congressmen’s conduct is funny. But all around your press elite, even “progressives” raise their hands to complain that it’s all so unfair!

So yes, dear readers, you might as well know why Moore’s 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 president’s class—men and women who instinctively side with Bush, not with an underclass shambler. We can’t 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. You’d almost think she’d be outraged at Bush. But instead, she’s 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.

(2) But halfway through “Fahrenheit 9/11,” I realized this wasn’t an audience, it was a fan club. They weren't watching the movie, they were rooting for it.

(3) I saw this movie in a sold-out theater on a Monday night surrounded by people in their 20s. You go, Michael.

Poor Goodman! Yes, she agrees with Moore’s 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 Goodman’s 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 aren’t 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, it’s something far worse than that. He’s shown us footage of a boy in Iraq, Goodman says, throughly troubled.

But then, Ellen Goodman’s odd reaction is precisely what Fahrenheit 9/11 is about. The film is about the way our elites don’t 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 isn’t just saying Bush lied us to war; he’s also saying that people should care. But, judging by her puzzling column, there’s 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: We’ve looked at Goodman’s column all week. But she’s 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 Wednesday’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t “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 Admin’s stated reasons were flawed, perhaps bogus. But now, his earlier feelings return. What effect did Moore’s film have on Cohen? It made him feel sorry—for Bush:

COHEN: Some of that old feeling returned while watching Moore’s 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 Moore’s film—a single sentence that is perfectly accurate! (And quite unremarkable.) Why in the world would this trouble Cohen? Again, we’ll present a wild thought:

Why did Cohen feel sorry for Bush? Let’s 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 couldn’t abide. And guess what? The rabble was again upsetting him more than Bush—even when, as in Moore’s case, the rabble was saying things that were perfectly accurate! Like Goodman, Cohen didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 we’ve 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.