Comfortable and Furious

Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is one-sided, manipulative, angry, unfair, and brutally disrespectful. It is made by America’s most prominent Bush-hater, and serves only to reinforce the suspicions, prejudices, and sense of outrage shared by millions of us who believe that this country has been making a bee-line for the toilet ever since 12:01 PM on January 20, 2001. It is a work of blatant propaganda from start to finish — unapologetically so — and is less a documentary than a recruiting tool for getting out the vote in favor of ANYONE but Bush and his crew of liars, thieves, and assassins later this year. And because Moore doesn’t disguise his motives, any criticism about his biases is an exercise in absurdity, as no one of even moderate intelligence would expect an objective PBS-style account from Mr. Moore.

This film not only believes Bush is illegitimate, but corrupt, foolish, shallow, and quite possibly criminal, and I for one agree wholeheartedly. Because the past four years have been a time of media complacency and press surrender, I was proud to share two hours with fellow liberals as we hissed, booed, and roared our disgust at those who have unrepentantly taken this country into a realm of the military-industrial complex unimagined even by the likes of Eisenhower. This is no conspiracy, after all, but an overt, light-of-day movement to privatize every waking moment of our lives and destroy every last remnant of FDR/LBJ progressivism. Such dismantling began before Bush (and continued largely unabated throughout Clinton’s eight years), but only now has it been so bloody obvious.

Fahrenheit 9/11, then, is a film made exclusively for us, and the other side is definitely not invited. No one’s mind will be changed, although this film could serve to motivate the complacent to cast a much-needed ballot against Bush in the fall. If the audiences waiting around the block to see this film are any indication, Bush is probably the most widely hated President in American history, and certainly the most reviled since Nixon. If the support for this film reflects even a portion of the backlash, the polls showing a dead-heat are way off, and we could we looking at a Reagan, circa 1980, type repudiation of the incumbent. One can only hope. But the energy of my screening — and it seems to have been substantially less than many screenings reported across the country — was so real that the anti-Bush sentiment cannot be as marginal as many media personalities would have us believe. It is easy, then, to see why the Bush administration is so fearful of this film — people are responding, perhaps caring for the first time in their lives. Such passion translates to votes and a possible sweep of John Kerry into office.

And yet, despite the fact that I applaud Moore and his mission, it must be said that as a film — a piece of cinema — the work is flawed, although not because it leaves out certain points or fails to flesh out certain details that require more explanation than Moore allows. As expected, Moore gives us “bullet points” rather than deep, probing analysis, and that is fine, as Moore is not a journalist. My main criticism, interestingly, is that Moore didn’t go far enough, and that there were weak spots that could have been excised and scenes that should have told us even more to sustain the rage. The best part of the film is that Moore often lets Bush hang himself by butchering words, showing us that trademark smirk (and arrogance, as when he follows a remark about terrorism with a demand that reporters “watch this drive”), and so obviously lying that it pains me to think that there’s anyone left who believes in him.

The Bush Crew is so silly — yet dangerous — that all one would have to do is string together two hours of their “greatest hits” and we’d have irrefutable evidence for a change in leadership. It is clear that Moore stayed out of the way this time to avoid criticism that he is a self-serving egomaniac, but part of me wishes he had inserted more of himself into the film. When Moore hits the steps of the Capitol to ask Congressmen if they will sign up their sons and daughters for combat, it is a moment that highlights the best of Moore from the Roger & Me days. Calling people on the carpet is never tiresome, especially when we learn that of the 535 members of Congress, only one has a child serving in Iraq. Such a scene illustrates better than a hundred academic speeches the principle of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”

And the promised scenes of torture turn out to undermine Moore’s case, as what he presents could easily be no more than what Rush Limbaugh described as “fraternity pranks.” Moore either should have given us more striking images, or cut out the scenes entirely. And an extended sequence in Iraq around Christmas-time goes nowhere, bringing the train of rage to a screeching halt. In many ways, the “train” herks and jerks rather than taking a direct, uninterrupted line, which is one of my primary complaints. Anger abounds, of course, but any propaganda worth its salt must be even more relentless and more inflammatory. The film did take a welcome turn into the military hospitals to show us the real hidden story of the war — the maimed and injured of combat. We have come to focus so exclusively on the dead, that we forget the thousands who have lost limbs, sustained permanent nerve damage, paralysis, and hideous burns.

Many of these men are understandably disillusioned, which might surprise anyone who watches the news these days. To hear our “liberal” media, the military is a giant, undifferentiated mass of flag-waving, gung-ho patriots who love the good fight. The film does show several of these sorts — young snots who choose “battle music” that best suits blowing other human beings to bits — but it is important that we hear those who have seen war first hand describe its cruelty, inhumanity, and injustice. It’s far too easy to romanticize war when we never have to look at the shattered corpses, or (gasp) slaughtered children. And yes, kids, we did this.

One commonly criticized sequence involves a “before & after” of Iraq, immediately prior to the U.S. invasion. Before the bombs started to fall, we see children playing, happy Iraqis shopping and going about their day, and a general sense of calm. Obviously, this is outrageously unfair, as Baghdad was hardly Club Med before we came along. Much of Saddam’s crimes were hyped to justify an overthrow, but Moore doesn’t need to resort to this level of cheap bullshit to make his point. The invasion was wrong and the occupation a near-total failure, but there are enough genuine points to be made about our hubris without inventing nonsense about how Iraqis were allegedly in a state of bliss before the Americans rolled through. I have no doubt that much of Iraq was relatively normal, but Moore is not using these scenes to show that Iraqis are “just like us.”

He wants us to believe that Iraq was perfectly fine on its own. Perhaps it was, but a pre-occupation Iraq was more — much more — than smiling young ones eating ice cream in the park. And Moore should know better than this. He’s a smart guy who should (and usually does) understand that such trickery is going to be used to indict the entire film. Moore strayed from the point often in this sense — given that the war in Iraq was based on intelligence failures, greed, and outright lies — and he shouldn’t play into the hands of those who loathe him. Like the politicians say, Mike, “stay on message.”

And where are the justifiable calls of hypocrisy, given that Bush fancies himself a “small government” conservative, yet has run up the largest deficits in history and has done nothing to curb spending, except of course to cut funding for veteran’s hospitals and combat pay (which Moore does bring up, thankfully)? And what about Bush’s dreadful environmental policies, or his call to appoint judges who fit the mold of Antonin Scalia, easily the most reactionary Supreme Court Justice in over a century? Or the realities of the tax cuts, that some are now claiming saved the country from ruin? Or, more importantly, what about the obliteration of the wall separating church and state, which even Reagan was hesitant to explore? Fine, I can’t have everything, but a film bashing Bush simply cannot ignore the dozens, if not hundreds of ways he has screwed each and every one of us. I’d have settled for a quick montage to set the record straight.

he highlights of Fahrenheit 9/11 include the establishment of links between the Saudis and the Bush family (well documented before the film was made, needless to say), the facts concerning war contracts (including Cheney and Halliburton, who are so vile they are practically villains pulled from a Victorian melodrama), and the 2000 election madness, which gave rise to all this business in the first place. More importantly, Moore captures the change in mood since the Bushies have taken charge, almost as if we’ve surrendered to our worst instincts. In this way, Moore turns the camera on us, and seems to ask why we’ve been so complicit in our own downfall.

Here, Moore shows how the deliberate manipulation of the terrorist color levels have been used to keep us fearful, quiet, and ready to sign up for whatever suspension of civil liberties the powers of be see fit to enact. The administration may be a collection of dimwits and sinister madmen, but we’ve let them run amok with few questions and even fewer doubts. So yes, this film is a wake-up call, much in the manner of an icy cold shower. Another great bit showed political mastermind Britney Spears giving her support for Bush and everything he does, or will ever do. A cheap shot at a twit who couldn’t string two sentences together about anything even remotely interesting? Sure. But she’s one dead horse who deserves to be beaten.

Moore hits us below the belt and attacks the emotions whenever he can, but appealing strictly to logic would likely end up with his message being ignored. Once the feelings have been tapped, Americans are ready to pound the pavement. Appeal to reason and the intellect, and we’re ready to go back to sleep. Perhaps Moore knows this underneath his populist armor, but I doubt he’d ever admit it. A low-key, reasonable documentary would not be filling the theaters, nor would it be attracting the headlines. Instead, such a film would be a straight-to-video release, having little or no impact on the November election. So, I say to Mr. Moore, faults and all, keep pumping ’em out. Whatever it takes to get that cocksucker out of office, I’m with you. And if it means playing fast and loose with the truth from time to time, so fucking what? You’ve got to be willing to get your hands dirty when so much is at stake. Being nice and respectful might play better to Oprah audiences, but it won’t secure power. You can be the good guy when we get our fucking country back. enheight



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