Lost in the Movies: Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11 achieves a more total immersion than any other documentary I've seen. Which is to say, it erases the distance between the audience and the material, the emotional remove that remains when we watch the news on TV. Fahrenheit 9/11 plays as a narrative film, a story unwinding before our eyes in the way all Hollywood stories unwind, complete with the appropriate formal tricks (cutting footage to echo the mise-en scene of a screen drama) and subtle manipulations (streamlining facts to fit a conventional narrative). In erasing this distancing effect, in adopting the tools of narrative fiction rather than exploratory documentary, Moore crafts a powerful work, as personal as any auteurist art film, as immersive as any escapist entertainment. He also disables our ability to think and critically analyze what we are seeing, fashions a work of sublime propaganda, and crafts an intensely manipulative, misleading, and demagogic pseudo-doc.

A word of warning: with this write-up I intend to examine the effect Fahrenheit has in general terms. I will not always be dealing with specifics, nor making a systematic argument based on particular evidence from the movie. If anyone would like to get more specific, challenging an assertion or offering a counter-observation, I invite you to leave a comment and I'll engage with it as soon as possible (probably within a few hours, as soon as I see it). And in that forum I will be happy to back up my observations, impressions, and (perhaps) generalizations with details. But for the time being, I want to step back and look at the big picture.

Like most people, I first saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in the summer of 2004. The Iraq War was one year old, 9/11 just two and half years in the past, and Bush was running for re-election. The air was charged with a sense of anger and confusion on both sides. The Left, the liberals, and the Democratic Party were trying to figure out how to make their case and the public was trying to digest everything that had just happened. I first heard of Fahrenheit 9/11 shortly after seeing Bowling for Columbine, which I believe arrived in my neck of the woods a year earlier. Bowling had irritated me to no end; I found it an extremely absorbing cinematic experience, whose aesthetic was corrupt and whose politics were haphazard, disingenuous, and obnoxious. I expected to find the follow-up even more inflammatory.

Actually Fahrenheit 9/11 was in many ways a more disciplined, subtle, and sensible expression than one might have expected. Of course, this is all relative. We still get endless pop music montages, relentless focus on a single point of view, and confrontational and exploitative setups and editing. But Moore himself isn't on-camera incessantly, the narrative generally maintains its focus (no side trips to Canada this time), and Moore's extremely left-wing views are disguised and modified for mass consumption. Moore is an expert dissembler and something of a sly chameleon as well: reading his statements from about 2000-2002, one is struck by how unabashedly he appeals to a shrinking, marginalized millennial Left: antiwar but belligerent, socialist yet snobbish, simultaneously outspoken and censorious.

Yet at the same time, Moore was suitably scruffy (and not in a hippiesh way), his humor tended to defuse his militancy, and he was able to proudly burnish roots in working-class Flint, Michigan; so when the time came, he tailored his message to a new audience and took off. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a fascinating document for the way it reveals the left-of-center (and largely left-of-Dem) mindset in mid-decade transition mode. The leap from vilifying to victimizing soldiers has not quite been completed, the civil libertarian objections play as trivial in lieu of the far more horrifying violations which were to emerge, and the criticism of Iraq is too nascent to be appropriately focused (we hear much about Halliburton but nothing about Blackwater, and little about the incompetence of the administration in preparing for the postwar situation).

However, Moore has successfully overcome - or hidden - his pacifist phase, despite having defiantly refused to participate in the mournful post-9/11 mood* and having immediately criticized the Afghan invasion as an inappropriate response to the attacks. [*UPDATE: Moore actually wrote a quite mournful piece in the wake of 9/11; I was thinking of the joke he cracked about bin Laden attacking Americans who didn't vote for Bush, but my phrasing was too harsh.] By 2004, he had deftly repackaged his objections to Bush and the War on Terror, presenting 9/11 as a national tragedy which Bush exploited, and the Afghan War as a missed opportunity to catch bin Laden - a war which was not executed with enough fervor. If you go back and read Moore's statements from 2001 and 2002, it's clear that he wasn't going to cut Bush slack on anything, and instinctively struck an oppositional pose in the wake of 9/11. But then history presented Moore with a far better target for his rage, and it focuses this film - sans the invasion of Baghdad, Fahrenheit 9/11 would lack a center of outrage and seem more like a series of disparate, erratic, attacks on Bush - some justified, some not. Instead, even the asides seem to lead somewhere.

Indeed, Fahrenheit 9/11's slickness, sarcasm, and relentless satire of the president largely evaporate in the film's second half, replaced by soldiers' home videos, mounting casualties, and the anguished desolation of a dead veteran's mother. Moore's risible portrayal of pre-invasion Iraq (little boys fly kites, couples get married, and all that's missing is children dancing in a ring around a portrait of their Beloved Leader) give way to the justified and infuriating juxtaposition of Bush's braggadocio ("Bring 'em on!") and the harvest of dead and mutilated Americans which his arrogance sows and reaps. Moore takes a step back and allows his condescending, irony-drenched narration to quiet down as the chaos of war takes over. Suddenly his sly innuendos, factual manipulation, and streamlining narration seem superfluous because we don't need his overbearing presence to direct us: the messy ugliness of the real world seizes control of the film, however briefly.

Ironic, then, that the Iraq-focused segment is not the "best" part of the movie - it's not the most engrossing, nor the most singular, nor - let's say it - the most entertaining. This is where Fahrenheit's documentary credentials are strongest, but other movies have done a better job conveying the soldiers' and Iraqis' experience and so this particular movie is actually more powerful and unique when it pulls our strings more overtly. Fahrenheit 9/11's accomplishment is directly tied to its manipulativeness, proving that perhaps Moore is not a great, or even a very good, documentarian, but he's a hell of filmmaker.

Right away, long before the opening credits will roll, we're sucked in. The first fifteen minutes of Fahrenheit 9/11 remain a masterpiece of directorial control, found footage and tricky editing used to convey mass experience. "Was it all a dream?" Moore asks on the soundtrack, as we do a slo-mo pan down from fireworks in the night sky to "Victory Florida" stage filled with Gore supporters, with the candidate himself flanked by Ben Affleck, Robert De Niro, and Stevie Wonder. It's an appropriately surreal opening to some of America's most surreal years.

Moore proceeds to offer a nuance-free recap of the recount controversy, culminating with a series of black congressmen and women parading before a joint session of Congress, convened to certify the votes and affirm Bush as president in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. They plead for a single senator to support their petitions to challenge the certification, pointing to alleged voter suppression on the part of the GOP. A screenwriter could not make up the tragicomic spectacle of Al Gore, vice president and hence president of the Senate, silencing the voices who object to his defeat. When I first saw Fahrenheit 9/11, I though this scene was good theater but silly as a political argument. There had been so much back-and-forth over Florida that the "Bush is a fraud" argument never held much sway with me. I'm not sure how differently I feel today - I'd have to go back and analyze the controversy again - but watching this sequence today, I felt a desperate, horrible sinking feeling in my gut. With four more years passed by, knowing the depths to which we were to sink, there is something absolutely sickening in this spectacle - like watching a loved one die in slow motion.

The same can be said of the opening credits montage, when it finally arrives. I'm extremely fond of delayed credit sequences in movies like this and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as we're drawn into the film and then sharply yanked out by the disorienting arrival of the opening credits, which bring an extended prologue to its unforeseen end. After a stridently comical rehash of Bush's first troubled months in office (greatly exaggerated for effect), and his extensive vacations, scored with pop music and peppered with sardonic narration, the jaunty score fades out. Bush arrives in Florida on September 10, 2001, and Moore cuts to an image of a little boy being tucked into bed as the narration informs us that the president went to sleep in a bed made of fine French linen. Moore still sounds sardonic, but suddenly there's a somber note of sadness and fear in his voice, the dismissive scorn drying up in light of what's to come.

We fade to black, the opening credits begin, and a pensive, poignant guitar-plucking music emerges. Intercut with the credits is behind-the-scenes news footage of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Powell, et al. Make-up is applied, chuckles are had all around, and Paul Wolfowitz licks a comb before - and after - using it in his hair. This sequence is incredibly effective. Ironically - given Fahrenheit's own manipulations - it reminds us that politics is show business, hints that this movie will be pulling back the curtain, and primes us to distrust all the public images we've seen till now. There's something unsettling about all this imagery but there's nothing more unsettling than when Bush, a sly smirk on his face, darts his eyes to look offscreen. At this moment, he does not look stupid, or helpless, or incompetent. He doesn't seem like a hapless, inarticulate stooge in over his head. He appears clever as a fox, and his assured expression is vaguely chilling.

And in the proceeding section, which - after a tasteful but disturbing reference to 9/11, sounds of the attack played over a black screen - illustrate the Bush's family's connections to Saudi Arabia, Moore plays Bush as a semi-sinister plutocrat. Noting that the Saudis pay Bush eight thousand times as much as the American public does, Moore asks: who do you think the president takes his marching orders from? Moore plants insinuations incessantly, but never comes right out and accuses the Bushes of covering up Saudi involvement in 9/11; nor does he go even further down the path to give fuel to the 9/11 Truthers. No matter - with all his dark rumblings, "9/11 is an inside job!" is only a few more steps down the gold brick road.

The film stokes paranoia in more subtle ways than mere verbal insinuation. Its electric editing, pervasive musical score, and lingering slo-mo close-ups build a feeling of dread. Moore teases us, verbally and visually, to think that there's something awful sinister going on behind the scenes. Fahrenheit 9/11 never follows through, and there's something dishonest and slightly disturbing in how it leaves the final leaps to your imagination. Not long ago, on the streets of New York, I overheard one construction worker telling a friend, "They're all in it together, ya know. You ever see that Michael Moore movie? On the morning of 9/11, Bush was playing golf with bin Laden!" Obviously this is quite a creative leap (though "Golfing with bin Laden" strikes me as an intriguing blog name) but Moore definitely plays with fire.

Anyway, Moore dissembles and equivocates on Bush's true nature. He can't resist using the tongue-twisting bon mots that the faux cowboy is prone to utter, and he plays up the Red America imagery of Dubya for maximum effect. Yes, these moments are amusing, but the rest of the movie never quite aligns the image of Bush as a bumbling buffoon with its more conspiratorial viewpoint. Far more thought-provoking and insinuating are those moments when Bush, well-groomed in a suit and tie, offers soft-spoken and articulate observations on his access to power (these are from a 1992 interview, before Bush entered politics himself and cultivated the cowboy persona).

At the end of Fahrenheit 9/11, we're offered George Orwell quotes and footage of Bush and Cheney in tuxes at war-profiteer councils (or not... but that's the suggestion). Clearly this is the vision Michael Moore feels more passionately attached to: the dark overlords, hiding behind populism to rob the country blind, and bloody. But Moore is prone to distractions and asides which undercut the message; I suspect these are motivated by his storytelling and comedic sense, but not exclusively. This is a very political movie, and I don't mean that in the obvious way. It packages itself expertly to woo mainstream moderates and liberals: instead of questioning the premise of the War on Terror, Moore criticizes its execution, and attacks from a series of angles, many non-congruent. One minute Homeland Security is draconian, the next ineffectual. Yes, there is nothing to suggest it can't be both at once (and often it has been) but the confusion belies Moore's righteous indignation and serves to disguise his (sinister music cue) real agenda.

What Fahrenheit 9/11 offers - to quote Oliver Stone on JFK - is a countermyth. Its power lies in this inherent nature, and its weaknesses in the obfuscation of this aim. Michael Moore is not interested in discovering the truth about Bush (good and bad), or playing different claims against one another (this is not a movie that - for one second - humors another point of view), or even in portraying the chaos of a world bedeviled by greed, terror, and warfare. Nor does Moore want to go all the way in the other direction by synthesizing a counternarrative and placing the responsibility for September 11 itself on a world conspiracy of business interests (though he hints at and flirts with the idea beneath the surface). Instead, Michael Moore wants to create a grand myth, a story so terrifying it could be "a dream."

After asking that seemingly rhetorical question at the beginning of the movie, Moore rewinds the footage and tells us it wasn't a dream: "it all really happened." Yet he doesn't present it as it happened, but as he dreamt it. Associations are made by instinct rather than logic (he tells us that bin Laden's family was given a flight out of the U.S., accompanied by footage of a grinning, satanic-looking Osama, though he obviously wasn't on those flights...or was he?!?!!!!), emotional resonance trumps intellectual vigor in providing a structural underpinning, and it all rings with a sense of conviction unattainable in everyday experience.

It's an absorbing dream, a disturbing one, and one that indirectly touches on the deepest reservoirs of our imagination, springing loose the goblins that we've suspected were lurking in the corners all along. Then, when we awaken, we are still shaken but confused - it was a powerful experience, to be sure, but what did it really mean, and how much of it was true? Fahrenheit 9/11 can't really help us on that count. Its elisions, its lack of distance and perspective, its manipulative editing leave us with the lingering suspicion that we've been tricked into a certain reaction. And when the movie ends with President Bush stumbling through, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...won't get fooled again," and Moore's narration responds, "For once, the president and I are in complete agreement," we're inclined to nod our heads as well, unfortunately.


Tony D'Ambra said...

What is the truth then? You can't offer this critique without clearly stating your position and identifying what you see as the 'truth', otherwise your piece is no better than the alleged propaganda you seek to condemn. How does Moore's 'left-wing' propaganda differ from the 'right-wing' propaganda of the NY Times, Fox, and CNN, or that peddled by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and their puppet Bush before the Iraq war to justify the invasion? Why are the dead and hopelessly maimed soldiers returned to US soil under cover of darkness away from media scrutiny?

This statement is nonsense: "and Moore's extremely left-wing views are disguised and modified for mass consumption." What are these views you so glibly label as 'extremely left wing'? How have they been "disguised and modified"? At least Moore is not a hypocrite. Not like the comfortable middle-class bloggers who blather on about the 'truth', while the poor and disenfranchised are the cannon fodder that is fed to the monstrous debacle that is Iraq.

Joel Bocko said...

Tony, as I said, I'd be willing to discuss all of this in the comments. I did not have the desire to spend all day or several days compiling a list of Moore's various offenses, aesthetic or otherwise, but if someone had a specific objection I would be happy to discuss it with them.

Frankly, I'm disappointed in your extremely personal attack on me.

You have assumed that I somehow attack Moore while giving a pass to Bush which would not be a tenable position had you read this entire piece, nor if you had read other posts I have written.

I think Bush is one of, if not the, worst president in history. I opposed the Iraq debacle from the beginning, never understanding the shifting rationales that were offered for it.

And I have a cousin, probably my closest friend from childhood, who is headed to Iraq in January so spare me the self-righteous blather about the "poor and disenfranchised" "cannon fodder." Shame on you.

Raise a specific objection and I will deal with it. Any personal respect I have for you has evaporated, but perhaps an intellectual discourse can continue absent that.

Of the points you raise in your post:

Moore's "left-wing propaganda" differs from that "peddled" by NY Times, Fox, and CNN to varying degrees. Of course, they have published thousands of pages and thousands of hours of news in the past 8 years, whereas Moore has offered up 2 hours of film and it's easier to digest and analyze what he has to offer. My take is that no news outlet served us well in the lead-up to war. I would not put Fox, which was 100% in the tank, in the same category as the Times, which differed in little ways though admittedly not the important ones or CNN, whose failures were to my recollection largely those of omission. All are culpable for failing to ask the tough questions that needed to be asked, and accepting information that was disingenuous at best and completely dishonest much of the time.

As for "Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and their puppet Bush" this is an absurd proclamation. Even the most cursory examination of the public record reveals that Powell was hesitant to go to war and tried to fight the initial push. That he eventually went along with the flow - shamefully abandoning his responsibility - is evidence that he's Bush's puppet, not vice-versa. But that's apparently a bit too complicated for your black/white either/or political outlook to incorporate.

"At least Moore is not a hypocrite."

What you're engaging in is the worst kind of political/cultural bullying: how dare you attack one side when the other side is worse (never mind that I criticize Bush and the Iraq War in this piece)!To which I say, bullshit. No side has a monopoly on dishonesty or mistakes. The Bush administration is far more culpable than a mere filmmaker, and I never intended to state otherwise.

BUT I AM WRITING ABOUT FAHRENHEIT 9/11, NOT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. Your assumption that somehow I support Bush and the Iraq War because I dared to criticize Moore, and that I am a "comfortable middle-class blogger" who doesn't object to "the dead and hopelessly maimed soldiers returned to US soil under cover of darkness away from media scrutiny" is disgraceful. Grow up.

"What are these views you so glibly label as 'extremely left wing'?"

I read Michael Moore columns back in 2000, which I can no longer find online, before I had seen any of his movies, and it was blatantly clear that he was a proud Leftist.

Nothing wrong with that, it's a free country and that's his cup of tea (and obviously yours as well, which is probably why you're so offended - but if you feel I insulted your politics - which I didn't - you've decided to strike back against me personally, which is pretty pathetic).

Here is Michael Moore immediately following 9/11:

"'Declare war?' War against whom? One guy in the desert whom we can never seem to find? Are our leaders telling us that the most powerful country on earth cannot dispose of one sick evil f---wad of a guy? Because if that is what you are telling us, then we are truly screwed. If you are unable to take out this lone ZZ Top wannabe, what on earth would you do for us if we were attacked by a nation of millions?"

(Which, for the record, is a very humane column - even praising Giuliani, whom Moore did not like prior to 9/11 and presumably - along with the rest of us, me included - can't stand now.)

This is an admonition not to go to war with Afghanistan. Obviously if this is Moore's position, that's legit, and others - all on the Left - shared such hesitation; though I recall only Ralph Nader offering a clear, if not necessarily plausible, counterargument to our strategy to take on the Taliban. It is certainly quite to the left of what most Americans supported (which does not make it wrong or right) and it is a position Moore tends to obfuscate in Fahrenheit. He criticizes the war in Afghanistan, but from the standpoint that Bush did not pursue it aggressively enough and then allowed Iraq to distract him from his mission there. These are excellent points - ones which Obama has taken up and which I agree with - but they are certainly a move away from Moore's more stridently antiwar initial position.

I absolutely think Moore disguised and modified his views for mass consumption. A film which launched an outright attack on the very idea to go to war in Afghanistan would not have been as popular or celebrated as Fahrenheit was. I understand why Moore took the approach he did - for the larger good of cohering opposition to the Iraq War, it makes sense. But for those of us who had been following his statements for several years, the discrepency was noticed and primed us to suspect more dishonesty on his part.

Actually, this was a relatively minor point, the larger one being that Moore's film takes and one-sided an opinion as Bush's White House, and that all kinds of strucutral and formal tricks are used to suggest one thing when another is the case. These have been well-documented elsewhere, and the fact is that Moore almost never LIES in the movie, but he is constantly misleading. Look, there are infinite ways to construct a documentary in a continuum stretching from an admission of the form's inherent weaknesses (thus priming the audience to recognize the limits of what they're seeing) to a fly-on-the wall approach (which offers a more stripped, "objective" view but also leads us in a certain direction, primarily in the editing process) to Moore's approach, which is to jam information down the audience's throat in a sensoral overload - doc as agitprop.

I find the results extremely captivating but fundamentally dishonest. I discussed such a dilemma in my review of Hoop Dreams but I didn't see any knee-jerk character assassination on your part there. I guess it's only illegitimate criticism when I go after a man of the Left?

I obviously had a mixed reaction to this film, enjoying its skill, distrusting its manipulation, agreeing with some of its points and not with others. I made that clear. If you believe we all must march lockstep on one side or another, with no deviation lest we fall into the arms of "the enemy," which is what your angry comments suggest, then yeah, we differ. Big deal.

Joel Bocko said...

Perhaps this was the offending statement?

"reading his statements from about 2000-2002, one is struck by how unabashedly he appeals to the shrinking, marginalized millennial Left: antiwar but belligerent, socialist yet snobbish, simultaneously outspoken and censorious."

I have modified the "the" to "a" so that it reads "a shrinking, marginilized..." so as not to unintentionally insult any and all who count themselves as left-wing.

Joel Bocko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"Not like the comfortable middle-class bloggers who blather on about the 'truth', while the poor and disenfranchised are the cannon fodder that is fed to the monstrous debacle that is Iraq."

Damn...I'm back in the 60s. But it used to be the rich were to blame. Now it's the 'comfortable middle class'? Well all this middle class puppy knows is that the middle class is gonna get screwed no matter who is elected this time around. Or maybe I have moved up in the world and I'm part of the liberal's favorite support group 'the poor and disenfranchised'. Yeah... that wouldn't be too shabby...free education and health care. Note to democrats....don't be draggin Michael Moore out of the closet until after the election....he's the reason you lost the last time around:)

Joel Bocko said...

"he's the reason you lost the last time around:)"

I don't think so, but I agree the middle class is not going to be sitting "comfortably" for a while.

"free education and health care."
You forgot to mention the right to be flooded out of your house, watch your family die before your eyes, and sight tight for several days while the federal government dithers cluelessly. But who's counting all them rights?!

Also, last time I checked we all had free education, though if you want a free quality education I'd suggest the impoverished classes may not be the best place to hover around in.

(P.S. vote for Obama, and perhaps middle-class puppies like you will get free, or at least more affordable, health care too...)

Anonymous said...

Thanks a zillion for the Bush & Bin Laden golf anecdote!!

Perfect for "Nuts in NY":



Joel Bocko said...

You're very welcome, feel free to use it (sounds like an interesting site, I will have to check it out).

Anonymous said...

Also, last time I checked we all had free education,

Last time you checked...did you have kids in college? Because I work six days a week I get to go in debt to help get my kids a college education. And I don't want free health care....I don't want the goverment involved in the running health care. They can't even run themselves.

Joel Bocko said...


I see - my impression was that you were speaking of primary or secondary education. But how do the poor have a better deal on college than the middle-class?

As for health care, you can have the government involved, with all the degrees of flaws that might entail, or the government uninvolved, which leaves the current shitty situation in place.

The problem I have with conservative ideology is that it assumes that government is the primary evil. But this is overly simplistic. There are many forces which are more powerful than the average individual: corporations, institutions, more powerful individuals, etc. The government is at least accountable to the voters and its manager is appointed by us. To say "government out of health care" is to say "insurance companies in". Government may have many conflicting motivations. Among them is the desire to protect its citizens. This doesn't even enter into the equation when you are discussing HMOs or insurance companies. Their sole desire is to make money.

Obviously, this example applies outside of the health-care region as well: look at our current economic crisis. Obviously, it is not an either/or, zero-sum equation, and I don't see any reason to oppose sensible regulations and government-owned insurance made affordable to the average taxpayer (which is what we're really talking about here, since no one has advocated a single-payer, government-run health care system this election season).

By the way, stick around & check out some of my other posts when you get the chance - what's your take on Goldwater? (I reviewed a doc on him Saturday). It's good to have a right-of-center voice around.

Tony D'Ambra said...

I am truly sorry you felt insulted. But I don’t apologise for my comments. I felt it is grossly unfair to attack a person who publicly takes a controversial position, under the cloak of anonymity, and my comments were formed in anger.

It is a fact that since the invasion of Iraq, US Army recruiters have targeted the poor and jobless, who are over-represented in the US forces serving in Iraq. And just how is the financial debacle hurting the middle-class more than the poor and jobless?

What is wrong with a taking a one-sided position and arguing it? If you disagree, you will always see 'tricks', 'manipulation', and 'obfuscation'. Moore may be a propagandist, but he has single-handedly created a populist platform to counter the apologists of the main-stream media, and for that I admire and applaud him.

Joel Bocko said...

"I am truly sorry you felt insulted. But I don’t apologise for my comments. I felt it is grossly unfair to attack a person who publicly takes a controversial position, under the cloak of anonymity, and my comments were formed in anger."

As were mine in a certain extent - and I would add I did not intend any personal insult to you for your political views. As I said, I hoped to criticize Moore as a filmmaker and public persona, not for anything in his private life, which I think is fair game, anonymity or not. I won't add to what I said on the other blog, just to say I have enormous respect for Moore's skill (which not everyone does) and applaud certain parts of the documentary (I specifically brought up the "bring 'em on" section as an example). Also, I had a generally very favorable reaction to Sicko, which I just saw a few days ago and will be reviewing soon.

"It is a fact that since the invasion of Iraq, US Army recruiters have targeted the poor and jobless, who are over-represented in the US forces serving in Iraq. And just how is the financial debacle hurting the middle-class more than the poor and jobless?"

I'm not sure if that latter comment was directed at me, but if so I didn't intend to imply any such thing. It is hurting everyone however and it seems to have a trickle-down effect (or run-down at the speed its going). To my understanding, at the moment it is affecting the middle class more sharply as they are generally more reliant on credit, but before long aftereffects of the meltdown will be having a direct effect on everyone.

As for the recruiting point, I don't disagree, though I think this has always been their aim, not just after Iraq. After all, those whose situations are more difficult are more susceptible to their arguments. I have seen this first-hand.

"What is wrong with a taking a one-sided position and arguing it? If you disagree, you will always see 'tricks', 'manipulation', and 'obfuscation'. Moore may be a propagandist, but he has single-handedly created a populist platform to counter the apologists of the main-stream media, and for that I admire and applaud him."

But I don't disagree with a lot of the things Moore is saying, which makes his technique all the more frustrating for me. When he mixes legitimate criticism of war policies with an idealization of pre-war Iraq, or genuine criticisms of the Patriot Act with rather silly examples of overzealous security, and when his attacks on the administration take place in a context that relentlessly criticizes Bush for everything and anything he does and says, it undercuts the legitimacy of his points, so that those on the fence can just write him off as a left-wing Rush Limbaugh. More importantly, when he streamlines the narrative and juggles the facts (misleading representations of the networks calling the election, implications about Saudi-U.S. relations which aren't really followed through on and which don't explain why the Saudis opposed the Iraq invasion, etc.) he undercuts his own credibility and, hence, the credibility of his argument.

He did create a populist platform and a lot of people saw Fahrenheit 9/11 but I'm not sure it made such a huge difference in public perception. It certainly reinforced the notions of those who already opposed the president of the war, but it also galvanized the opposition and gave them excuses to avoid facing up to their challenges. To my mind, expositional journalism (which, as you note, was extremely lacking at this time) has done a better job turning public opinion around in 2005 and 2006, probably beginning with Katrina and following through with the complete meltdown of Iraq in '06. Perhaps Moore's film contributed to pressure on the media to look harder and in that sense, he was successful.

At any rate, I found the film absorbing, entertaining, and often penetrating. I'm probably less ambivalent about it now than I was 4 years ago, but I do consider it to be propaganda, and inferior as documentary to works like No End in Sight or various Frontline specials, which make a harder and more effective case against Bush. Admittedly, far fewer people saw these movies and programs than saw Fahrenheit, so perhaps you have a point. I don't know. We'd have to do a complicated cost-benefit analysis of the percentage who were swayed by Fahrenheit vs. the percentage who were swayed by lesser-seen, but more effective docs (not to mention those who were turned off by Fahrenheit).

As for the truth, it's a complicated matter. I don't think it can be made to fit one ideology or another. I do think there are various facts which cannot be disputed, which is why, looked at strictly as documentary, I tend to favor more sober approaches and disdain one-sided, polemical, streamlined works like Fahrenheit.

Ultimately I suppose we need both, but also accompanied by proper criticism of both.

Tony D'Ambra said...

Thanks for your response. Moore is to a degree a gad-fly, and our expectations should not be as high as those we impose on less accessible approaches.

I appreciate you having engaged with me, and on reflection regret my personal comments. Though I wish I had a name to address this mea culpa to ;)

My father is Italian and my late mother was Greek, and discussions at home were more yell-fests than sober debates. Sort of like Frank and Estelle Costanza at the kitchen table...

Joel Bocko said...

Tony, no worries - it was an interesting discussion at least. As for the anonymyity, I may eventually attach a name to the blog, but as of now prefer to keep blogging and private lives separate. I don't see it so much as anonymity, as I'm accountable within the blogosphere, i.e. if I leave a comment, make a post, it's tied to everything else I've written. So I didn't so much see it as an anonymous attack on Moore but an attack within the context of my online critical apparatus - I don't know, call it the Marshall Mathers defense (a cop-out, I suppose, but hopefully not so egregious as that).

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