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Hating Michael Moore 

When liberals and conservatives concur

I did not go see Fahrenheit 9/11 because I thought I would learn anything new. I've obsessively read everything I can about the deceitful Bush administration and its Iraq folly. My motivation to see Michael Moore's documentary had more to do with the reaction to it. I wanted to understand why it has provoked such apoplectic rage.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has most upset conservatives, of course. Even if there were any substance to the claim that Moore, as the demon spawn of Hollywood, has used the film medium unfairly, conservative objections seem pathetically greedy. Republicans own both houses of Congress, the presidency and talk radio. Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly fill the air with more than 30 hours a week of angry blather and half-truths. Yet the greedy right is going nuts over Moore's two hours? There's even a retaliatory documentary titled Michael Moore Hates America coming out this summer. A new book, Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man, is probably outselling My Pet Goat as right-wingers' favorite summer reading this year.

It's not just conservatives who have condemned Moore's film. Quite a few liberal columnists, including Ellen Goodman and Nicholas Kristof, have wrung their hands about how the movie contributes to -- all together, now -- "the breakdown of civility in public discourse." This strikes me as inane criticism, considering how little most of these supposedly liberal columnists and their colleagues on the news side have critiqued the Bush White House, which has, from the beginning of the Iraq invasion, called anyone who questioned it an ally of the enemy. Indeed, by the logic of Ann Coulter, the right's miniskirted dominatrix, if you dislike Dubya, you are a "traitor." If you call yourself a liberal, Hannity proclaims you "evil."

So what's really causing all the discomfort? Seeing the film, it became quickly apparent to me that there are two reasons the movie has provoked such an angry response. First, it reveals everything the mainstream media have failed to show us. That's not to say I think the movie is flawless. I disagree, for example, with the way Moore weaves facts together into a conspiracy theory. I think the administration is indeed deceitful, but in service to ideology more than to, say, protecting members of the bin Laden family because of Bush family investments.

But the movie does embarrass the media by showing footage it should have aired long ago. One of the most devastating critiques isn't of Republicans but of Democrats. When members of the House's black caucus rose one by one to protest Bush's theft of the election, not a single Democratic senator would sign onto the cause so that a formal inquiry could be undertaken. The grotesquely understated human cost of the war is revealed is scorching detail. While we are used to seeing smiling photos of killed soldiers flashed on television screens, Moore has turned his camera on some of the thousands of mutilated soldiers who have survived but are maimed for life. We see Iraqis transporting truckloads of dead children. And, of course, there's the seven minutes where Bush sits in a classroom listening to a reading of My Pet Goat while America is under attack. We see on his face the utter vacuity of a man who doesn't know what to do when the moment isn't scripted by Karl Rove.

So, while media critics accuse the film of not being "balanced" in representing the horror of Saddam Hussein's regime, they might as well be talking about their own failure to represent the deceit of the Bush administration and the bloody cost of its lies. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a corrective for the media's own witless propaganda. And Moore's film won't get anyone killed.

But what really makes the movie intolerable to its critics, I think, is its raw emotion, especially when it documents the case of Lila Lipscomb, a patriotic working-class mother who flies the flag every day and has urged all of her children to join the military. Her son was killed two weeks after writing her a letter in which he thanked her for sending him a Bible, but expressed his outrage at George Bush for sending American soldiers to Iraq.

It's a classic psychological defense when feelings become overwhelming to replace them with something more tolerable. It is impossible to watch Moore's documentary without becoming deeply sad -- sad about the way our country becomes more classist, more controlled by ideological extremists, more vulnerable to terrorism because of our own mindless violence around the world. Seeing personal suffering like Lipscomb's, created by an invasion whose rationale has been repeatedly revised, is overwhelming.

In the face of such an experience, we can sincerely question what America has become or -- like so many in the media -- we can replace our sadness with anger and annoyance at Michael Moore, become obsessed with the factual accuracy of every frame of his film, insist that Moore be more noble than ourselves and retreat into blind patriotism. But none of that will change what has happened to us.

Cliff Bostock is in private practice. Reach him at 404-525-4774 or at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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