So last night I finally saw Michael Moore's latest. And, as I expected, had sort of mixed feelings about it. I'm totally on his side and usually agree with his message, if not his methods. My issues with the film mostly were about rhetoric and craft. He's grandstanding for our laughs and our attention -- which people on the left don't do nearly as frequently it seems (or maybe not as visibly in the larger pop culture) as those on the right -- which to me sometimes comes across as sloppy, or simplistic, or just cheap. For instance: it's really easy to find pictures of W looking stupid. But Saturday Night Live has been doing this for years -- you can do this for any public figure who's frequently in front of the camera. Moore intersperses these images to punctuate his critique with our laughter -- and I laughed too -- but it's not argument, and it tends to reduce his message to the simplest common denominator. Ditto for his use of music in the film -- again it gets the laughs from the audience (since the film is playing mostly to people who already agree in advance (at least in my city)) but it weakens the power of the facts exposed in the film. Most glaring omission in the film: any mention of religion. A month or two ago, I happened to see a really powerful Frontline piece on Bush's religous beliefs that offered compelling lines of interpretation that many journalists aren't willing to open up. It's called The Jesus Factor and can be viewed online.
I wish, too, that there had been something else at the film's close. Moore defends the working poor (although with no mention at all of the increasing Hispanic presence in the US and how that may affect political and military outcomes) and skewers the "haves and have-mores" (that's a Bush quote) who run everything. But the middle class is virtually absent from his film's representation of class warfare in the US. He shows us military recruiters in depressed Flint MI combing the mall for young men who have very few other options, asking them to fight a war that Moore shows to be directly increasing the wealth for some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the country. But what about the middle class? it's middle-class people's willingness to vote for Republicans who really don't have their interests at heart that are at least partially to blame for the mess things are in. And it's also educated middle-class Americans like many of my friends who vote Democratic but feel largely disenfranchised because in our states our votes don't really count, except on the local level. Moore's film does little to help his viewers figure out what to do with their frustration with the way things are. Good exposure of problems, no suggestions of solutions. At the film's close, to list a few websites like Move On would have been something. (Even if, again, most of his viewers already know this stuff.)