The Sanctimony Factor

I saw Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and am struck by the conceit of the left, right and center commentators who lambaste the film for every reason they can grab. It reminds me of the controversy that erupted around John Lennon’s comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ, when the Bible Belt erupted in flames fed by Beatles records. Lennon’s comment was a critique of the church and world, he felt it was absurd that the Beatles had the influence over the young they did, suggesting there were many institutions that should have greater influence than the Beatles did in society—Lennon was saying the Beatles weren’t important. Likewise, Moore’s anti-war film, which ends on a solemn and patriotic statement that acknowledges the great patriotism of U.S. soldiers and asks that we not send them into harm’s way for no good reason, is not an attack as much as a lament.

Jeff Jarvis points at the stupidity of one of his fellow audience members, who admonished a black man outside the theater not to sign up as evidence that Moore’s movie reduces the public discourse. In fact, it’s just stupid of the woman who said “Don’t you sign up, now!” to the first black she saw, not a reflection on the film.

Jarvis also says, and Doc affirms with links, that Moore assumes Bush & Co. are venal, suggesting Moore is no better than Bill O’Reilly or the people who mercilessly attacked Bill Clinton for any shred of a reason. Jarvis writes:

Moore’s assumption is venality. He assumes that President Bush and his confreres are venal, that their motives are black, that they are out to do no good, only bad, and that the only choices they make in life are between greed and power.

That’s inevitably a bad analysis. It’s the exact same analysis Bill Clinton’s enemies made of him. If they were wrong about Clinton, well then, Michael Moore is wrong about Bush. Life is never that simple, never that obvious, unless you’re a propagandist or one who believes propaganda.

Jarvis’ conclusion is simpler still, obliterating any notion of a public discourse in which contrasting views of broad swaths of life are discussed based on the making of connections between different events. The point Moore makes, very broadly, is that America is no longer a shining city that can provide light to the world. The move toward empire as the foundation of American policy, following a very questionable election, obliterated the fine points of public debate and, Moore, acknowledging that, engages in a blunt force attack on the blunt arguments of an administration bent on war.

Granted, the film is not comprehensive in its facts nor is it entirely accurate. Christopher Hitchens says Moore has committed a kind of journalistic crime that has deflated since Fahrenheit 9/11 won Cannes because, for example, Richard Clarke has taken responsibility for allowing the bin Laden family members to leave the country—without also acknowledging that Clarke is the only former administration member to apologize for screwing up in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

However, with a quarter billion dollars of Bush re-election funding, the Fox News Channel and a pandering press that fails to ask a follow-up question (how many times has President Bush called on “Stretch” for a question to bail himself out of a follow-up question that could embarrass him?), why not present an alternative view of the administration that can acknowledge no wrong?

Doc says Jeff Jarvis advocates “civility and civilization, with honest dialogue, with partisanship subordinated to open-mindedness. In other words, to the best of what we try to build here in the blogosphere.” With warbloggers, partisans, crackpots and the wise all lumped together in blogspace and across the Web (lest we forget the rest of the media world—if the blogosphere is the be-all and end-all of communication, that’s a form of fetishization, too), in short, a human dialogue full of all sorts of voices, there is no room for attacks on Michael Moore for simply speaking his mind in the time available for a feature-length film.

People should see this film. The bloody scenes are things we haven’t seen, and we need to see this war and all war with complete candor, not the sanitized version presented through television, so that we can judge it for what it is. Moore does not mock soldiers, he portrays their confusion and, in some cases, the sickness that overcomes people in war, but all it is war, which is sickening.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

2 thoughts on “The Sanctimony Factor”

  1. Jarvis’ “if they were wrong about Clinton, well then, Michael Moore is wrong about Bush,” is a non sequitur. We’d have a real test if we could subject Bush to the same scrutiny as Clinton – special prosecutors, etc.

  2. Farenheit 9-11

    Mitch Ratcliffe responds to the flurry of criticism of Michael Moore’s new film Farenheit 9-11. Mitch’s comments reflect my own feelings on Moore’s output. We’re booked in to see the film next Saturday (the 17th) at the Dendy in Newtown…

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