When Moore Is Less
The following article originally appeared in The Guardian.When Moore is less
by David Aaronovitch
Wednesday November 19, 2003
Here's a paradox. In the Independent last Friday, Paul Taylor was writing about a recent renaissance in political theatre, both here and in America. He had recently been on Broadway for a performance of Arthur Miller's witch-hunt play, The Crucible. Many present, Taylor said, had watched through tears because the play "had clearly spoken with a piercing directness to that audience as the United Sates enters yet another period where dissent is seen as synonymous with 'unpatriotic' ".
At the same time, the writer and TV personality Michael Moore was celebrating yet another tremendous success. Whereas his previous book, Stupid White Men, had taken a year to sell a million copies in the US, his new offering, Dude, Where's My Country?, had, he told his fans, sold the same number in just three weeks.
It just showed, said Moore, "the level of concern/frustration/anger in the country right now over what the Bush administration is up to". What it did not, however, seem to show was an America "where dissent is seen as synonymous with 'unpatriotic' ". Far from it.
But this idea of being under siege is an important part of the radical's self-image in 2003. And Moore knows how to work the image, even claiming recently that the new book was strictly embargoed by his publisher because it was going "to upset" so many people. My guess is that it was done in order to maximise impact and sales.
Impact and sales there have been, despite the fact that Moore is surely one of the most overrated writers in the world. His early anti-corporate stuff was fun and fresh, but as he has become more famous so his writing has become sloppy, tired and conventional. Essentially, he has transformed into a leftwing version of loud-mouthed ultra-conservative shock-jocks such as Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter.
And he sells despite the fact that much of what is in his latest book was in his previous book. Despite sentences like this, concerning the Maginot line: "The only problem was, they built the bunkers facing the wrong way and the Germans were deep into France before you could say, 'Garçon, more stinky cheese please!'" That manages to be both factually wrong and unfunny. Yet it tops the charts.
Why? Someone has described it as "political comfort food", where you get served up your own opinions and prejudices in a way that makes you feel better about yourself. It's fine to hate Bush, to loathe Tony Blair and to feel yourself to be - uncomplicatedly - vindicated. Moore routinely uses the word "lie" to cover real lies, genuine mistakes, wrong predictions and - worst of all - straightforward disagreements. No need for thought.
The trouble is that Moore is as ripe for satire in many ways as are his targets. Stupid White Men, for instance, castigates Moore's fellow Americans for their timidity and ignorance. Then it serves up this on Northern Ireland in 2001: "No one is left out of the political discourse in the United Kingdom. Except the Catholics of Northern Ireland. [They] are second-class citizens whose rights are continually violated, who are kept at the lowest tier economically and who live under the thumb of an occupational force of British soldiers." Comic Strip, whose Hollywood version of Arthur Scargill and the miners' strike was a genuine satire, couldn't have done it better.
When Moore does present anything like a thesis, it is confused and contradictory. In Bowling for Columbine, for which our under-fire hero won an Oscar, he seemed to be arguing that the essence of the gun problem was availability - hence the sequences about the bank that gave its customers free guns and the stunt of taking a shooting victim to confront a bullet retailer. But Moore also contrasted the US with Canada, which, per capita, has as many guns and many fewer slayings. It was the aggressive, paranoid culture itself - Moore suggested - that was the problem. But in that case the bank, the bullet seller and even the reviled National Rifle Association were innocent and irrelevant; no more culpable than their Canadian counterparts. Moore didn't even nod at the contradiction.
Arguably worse, Moore has been accused of serious inaccuracies of fact, which you can find detailed on a liberal website called Spinsanity. I won't go into them here but I was interested in Moore's response when he was tackled on CNN not so long ago about these errors. The presenter Lou Dobbs asked him about the accusations. Part of the transcript goes like this:
Moore: I think they found some guy named Dan was named Dave, and there was another thing. But you know, look, this is a book of political humour. So, I mean, I don't respond to that sort of stuff, you know.
Dobbs: Glaring inaccuracies?
Moore: No, I don't. Why should I? How can there be inaccuracy in comedy? You know.
Dobbs: That does give one licence. I think you may have given all of us a loophole.
Moore: When Jonathan Swift said that what the Irish do is eat their young - in other words, that's what the British were proposing during the famine - I think that, you know, you have to understand satire.
You certainly do.
|Posted by: Lee on Nov 19, 03 | 11:38 pm (profile) | Permalink|