Despite genuine concern on the part of my European acquaintances, many of us have actually managed to see "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore's courageous cinematic jeremiad on the corrupt state of things American. Thank heavens for those few independent theater-owners around the country gutsy enough to book this beleaguered documentary in the face of the censorship and Orwellian oppression that is darkening our land.
When he stood up in England and Germany to testify that "Americans are possibly the dumbest people on the planet" and to wonder whether "such an ignorant people should lead the world," Michael confirmed Old World suspicions that the U.S.A. has devolved horribly from those once-welcome World War II fascist-fighters. "Don't be like us," he begged a cheering Berlin crowd: "You've got to be brave."
And the message of the humble hero of this year's Cannes Film Festival, practically an exile from his native land, hit home: We, the dumbest people on the planet, had to be brave, too. So we've fought our way past the police lines and the hired goons from Halliburton to receive the Word according to Moore.
In the beginning, there was The Stolen Election. In 2000, George Bush's first cousin, who worked at Fox News (!), was responsible for somehow revising the vote count that would have made Al Gore the next president of the United States. Whatever cuz did was just icing on the cake; brother Jeb and other Republican evildoers had already made sure that people of "the wrong color" - "people who wouldn't vote for Bush" - had been knocked off Florida's voting lists.
Just so we're cued to get "Fahrenheit"'s Big Picture (Michael's careful to compensate for our intellectual limitations), we're provided a bracketing metaphor. Early on, we watch Bush & Co. getting made up for TV appearances. Then, at the film's denouement, Rummy, Rice and Powell unclip mics, take off their game faces and walk out of frame.
This makes you understand that members of the ruling class are phony and untrustworthy; that they're always putting on a show to distract us from their dark ulterior motives. But say, wouldn't anybody - Gore or Moore or even a bereaved mother - look kind of fakey, getting cosmeticized and combed to a fare-thee-well? Listen, that's just the sort of question Michael gets asked all the time, by rightwing, nitpicking bigots. His riposte says it all: "I don't want to get lost in the forest because of a single tree."
In Moore's exclusive hagiography, the poor are tops, the real deal, though they'll never inherit the earth. That's reserved for big government and big business, the Great Satan's big guns. (Michael may be raking in the big bucks, but we understand that as a warrior for truth, he deserves to be rich.)
Even the slowest among us can grasp how much saintly Moore reveres poor black people, because he spotlights them as the only folks to protest the deposing of Gore the Good in favor of Bush the Bad. Also as icons of clueless poverty, easily manipulated by spit 'n' polish Marine recruiters who shamelessly stalk them in malls. (Although you may have read that, unlike Vietnam, blacks don't dominate the ranks in Iraq, our fearless documentarian shows, by means of selective interviews, that these easily duped innocents continue to be America's best source of cannon fodder.)
In Washington, D.C., Michael braces congressmen in the street, wondering disingenuously why their children haven't enlisted. He's accompanied by a grave-faced black corporal who vows never to return to Iraq "to kill other poor people who pose no threat to me or my country." Moore's ambulatory Exhibit No. 1 comes across as an authentically righteous dude. Still, you can't help but wonder how this black Tom Joad got into the military in the first place. Did he imagine he'd face Saudi princes on the battlefield?
Even the heartbreaking journey of Lila Lipscomb, credulous patriot until her son dies in Iraq, is bathed in a special glow derived from her mixed-race family. Michael's camera avidly records Lila's grief up close and personal-"my flesh aches"-to the point of emotional voyeurism.
Unbeknownst to us "provincial isolationists," pre-invasion Iraq was an idyllic spot full of happy shoppers, café habitués and little boys flying kites. While Michael relegates the horrors of 9/11 to a black screen, he visually cartoons our culpability for the sin of Iraq by cutting so that the kite-flying kids appear to be obliterated by a bomb explosion. Cut to a hysterical Iraqi man, who wonders why Americans wanted to kill the child he drops onto a truckbed of corpses. The cinematic syntax is simple: American soldiers are serpents in paradise, murdering happy children.
Once Moore gets into the unholy Iraq war (fought, he explains, for black gold and cheap foreign labor), we see that "ugly American" soldiers are white guys who listen to heavy metal music ("Burn M--f--s Burn!") as they rev up to shoot anything that moves.
While he cruelly "frames" the inarticulate, bloodthirsty, musically challenged yahoos who blow up happy Mesopotamia, Michael backs off from offending those who might still feel compelled to support American troops under fire. We are made to understand that it's the government that's turned these poor boys bad by sending them off to Iraq.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" opens our wondering eyes to our president's doltishness, as well as the long business history he and his family share with Osama bin Laden's fabulously wealthy clan and, of course, the Saudi royals. (You've got to love "Bandar Bush"!) And we're encouraged to see the invasion of Afghanistan as "really about something else." A pipeline, I think; but I must confess that this particular string of innuendo and oil-company conspiracy got so complicated, it left me in the dust.
But Michael is crystal-clear on his belief that John Ashcroft is bent on creating a climate of fear to keep us Americans in "enforced ignorance." Damned by his uptight, automaton looks and the loss of an election to a dead man, the Attorney General totally gives away his sinister game with a white-bread rendition of "When the Eagle Soars," a little patriotic anthem he penned himself. And Seattle's own Jim McDermott, always a steady hand in the body politic, earnestly testifies the government's plan was "ready on the shelf ... 9/11 just gave them their chance."
And then there are those stomach-turning scenes at some bloated corporate conference, where the speaker drools over the money to be made in Iraq, confirming that Bush's real war has always been "against his own subjects," its ultimate aim to keep the American society of haves and have-nots intact.
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OK, forget for a second whether you are pro- or anti-Bush, pro- or anti-war in Iraq. Think about the fallout of Moore's slipshod, lowbrow rant: Does he mean for us to believe that the president of the United States and his cohorts orchestrated 9/11 so that there would be more business for oil companies and the defense industry? That Bush deliberately allowed bin Laden to escape in Afghanistan? That the Saudis have our president - America itself - in their pocket?
Do you agree with Moore that "the Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy'... They are the Revolution, the Minutemen"? That the terrorist threat boils down to a long-simmering Ashcroftian plot? That all our efforts at security against further terrorist attacks are nothing but a sham? That the first and foremost aim of the American government is to subjugate Americans?
Do you never wonder how it is that, in contrast to the enlightened populations of France and Germany and Italy, we have been so totally duped by our puppetmasters?
As Michael said to his smarty-pants European fans: possibly the dumbest people in the world.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" delivers no revelations or real shocks of recognition. It doesn't bring to light anything of importance you wouldn't know if you'd been reading newspapers and books and watching news shows during the last four years. What it does do is insult the viewer's intelligence with facile film and propaganda techniques: innuendo, guilt by association, creative editing, cheap shots, faux-naïf interviews and insinuating rhetorical questions (regarding Bush's private dinner with Saudi prince Bandar, two days after 9/11: "Were they commiserating or comparing notes?").
And Moore's self-proclaimed "op-ed" movie offers not a single solution or exit strategy, although the subtext of the filmmaker's longtime obsession with the oppressed working class implies he may have a Marxist revolution up his sleeve.
Juxtapose the trivial with the significant, the frivolous with the momentous, long enough and relentlessly enough, and any reality can be degraded into one great toxic smear. You exit "Fahrenheit 9/11" feeling as though nothing and no one in the world has escaped being tainted by Michael Moore's monstrous appetite for attention and self-aggrandizement.