Michael Moore: the message vs. the messenger

By David Schultz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 15, 2005

Michael Moore wrote an open letter to George Bush that has been circulating around my e-mail inbox throughout the past few weeks, and it is a perfect example of why he's extremely great and, simultaneously, a colossal jerk.

The letter is basically a laundry list of everything Moore feels the Bush administration did wrong or wrongly didn't do in regard to Hurricane Katrina.

He brings up some salient points that the country should be asking itself right now, like how the war in Iraq might have affected the National Guard's response to the hurricane and how global warming might have affected the ferocity of the hurricane itself.

However, he does this in such a sarcastic, smarmy and altogether obnoxious manner that it's difficult to read the letter without gagging.

For example, Moore, speaking rhetorically to President Bush about his response to hurricane warnings, says, "I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear."

Moore goes on to say, "I was moved by how you (Bush) had your Air Force One pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over New Orleans so you could catch a quick look of the disaster.

"Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab a bullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like a commander in chief. Been there done that," Moore wrote.

If I weren't a charitable reader, I would say that Michael Moore was actually trying to get laughs from this disaster a mere five days after Katrina hit land. Is he trying to critique the president's response to the hurricane or is this simply just another Bush joke stolen from the opening monologue of a late-night talk show host?

Moore himself probably wouldn't be able to answer that question. Like that melancholy Dane, his fatal flaw is indecisiveness. He can't seem to figure out whether he's a crusader or an entertainer, and whenever there's a conflict between the two he almost always chooses the latter.

This is really a shame, because Moore is in a perfect position to ask difficult questions of people in power and bring up pressing issues that the traditional news media overlooks. But unfortunately, he seems perfectly content to sit back and be aggressively derisive.

A perfect example of this is a scene from his 2004 film "Fahrenheit 9/11" when the protagonist, naturally Moore himself, goes to Capitol Hill to try and convince U.S. congressmen to sign their children up for the military.

This stunt brings up an important point: The people in Iraq fighting and dying in the war are made up of the young and the lower class, and the war-makers in Congress have very little if any personal connection with these people.

But, as is his custom, Moore goes about making this point in a gimmicky and misleading way.

Are we actually supposed to believe that parents are allowed to enroll their children in the military without their consent? Obviously they can't. (I know this because if they could, I'd have several friends who would be residing in Falluja right now.)

This is just another in an unending list of examples of Moore trying to mix persuasion and humor. Like beer and chocolate cake, these are two great tastes that almost never taste great together.

Because of this, Moore is endlessly frustrating. Believe it or not, many Americans on the left are totally put off by Moore's cynically smug style, despite their agreement with what he's actually trying to say.

And what's really frustrating is that if he puts off people on the left, one can only imagine what the people in the middle, the people who he should be trying to persuade, think of him.

In the end, Moore is a colossal jerk because he squanders his unlimited potential. His message is powerful and righteous (most of the time), but it is always tragically overshadowed by the messenger, Moore himself.

If he could realize that in order to persuade, his art needs to be about more than just pure entertainment and preaching to the choir, he could move mountains. Unfortunately, for him and for us, this will never happen because Michael Moore's supreme ruler, his own bloated ego, won't allow it.

David Schultz is a senior majoring in political science and philosophy.He can be reached at letters@wildcat. arizona.edu.