Burn, Baby, Burn

If Fahrenheit 9/11 is too hot for you, well, let me quote Dick Cheney. . . . 

For all those nitpickers and whiners who complain that Michael Moore is liberalism's Leni Riefenstahl and that his new film, Fahrenheit 9/11, isn't a tidy documentary, and for all those witless wonders in the media who continue to hound Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky questions, even after the shame of their collaboration in over-blowing a blow job into an impeachment, I would just like to say, in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney: Go "fuck yourself."

I bought Slick Willy's biography not because I want to read it but because I want the sales figures to drive right-wingers absolutely bull-goose crazy. I want webscallion Matt Drudge—the man who gave us Monicagate—to have to report that Bill's book is outselling the Bible. I don't care if Clinton's book is as great as Ulysses S. Grant's Civil War memoirs, or as dull as Calvin Coolidge's private phone directory; it can sit on my coffee table until global warming turns into the next ice age. Simply buying the book is the entire point. It's a vote for a man I can't vote for anymore.

That's not quite true with Moore. I wouldn't vote for him if he were running for president of the Noxious Weed Control Board. I find him a blowhard who has become a walking brand, the Michelin Man in tramp clothes. Like most people in film and television, he seems to be an arrogant jackass, as honest and caring as Connie Chung, luring interviewees into intimate cinematic moments that exploit their weaknesses. Granted, it can make for memorable cringe moments on the screen, but I hate the cheap-shot quality. In Bowling for Columbine, I actually felt sorry for Charlton Heston.

All that said, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a terrific film, doubly good because just the fact that you're seeing it will drive the other side nuts. I exult at the fact that it grossed nearly $22 million its first weekend, even though I think the whole contemporary obsession with Hollywood box-office grosses is gross (like when sports became about salaries, instead of on-field performance). Nevertheless, we are keeping score, and the scoreboard says the anti-Bush forces kicked ass this weekend. One positive sign: I went to see the movie Saturday night at a Redmond multiplex. The showings (on two screens) were sold out with lines around the block (OK, it was in a mall, so the line curled around a building). It was an unbelievable turnout in the Republican-leaning burbs. Maybe it's an indicator of how much the Eastside has changed, or a sign that Dubya's in real trouble.

There is a lot to like about this film, which is an exercise in powerful visual storytelling. It tells a story the mainstream media have been desperately trying to ignore. That is, that America has been taken over by thugs who have conflated their personal interests with the national interest and are now pushing both by exploiting an endless "war on terror." They want to keep the populace fearful while they pick our pockets, and damn the Constitution. For all the pundits who complain about the immoderation of such claims, they are not far different from what has been claimed by more sober observers, like conservative Kevin Philips. The difference is Moore's images are harder to ignore.

That is the story the mainstream media are reluctant to tell because they report stories piecemeal, and because telling this truth would open them to charges of bias or hysteria. It is also a story simply too horrible to believe.

So many in the media stare at unconnected dots and help those in power sanitize reality. Fahrenheit is an antidote to that. It contains imagery you likely haven't seen before. Not stuff Moore shot during his ambushes, which are blissfully rare in this film. He shows footage that goes beyond the flag-draped coffins we're not allowed to see. We're shown soldiers talking about the best rock music to listen to while killing; Saudis engaged in public beheadings; the unspeakable wounds suffered by Iraqi civilians; the sewn stumps of our own limbless soldiers. Yet outside the theater, the sanitization continues. This week, our government announced a "handover" of sovereignty to Iraq, the way you might hand someone a live hand grenade. It was a public relations stunt designed to signal that we're washing our official hands of what happens next.

For critics of this film who say that it's all lies, I can tell you about one thing that is reported accurately here for the first time. There is a short segment on the Bush inauguration in 2001. I was one of the protesters there. We stood for hours and hours in the freezing sleet just to have a chance to tell Bush and Cheney what we thought of their coup as they passed. When we watched coverage of the inauguration that night on the news, the protests had been virtually wiped from history—erased like one of Stalin's ill-favored minions from a photograph. The Fahrenheit footage captures the raucous flavor of the inaugural protests. It's so nice when a historical reality is noted.

The biggest criticism of the film from its fans is that it's preaching to the choir. But converting the unconverted is too big a burden to place on one film, or one man. Michael Moore can only do what he can do. It's the rest of us who have no excuse for failing to admit reality.


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