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Liberals should ditch Michael Moore

BJ Strew | Sunday, November 23, 2003

Michael Moore is a disgrace to the left. What is distressing in the extreme is the fact that few members of the left have come to terms with this. As a liberal who refuses to join the chorus of hosannas, I’m a bit of an outsider. That might be because, more or less, the only people with whom I share this less-than-reverential view of Moore are on the right.This puts things in perspective, however. It sets up an apt analogy: I think the right views Moore in the same way that the left does Rush Limbaugh. And this is exactly correct; they’re perfect counterparts. (Not quite Buckley and Vidal, but hey, that’s what we’re stuck with, I guess.) What unites Moore and Limbaugh is their trio of pathologies: greed, hypocrisy and the need for attention.Moore’s greed is intimately related to his hypocrisy. After all, he markets himself as a working-class hero, a man of the people. But his carefully-crafted folk-hero persona is at odds with his immense wealth, his palatial New York apartment and his daughter’s attendance at one of the nation’s most expensive private schools. If the charge of “limousine liberal” is leveled at anyone, it should be at Moore. I wonder just how much cognitive dissonance Moore experiences on a daily basis.Or at the Oscars. The millions who watch the Academy Awards every year were forced to endure Moore’s frothing tirade. Don’t get me wrong: our politics are similar. But the way Moore goes about voicing his dissent leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Why not criticize with class, as Adrien Brody did that night? Moore’s Oscar speech felt like another advertisement for himself, much like his letter to Gen. Wesley Clark asking him to consider a presidential run. Because of my many unsavory experiences with Moore’s fakery, I was reluctant to see “Bowling for Columbine.” I skipped the chock-a-block screenings held on campus last spring. Since then, a couple dozen people have told me it’s right up my alley, that I absolutely cannot miss this one, that it’s hilarious.But I have to differ. His “documentary” feels like little more than a vehicle for self-promotion, a product with gun control as pretense. Gun control is secondary, of course, to the chief theme in all of Moore’s work: Michael Moore is a hero. Maybe it’s the shots of him accepting thanks after the K-mart protest. Or maybe it’s the shots of him hugging victims.Because the point Moore wants to drive home is that he truly is a hero, he ends up congratulating himself on screen constantly. What’s much worse is Moore’s playing fast and loose with the facts; there isn’t room here to catalog all the lies and shortcuts and staged scenes in the movie. The big one: his “Open an account, get a free gun” segment was entirely staged. Add to Moore’s frequent deceptions his facile conclusions, not to mention the exploitative means by which he arrives at them. The film trivializes the tragedy of Columbine. It is dishonest the whole away around and characteristically so.If “Bowling for Columbine,” his book covers and movie posters, his letter to Clark, his Oscar speech, half the title of his documentary “Roger and Me” and the whole of his book-tour movie “The Big One” don’t adequately convey Moore’s penchant for self-aggrandizement, then I don’t know what will.Greed, hypocrisy and the need for attention? These all square nicely in the entertainment industry. The industry is, after all, an industry – profit’s the goal, greed is OK. Plus, it’s about image, not issues – hypocrisy is apparently no big deal when the aim is to entertain, not to inform. And needless to say, the need for attention goes hand in hand with entertainment. To sum up, Moore and Limbaugh are entertainers, nothing more, whether they and their fans realize it or not.What is frustrating though is that the vast majority of their fans do not realize they are merely entertainers. They treat them instead like bona fide political pundits, if not heroes of the right or left-wing. The only reason I can almost tolerate Moore is because he isn’t Limbaugh – he’s his counterpart. That is to say, he’s a liberal, he brings attention to the liberal cause. But it’s the wrong kind of attention; the left doesn’t need its own Limbaugh, it needs authentic, credible voices. We shouldn’t praise him for his “courage” if it’s all in the service of self-aggrandizement and profit.If you were wondering at first if “disgrace” was too strong a word, I hope that I have shown why it is perhaps too weak a word. Michael Moore is, to be blunt, a cause of shame – the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition. He is a pandering, narcissistic blowhard and not worth defending. The left needs to distance itself from Moore if it wants to salvage the credibility he seems so keen on eroding. I’m tired of his sensationalism and his sophistry. The liberal association with Moore is unfortunate and we deserve better.

BJ Strew is a junior English major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at wstrew@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.