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Feature Story July 8, 2004
America's Vichy Left vs. Michael Moore By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 4 of 4

It's strange, but even though Leftists have always criticized America's militarism when it was at its worst, for some reason, when Moore criticizes it, the masks come off and the Left is outraged, moving in to crush him at all costs for daring to suggest that America shouldn't be invading other countries. Maybe that's because they're envious that for once, someone's being listened to. Even a somewhat sympathetic writer like the LA Weekly</em>'s Ella Taylor wrote, about Fahrenheit 9/11, "Moore, though, wants us to see the mere existence of casualties as proof that the war [in Iraq] is illegitimate. Would he take the same approach for casualties of World War II?" Here she is using the Delta House argument from Animal House: "And if Iraq is wrong, does that make World War II illegitimate? And if so, would you also undo the Civil War to free the slaves? Gentlemen, I will not stand here and let Michael Moore overturn the Declaration of Independence and hand our country back to the British Monarchy!"

This is pretty much the range of Left-intellectual criticism: hate him because he's fat, aggressive, or, if you have to admit he's good, then qualify that with lies about his ineffectiveness, which is exactly what he isn't. This backstabbing Vichy Left attack on Michael Moore is exactly the reaction predicted in the eXile's May 3, 2003 issue, when Dr. Dolan quoted Eileen Jones of Chapman College's Film Department: "We're going to see many, many reasons to repudiate Michael Moore in the coming months. He's too bold, too outspoken, too smart, too effective -- he really hits a nerve. And Lefties can't handle it. He isn't a statue of a long-dead Lefty saint, so he must be neutralized! Just wait'll his next movie comes out, which is going to be a merciless, feature-length drawing-and-quartering of George W. Bush. Then we'll see some fast and furious repudiations, lemme tell ya!" Folks, you're supposed to prove our predictions wrong - you're supposed to make us look like fools, not make yourselves look like predictable single-celled Left-organisms.

This is how Moore is treated by what should be his comrades on cutting-edge left-wing culture press. But it goes beyond that. Last year, Moore was savaged in Dissent, the 60's-Left magazine. After grudgingly admitting, "People who have never read Dissent have probably seen Moore on prime-time television (Fox, NBC, or Bravo) or in a movie cineplex (Bowling for Columbine most recently) or maybe purchased one of his best-selling books. Moore has busted through, as the saying goes, reaching a broad audience," and from here the article argues that Moore's over-reliance on revealing the truth about corruption in both political parties is "cynical" and therefore "counter-productive." He also calls Moore's mixing of entertainment and radical politics "dangerous." As an example, he cites the wrenching scene in Bowling for Columbine where Moore appears at K-Mart's headquarters with victims of the Columbine massacre, and demands, successfully, that K-Mart stop selling bullets. Here is Dissent</em>'s interpretation of this clear expression of how citizens can shame and shape corporate policy if they just get up the courage: "Armed with nothing more than a movie camera, Moore shames a corporation into making a moral decision. What's odd about this sort of engagement, though, is that it avoids the hard work of forming movements that could press for change. No need for that when Michael Moore, with just his camera, microphone, and baseball cap, can come to the rescue." The envy here is so apparent that it almost makes you cringe. It worked! Oh shit! It's not supposed to actually work! Leftism is all about academic conferences and papers, not changing policy! It should take 30 or 40 years, not a few weeks or days. That is what is so "odd" - rather than "pressing for change," Moore actually changed, upsetting the olde guild.

The author of this article, Kevin Mattson, is an American academic, a left-wing Ohio University professor, so you can imagine that his life is excruciatingly dull, his impact on his frat-jock students somewhere between nil and negative-nil, and he doesn't want to think that somehow, this late in the game, he's the one who's gone about it all wrong. Moore makes Mattson and his type look like chumps and frauds - in fact, he threatens their pat jobs as much as the Right because he might flush them out of their campus offices. Mattson even admits so much: "Moore's defenders will claim I'm jealous because I lack a camera and large audience and my views are consigned to small magazines. I grant the point...I am not against humor (ask my friends). But I am worried about what happens to the vision of the left when it plays on the grounds of the sound-bite society." Yeah, if we all just set up more committees and publish more obscure articles in more obscure magazines, the Revolution will finally come. Just ask Mattson's friends, they'll tell ya.

While Dissent offers a clear window into the ossified Leftist-middlebrow mentality, a creature that by design fears the noise and emotion that Moore brings, The Village Voice, the most famous of all Leftie-intellectual/cultural outlets, dealt Moore a slew of back-handed compliments, the most cowardly of all Leftist positions, combined with the same knee-jerk populist patriotism of the LA Weekly. Here is Voice film reviewer J. Hoberman's June 21st review of Fahrenheit 9/11:

Michael Moore: the man liberals hate more than Bush!

Michael Moore: the man liberals hate more than Bush!

"In Cannes, where locals express incredulity at learning that, hardly a marginalized scribbler of samizdat, Moore is actually one of America's bestselling authors, Fahrenheit 9/11 was wildly overpraised as filmmaking. (Moore was repeatedly hailed as a new Eisenstein -- although, if anything, his wise-guy vertical montage is ultimately derived from Kenneth Anger's underground biker doc Scorpio Rising.) Moore's metier is not the scene but the shot -- in context. Self-promotion aside, his most formidable talent has turned out to be editing found footage. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore wisely keeps his on-screen stunts to a minimum -- this is the least grandstanding movie of his career. Still, he finds it difficult to resist his least attractive urge, namely the mocking of those ordinary Americans whom he purports to champion... If Moore is formidable, it's not because he is a great filmmaker (far from it), but because he infuses his sense of ridicule with the fury of moral indignation." Yes, those lovely ordinary Americans - the ones who would scream and shoot you if you ever used the word metier within a thousand yards of their crumbling A-frames.

What is this mocking of ordinary Americans -- that is, the type a Manhannite like Hoberman wouldn't touch with a 10,000-mile pole? -- that so upsets Hoberman? He's talking about Lila Lipscomb, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq. Lipscomb lives in Moore's hometown of Flint. Moore's problem is that he shows her crying -- and shows a vicious urban yuppie woman screaming at Lipscomb in front of the White House, accusing her of lying about her son dying in Iraq. It is one of the most shocking, infuriating scenes in modern American any-media: Lipscomb, a heavy-set middle-aged mother, can barely respond to the thin, Gore-Tex'd out yuppie woman screaming at her. "Oh yeah? If he's really dead, where did he die then? Huh?" the yuppie screams. Lipscomb finally answers her, "Kerbala..." to which the yuppie woman scoffs, "Yeah, well a lot of people died over there." The yuppie is confident, vicious and dismissive because Lipscomb is poorer, fatter and possibly Liberal - the three great sins in America. Lipscomb stumbles away from the yuppie, incapable of defending herself, and no one comes to her aid, not even Moore. The camera rolls, as she doubles over a patch of grass with the White House in the background, and she starts to dry heave. In the eyes of so many envious American Leftists, this is an example of Moore "mocking ordinary Americans." Maybe he should change his metier or something.

In Hoberman's earlier attack on Bowling for Columbine, he follows the path of other anti-Moore Leftists by claiming that Moore's deeply-deserved roasting of that evil old shit-head Charleton Heston "might almost inspire pity for the doddering actor (who has since announced that he suffers from Alzheimer's)..." If, after Bowling, you want anything less than a slow skin-peeled death for Heston, then, to paraphrase Jonah Goldberg, "You are not a Leftist. You are Jonah Goldberg."

And on and on it goes., which every day devotes its site to finely-nuanced attacks on the Bush Administration, reveals its own Peyronies-Syndrome-penis envy in Stephanie Zacharik's article "9/11: Nay!" The first part of her argument is dedicated to defending left-wing critics of Michael Moore using a less-than-Animal House argument which goes something like: "They say if you criticize Michael Moore, you're not really a Leftist." By bringing this up, she thinks she's neutralized the argument in-advance of her attack, which is qualified by a double-qualifier: "Although he has stated that his aim is to force the election's outcome by calling attention to the Bush administration's web of duplicity and deceit, Moore, ever the self-promoter, is the real star of 'Fahrenheit 9/11.' I agree with probably 95 percent of Moore's politics...But even though I'm part of the choir Moore is preaching to, I can't help blanching at his approach...preaching to the choir just isn't good enough."

Nader to Moore: lose weight,  feel great

Nader to Moore: lose weight, feel great

Oh, so what is doing? Whispering calmly in the back of the choir, hoping no one's really listening so as not to get in trouble?

This is the other false argument: those on the genuinely ineffective-Left argue that Moore is ineffective, "preaching to the choir," even though the evidence -- a record-breaking documentary at the box-office -- conspires against this hopeful claim.

Numerous articles featuring interviews of "ordinary Americans" fresh out of Fahrenheit belie this argument. Even Time magazine admitted as much:

"But in theaters, the movie can hit home, especially for those who have loved ones in Iraq. Greg Rohwer-Selken, 33, of Ames, Iowa, and his wife Karol are former Army reservists who both volunteered for Afghanistan (but weren't sent). Now Karol is serving in the National Guard in Iraq. After seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 in Des Moines, Rohwer-Selken wipes away tears as he says, 'It really made me question why she has to be over there.' (The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which books films to be shown on military bases around the world, has contacted Fahrenheit</em>'s distributor to book the film.)"

Even's pro-Moore reviewer, Andrew O'Hehir, felt obliged to qualify his praise, as they always do, slipping in a long anecdote that casts doubt on Moore's reliability: "My point is not to damn Moore as a fabricator, but rather to suggest that from early in his career there were signs that his true calling lay not in journalism but in storytelling, or, more specifically, in the dangerous and difficult territory that lies between them." No, your point is to make sure that you bring Moore down just a peg or two, while at the same time elevating your earnest-to-a-fault self.

Hannah Storm wants to move beyond

Hannah Storm wants to move beyond

The World Wide Socialist Web Site also found much to criticize: "The director here has taken the line of least resistance, succumbing to the lure of the easy explanation, rather than providing a more profound analysis." But not to worry. Marx is going to be right one of these days, and that day is finally at hand: "The popular outpouring confirms that a radicalization is under way in the US, with far-reaching implications." Yeah. If only Moore's analysis was as profound as that.

Even the alt-paper I write for back home, the New York Press, published a cover article accusing Michael Moore of being a "Liberal Fascist." At first I assumed it was a compliment -- but then I realized that the author, Armond White, really thought he was clever when he lobbed that facile oxymoron-packed ladyfinger at Moore. White was so carried away by his flip-flops that he even accused Quentin Tarrantino - who awarded Moore with the Palme d'Or at Cannes - of directly influencing the Abu Ghraib tortures. I don't quite understand what Armond White's agenda is, but some spite clearly underlies his hatred of the most effective pro-African-American white propagandist working in film (Armond White is African-American). White should know that Abu Ghraib came directly out of the cotton plantation culture of Halliburton and Corporate Texas that his Liberal Fascist nemesis Michael Moore wages war on. What the hell is wrong with Americans today? Why is it more important to take a stance that you think is Uniquely Contrarian - to borrow from Not Another Teen Movie - than to support someone who might be doing you some good? This is the heart of the problem with the American Left - what matters for them is not winning the game, not even how the game is played - what matters is losing the game at all costs.

It isn't just on the left-wing fringes that Moore's "choir" attacks him. Mainstream liberals also got their knives out. Liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, an opponent of the Iraq war, told his readers that he "recoiled from Moore's methodology," whatever the fuck that means. Can you imagine a right-wing columnist recoiling from anything right-wing that might help their cause? Or just recoiling? Here is the problem in a nut-shell: the Left is dominated by recoiling squid like Cohen, whose ink-squirting instinct is only triggered by the sight of someone who might actually help the cause. So he inks Michael Moore, skirts away, hides under a rock and hopes that the Moore never comes back.

Even the Onion - jesus christ, THE ONION! - hopped aboard the Attack-Moore-cuz-I'm-not-really-shocked Express. Calling it a "dirty bomb of a movie" the wink-wink-humorist-mag author dragged out the usual populism and crypto-Rightish sympathy by claiming, "A Bush apologia made with the same mixture of speculation and low blows wouldn't even have warranted an invitation to Cannes." Those damn French liberals! Always mocking us Americans, even those of us who fled Wisconsin for The Big Apple. One has to remember that the Onion is essentially squeamish - they stopped joking for weeks after 9/11 because it scared the shit out of them, and now, after viewing Moore's genuinely dangerous film, that same shit has once again fled for the flag-lined exits.

This story of how the elite of the intellectual Left was roused out of their slumber and turned into a Vichy-uniformed mob out to lynch the one Leftist who made it out of the ghetto is the best illustration of why the Left is so marginalized and ineffective in America: the Left likes being exactly where it is, and it will destroy anyone who messes with this convenient set-up in the safe corners of the opposition, where it can play petty-Christ to pay its mortgages until the day Medicare kicks in. There is no real fight, just a lot of fist-waving at C-SPAN from the safety of one's home office, where reading and getting angry are as far as anyone on the Left wants to go.

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