Thursday, September 30, 2004

Michael Moore Hates America

To celebrate the release of "Michael Moore Hates America" in LA this weekend, I'm posting some work I did comparing a movie about politics I really enjoyed, "Wag the Dog," vs. a movie I didn't, "Fahrenheit 9-11." Enjoy.

As “Wag the Dog” so poignantly asks us, “Why does the dog wag the tail?” The answer: ``Because the dog is smarter than the tail. If the tail was smarter, it would wag the dog.'' Indeed, and in both “Fahrenheit 9-11” and “Wag the Dog” the tail is the American people. In “Wag the Dog” an overwhelmingly hysterical and bitingly satirical effort from director Barry Levinson the “dogs” as it were, are the spin doctors who craft the media to their will. In Fahrenheit 9-11, however, the dog is Michael Moore, who since exploding on the scene with his best effort “Roger and Me,” has consistently slid downhill in his execution, style and credibility with audiences. The tactics used by both directors are worlds apart and yet should theoretically have the same goal- to create doubt in the minds of everyday Americans as to the honesty of both the media and politicians. While Fahrenheit is at times moving in its manipulation of emotion, it fails miserably at any attempts at conveying a real message. The film is blinded by its sheer stupidity. Where Moore Fails, Levinson and the always sharp screenwriter, David Mamet, succeed. They give us a fictitious (although frighteningly similar to the Clinton fiasco) world to laugh at, and through this laughter, they poke and prod the audience to consider important questions about American politics.

Where the two films are most similar is in their view of the War each film deals with. Although to even compare them is disingenuous as it asks impossible questions (i.e. Is a fictitious Albania similar to a very real and dangerous Iraq?) Moore’s view of the real war in Iraq is that of a gigantic waste of manpower and resources. I suppose Levinson’s view of a manufactured war would be the same of anyone’s – it’s stupid. Yet the true beauty of Levinson’s film comes in the execution of his message through bitingly satirical dialogue.

In Wag the Dog we find so many hysterical exchanges between characters that it is almost impossible to not mention a few in passing. Conrad, the head spinmeister of the administration’s fake war mantra is “Change the story, change the lead.” How often have the American people seen a politician ignore issues and change the subject? I would venture a guess to say that it is probably a daily event. Even more interesting is a scene later in the film where Conrad and filmmaker, Stanley, must create some manufactured scenes from war torn Albania. They have a child actress hold a bag of Doritos in front of a blue screen, and before our eyes Stanley turns this absurdity into a scared child running around with a teddy bear, frightened for her life in the slums. In the age of digital manipulation Levinson reminds us how easy it is to paint pictures designed to deceive the general public. His technique is both humorous and relevant and gets the point across perfectly.

In Fahrenheit 9-11 all attempts at humor fall flat on their face. Whereas in previous films Moore used his humor to his advantage, here it feels out of place and in some places just plain ridiculous. For example, affronting Senators asking them to “sign up” their sons or daughter in war is ridiculous. The pretense that someone can “sign up” another person for war is just stupid. Enlisting in the armed forces is a personal decision, often a heroic decision. Another example of Moore’s humor just not being effective is his portrait of the “Coalition of the Willing.” Pretending that every country in the coalition wears hula skirts and dances next to swaying palm trees is also ridiculous. I assume Mr. Moore has been to Japan, Great Britain, Portugal Denmark, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, and that they all wore hula skirts to welcome him. It’s a stupid scene that reinforces that traditional complaint lodged against Moore’s techniques- he is deliberately deceptive.

“Wag the Dog” brings us to world full of deceit and lies and political maneuvering- a world most of us will never see. While we may be familiar with politicians, like the mysterious President in this film, we never see the spinmeisters like Conrad, who dictates into a radio attached to the ear of the Press Secretary during a press conference. The press secretary repeats what he says verbatim. While it may be a tad absurd, the scene works because the movie never pretends to be entirely serious. It is something we are familiar with, yet brought to light in a different perspective it causes us to question the trust we have with politicians. We must ask ourselves, “I wonder if Conrad exists?” That a question like that gets asked makes “Wag the Dog” a success on a purely cerebral level.

Michael Moore is a talented filmmaker; there is no question about that. Particularly, his editing technique is Fahrenheit 9-11 is effective at times. At several junctures he uses contradictory statements made by the Bush administration, edited side by side to make his point. This is probably the best example of how some people are so easily swayed by Moore, he can and will use all techniques to make his point. But this paper is not about editing, it is about effectiveness. Moore’s strategies of ambush interviews, clever editing and humorous voiceovers have worked extremely well in the past, and are used extensively in Fahrenheit. Yet, it is not as effective as it once was – why? The answer is that Moore’s films have garnered so much attention and critique that audiences now are aware of the techniques. Unlike Wag the Dog, in which no assumption of truth is made, Moore purports everything he tells us to be true. Is it really reality that “the only Iraqi casualties are innocents, nobody in Iraq is grateful for liberation, all the American soldiers are disillusioned, except for the sadists?”

Audiences know better. Everything Moore says and does is taken with a grain of salt. Audiences do their own research, and realize that most if not all of what Moore says about the Bush- Saudi connection is carefully edited lies. It is not the object of this paper to give a review, but to point out that most Americans will stumble upon carefully researched papers like David Kopel's “59 Deceits in Fahrenheit 9-11.” The very thing that made Moore famous, his celebrity, has been his downfall. "Wag the Dog" is a much more successful simply because we can laugh along at the absurdity of the American political process. The filmmakers set out to make a point, and through laughter the audience can understand. We know its all fiction, but its proximity to reality makes it all the more effective. The simple technique of satire and humor makes Levinson’s work much more credible than Moore’s oft-critiqued "Fahrenheit." And when it comes to American politics, a good dose of humor is oft-needed.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

And Now For Something Different...

This site has been formulating in my head for a while. I realized long ago (but never really did anything about it) that people probably don't "get" my humor. Although my site hits indicated otherwise, apparently my raunchy, satirical humor was being taken extremely seriously. Seriously enough to be labeled "offensive and stupid" by people whom I respect.

I disagree.

In fact while I changed a lot about this web site, and effectively shut down my old site- it won't be like this for long. I expect to get back to posting on my old site (up and running at But expect some changes, for one I may just assume another identity to make it QUITE CLEAR that I'm not being serious, or I may not.

For now, this place will be my serious discussion website, with the occasional drift in the satiric.

You can pick either site to visit or both. However, I think this solution works best- my email is always open if you have questions.