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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Takin' It To The Sheep (2) (OR: "Moore Wars: The Empire Freaks Out")

Image credit:The Propaganda Remix Project
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

"Respect for the president is a longstanding American tradition and one that is still very much alive, as the weeklong national obsequies for Ronald Reagan recently proved. But there is also an opposing tradition of holding up our presidents, especially while they are in office, to ridicule and scorn." - A.O. Scott, 2004 (in his New York Times review) (registration required)

“The answer to bad speech is not censorship or silence, but good speech.” - radio host Charles Sykes
Picking up from where we left off in the last installment, we move to the realm of feature-length propaganda, specifically the feature-length documentary.

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph des Willens (you knew I'd finally get around to mentioning that, didn't you?) is still considered sui generis in the realm of propaganda documentary. Among the other great films are Frank Capra's Why We Fight series, Errol Morris's The Fog of War, and Walt Disney's Victory Through Air Power. These films meet the usual criteria for judging propaganda (and then some), as well as two additional factors which must also be considered:
1) Durability. Does the piece stand the test of time? And can it serve, in later years, as an historical insight into the time it was made?

2) Reaction. The specific question asked here is "will the powers-that-be be so (afraid of/outraged by) the percieved efficacy of the piece, that they actually try to suppress it?" (Think of CBS's capitulation on The Reagans last year)
This brings us, of course, to Michael Moore.

Following his successes with Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 opens in theatres tomorrow, and the rabid-Right has unleashed its Chihuahuas of Inconvenience upon it and Moore, in a very concerted attempt to suppress or discredit the film. In amongst the yip-yappers trying to discredit Moore we find Slate's Christopher Hitchens, the American Enterprise Institute's James K. Glassman (who at least has the grace to admit he hasn't even seen the film), and the collection of nits inhabiting the posting streams over at Free Republic.
(I'm not going to quote anything from the above bits of can go read them for yourself)

Then we have the attempt by the "grass-roots" group Move America Forward (which also spearheaded the attack on The Reagans) to intimidate theatre owners into not booking the film (an attempt which appears to have failed spectacularly, I'm glad to say).

The sleaziest manœuver in the whole sordid business has to be Citizens United's hypocritical attack on the movie via the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance laws. The manœuver is hypocritical in that CU has been fighting the FEC to eliminate those same campaign-finance laws as an unconstitutional restriction on "free speech" - the exact same battle that the National Citizen's Coalition recently lost in Canada. You can get the details at Tristero's blog (and a big "Thank You!" to Tristero for including The Reality Stick in his links list!).

All of this has generated a tsunami of publicity for Moore's movie, above and beyond the good reviews it's already been getting from the New York Times (quoted above), Fox News (!), and Roger Ebert. There are two other excellent pieces which I found after I started writing this post. The first is the review at Ain't It Cool News, which directly relates to what I've been rambling on about. The second is by John Anderson of Newsday and provides a segué into this sad footnote:
Ray Bradbury is demanding an apology from filmmaker Michael Moore for lifting the title from his classic science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 without permission and wants the new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 to be renamed.

"He didn't ask my permission," Bradbury, 83, told The Associated Press on Friday. "That's not his novel, that's not his title, so he shouldn't have done it."

The 1953 novel, widely considered Bradbury's masterpiece, portrays an ugly futuristic society in which firemen burn homes and libraries in order to destroy the books inside and keep people from thinking independently.
[LINK] (and you can go here for a satirical reaction to Mr. Bradbury's complaint)
Fahrenheit 9/11 is, by Moore's own admission, a piece of propaganda. Given the reactions so far (pro, con, and Mr. Bradbury's), I think the film will stand out as an influential piece of damned-fine propaganda work, and it will survive all of the attempts to dismiss or suppress it.

Because, whether the Chihuahuas of Inconvenience like it or not, free speech belongs to everyone...
"Civilization is the encouragement of differences. Civilization thus becomes a synonym of democracy. Force, violence, pressure, or compulsion with a view to conformity, is both uncivilized and undemocratic." - Mahatma (Mohandas) Ghandi

Final Ironic Note: Canada's Onex Corporation is selling its interest in the Loews Cineplex theatre chain (which comprises movie houses in the U.S., Spain, Mexico and Korea) to a group of investors that includes the Bush-connected Carlyle Group. Loews Cineplex is one of the U.S. chains that Fahrenheit 9/11 will be shown in.