Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission, ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite. All of which are American dreams. – Rage Against the Machine, Know Your Enemy
Michael Moore is pissed off, y’all.
OK, that’s kind of his state of being. If you’ve seen any post-Bowling For Columbine Michael Moore documentary, you know what you’re in for: a collection of information (sometimes disinformation) and stunts around a thesis that creates a holistic cloud at the intersection of “We Can Do Better” and “American Capitalism is the worst.” He backs up his information with a bunch of clips and on-the-ground interviews of mostly working-class people rather than American politicians. The politicians he does get are subject to an interview pointed enough for them to throw themselves on his petard.
Fahrenheit 11/9‘s main difference from his usual documentaries in that his thesis is far more generic than usual: DO SOMETHING BECAUSE SHIT HAS HIT THE FAN.
Moore opens Fahrenheit 11/9 by blaming Gwen Stefani for the Trump presidency. Moore’s initial gambit is that Trump only conducted his campaign launch’s escalator event as a stunt to get a raise from NBC because Gwen Stefani was making more money than he was for The X-Factor. It’s only after he did a couple of rallies and got a taste of popularity that he went after the presidency, never intending to win. On election night, Moore notes that never has a group of people looked so sad to have won the presidency.
From there, Michael Moore takes a blowtorch to American politics, leaving few participants unscathed.
The construction of Fahrenheit 11/9 is so scattershot as to represent Michael Moore’s Twitter feed. For 125 minutes, Michael Moore circles around and around on his favorites topics: capitalism is terrible, Flint Water Crisis, Trump is terrible, Republicans are awful, Democrats are almost as bad, and people are pissed. Rather than painting a purely pessimistic portrait of modern society, Moore uses all of the negativity in the news and tries to make the audience get so pissed off that they’ll actually get up off their asses and do something.
Trump puts clips of Gov. Rick Snyder getting booed in an auditorium next to Obama traipsing into Flint two months after Bernie Sanders won Michigan’s primary and drinking a glass of water while telling the crowd that the water is fine when heavily filtered next to a clip of then-nominee Trump taking a tour of Flint’s water treatment plant in September (Moore notes that Trump was the only candidate of either party to do so, and snidely muses that maybe he was admiring Snyder’s handiwork). Moore posits that Republicans poisoned the water in a community of mostly poor African Americans, Democratic leadership casually and caustically diminished the issue, and Trump seemed to be the only one who cared. Of course, Moore neglected Hillary preaching at a church and promising national aid to Flint. He also neglects to mention that Obama signed a bill in December 2016 that granted Flint $100m to solve the problem; even though the money would be distributed under Trump.
That, right there, is why Moore has lost his audience. Not that the Democrats are innocent (Obama was rightfully excoriated for that water stunt), nor even that Flint’s water crisis has been solved (at the end of 2016, before the $100m grant, a federal study said Flint’s water came within federal limits for potability). Moore lost his audience because he doesn’t give the full story and limits himself to BSAB propaganda in his attempt to explain why Hillary lost and why Trump won the election. You can’t trust him to give you the information you need to get mad and back yourself up on it.
Yet, I find Moore’s message admirable. Unlike ex-felon Dinesh D’Souza, Moore isn’t making one-sided documentaries that benefit a political party. Moore is burning down the house: the news media is labeled as sexual predators, Trump is Hitler (an accusation that has been leveraged against Obama and W.), the Democratic leadership are out-of-touch assholes and the Republicans are evil corporate racists. Moore instead finds hope in the youth and the new leaders, profiling the teenage Parkland survivors who launched March For Our Lives, West Virginia’s striking teachers, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Bronx’s Democratic nominee for US Representative, and Richard Ojeda, another nominee from West Virginia.
Ojeda, in particular, is an interesting case. An ex-soldier of Mexican descent, Ojeda is a Democratic Bernie Bro who voted for Trump in the general and has since publicly stated his regret. Weirdly, Moore avoids those topics even though they fit with his purported thesis: “How the fuck did this happen?” Moore promotes Ojeda as a candidate who doesn’t take money from corporations and has a full-time cross-country truck driver for a campaign manager. Ojeda stands with unions, supports the teachers, and can be seen in the background of much of the footage of the teachers’ strikes. Yet, finding out his support for Trump and why it fell away would make for a fascinating subject. Again, Moore never gives us the full story.
And, so it is: Get off your ass and do something. But, don’t expect Michael Moore to give you the full story of anything.