20 July 2004

interesting post by timothy burke regarding fahrenheit 9/11...well, no. more accurately, regarding how We On The Left regard fahrenheit 9/11.

i'd like to start my response by, for once (and rather garbled-ly), accusing someone else of being an elitist rather than defending myself from such accusations. (woo hoo! lefty cred!) burke makes an interesting, and pretty *easy*, argument that what moore is doing with f9/11 is marketing to a mythological lowest common denominator:

"Though it might be aesthetically less satisfying and entertaining, something much more conventionally melodramatic or Ken-Burns-respectable might be more powerful by far, crucially because of a peformance of “fairness". The curious thing that moves through at least some defenses of Fahrenheit is an assumption that Ma and Pa Kettle aren't gonna come out and see a documentary unless it has plenty of bread-and-circus pleasures, lots of yuks, unless it goes down smooth and easy. To me, that defense isn't just vaguely condescending, I would also suggest it's wrong. I think you could sell $100 million in tickets for a de-Mooreified Fahrenheit that had all of the heat, all the anger, all the revelation, but without all of the bullshit."

burke, i think, fails to consider the fact that moore's production might be the work of an honest polemicist, and that the work of an honest polemicist might be what some (many?) in this country need and want right now.

is the situation really that moore is marketing to "Ma and Pa Kettle"? trying to win the nascar dads and reagan democrats with an irresponsible screed? assuming, for whatever reason, that such folks can't handle something Ken-Burns-y? i don't think so. i think, in fact, that burke has forgotten, to an extent, that you can be very, very smart and still come from "Ma-and-Pa-Kettle" territory (in moore's case, flint). that you can be very, very smart and still honestly believe in some dubious unprovables. most crucially, that you can be very, very smart and still be honest, period in your rage and disgust and biting humor.

i think that what makes some lefty people (like burke, however little he currently identifies with that label) uncomfortable, is that moore forces them to contemplate that they might not be mad *enough* at the messes george bush has made in the lives of actual people. one thing moore demonstrated nicely with his little recruiting-at-the-capitol game is that it's all pretty abstract until people you know and care for start getting killed. f9/11 forces previously "sane and sober" lefties to recognize that, policy-wise, actual-lives-wise, things really are a little bit desperate. they don't want to hear it. they want everyone to be able to sit down with a microbrew and discuss the data. they dismiss moore's work as "dumbed down" or "mass market" or "condescending" because they, themselves, feel threatened by all those emotionally freighted contested facts.

consequently, discussions that are carried out (arguments that are made) from those perspectives are labeled as inherently less worthy than those undertaken by 'intellectuals,' and the result is a bunch of intellectuals accusing moore of condescension because moore doesn't speak in a sedate, databound, kenburnsy idiom.

[bonus points, class: let's discuss aristotle and/or martha nussbaum on the appropriate relationships of emotion and particularity to moral and intellectual debate/decisionmaking.]

burke doesn't pay adequate attention to the fact that, sometimes, ken burns is not what folks want. he fails to tell us what he means by "heat and anger" and what he means by "bullshit." reading his blog, i don't think he's made that distinction very clearly to himself.

i learned new things -- new factual things, i might add -- from f9/11. like many others with whom i've corresponded, i suddenly felt scared and desperate, terrified at the prospect of another bush presidency. for me, it functioned as a call to action. i think that, at base, it is an expression of some pretty righteous outrage. i also think that the film as a whole is considerably more plausible than, just for example, the contention that iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was somehow involved in 9/11. whether or not the causal connections moore asserts prove true, the previously unsought facts "between" those connections are themselves an argument against another bush administration. and yes, there's some bullshit there. but the film is not, as burke would apparently have us believe, a base attempt to manipulate the clueless. i don't think it's made with the clueless in mind; actually, i think he was probably doing a lot of thinking about michael pederson and his mother lila.