Go to previous post:
Catch-up post.

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
Fans: still slans.

Our Admirable Sponsors

July 20, 2004

The left of flesh and blood. Not sure I agree with every word, but Marco Roth’s defense of Fahrenheit 9/11, “I’m with Stupid,” is definitely worth reading and thinking about.
Our media systems have created a simple-minded, schoolyard culture of question and answer that the good people at Fox News have adapted into a public version of an interrogation. “Are you a liberal?” “Do you support Saddam Hussein?” “Is your Epidermis showing?” “Have you got a bike?” We know that a lengthy explanation is a shady explanation and all answers to some questions are just wrong. Moore has mastered this technique. He is a doggedly stupid journalist, “How can you do these things to people?” “Why did you fire all the workers? Why did you bomb Iraq? Why? Why? Why?” He doesnít load himself down thinking about the answers to questions before he asks them. He fires away greedy for easy satisfaction, like a child who trusts authority figures and yet is continually disappointed by them. He wants to hear the simple truth simply. Because he hasnít received straight answers, heís decided that these people are untrustworthy, and sometimes heís right. […]

He's not just a liberal--he's a SENSIBLE liberal! The enlightenment liberal prizes truth arrived at through an exchange of ideas in a zone free from basic prejudices of faction or identity. If he wishes to keep a sense of his value inside our big polis, he must forget this unpleasant fact: Americans make too many decisions on appearance. Call it stupidity or call it emotional intelligence, “I liked his face,” but whatever you call it, itís not foolproof. Moore feels Americaís love of stupidity. He is part fat clown and barking Barnum. If it makes anxious left wing intellectuals feel better, we can reach to academic language for an ennobling term, the Rabelaisian. Moore is our gigantic carnival figure. He plays us for suckers and we love him or hate him for it. He mocks the reasoning that has tied us in circles and does what he wants. He stands up for the oppressed, for the left of flesh and blood: prick us do we not bleed, tickle us do we not laugh? And he farted in the general direction of the liberal order of fair play, reasoned debate, and open covenants openly arrived at, because he felt wronged and he took his revenge.

The best way to enjoy Fahrenheit 9/11 is as a revenge flick. It is fine vengeance for all the indignities the liberal left has suffered at the hands of the Republicans and especially the Bush dynasty and its minions since 1988. Moore has plotted his payback for a long time. For Willie Horton, for Hillary Clintonís social kiss of Yasser Arafat, Moore returns the favor with a montage of handshakes with kaffiyehed Saudis that is undeniably racist. No American politician will ever shake hands with an Arab wearing traditional garb again without first banishing all cameras. In retaliation for the success the Republicans had with the wooden Al Gore of 2000 and the ballyhooed bad pancake make-up in his first debate with Bush, Moore fires back with W.ís flickering lost look when he hears that the planes have hit, and, of course, the make-over sequence at the beginning of the film. The final touch, Moore hopes, will be fooling the same people the Republicans have been fooling for years.

The revenge isnít finished, and there may yet be an honest judge waiting in the wings to make sure that the pound of flesh isnít fully exacted. But regardless of the outcome of the next election, no one on the left, or even in the liberal center, can keep a nervous distance from this film.

RTWT. Discuss. [12:39 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on The left of flesh and blood.:

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 01:25 PM:

Er...what's "RTWT"?


Jon Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 01:33 PM:

Read The Whole Thing.

Alternatively, Real Time Windows Target.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 02:41 PM:

Kind of an aside, since the Roth piece is interesting and has some things to say that I like, but...

Tom Tomorrow can bite my wang AND kiss my ass. For free.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 03:05 PM:

Actually, Timothy, it wouldn't have occurred to me to consider you as part of the class skewered by "Tom Tomorrow"'s cartoon, because even when you take the officially "moderate" position on something, you do so in a notably irascible and passionate way. Which is to say that unlike what I think of as the Sensible crowd, your argument isn't "I'm right because I'm mild-mannered," it's "I'm right because I've taken this argument two falls out of three." Or so it seems to this observer in the cheap seats.

Personally, my favorite panel of the cartoon in question is the third one, which pretty much sums up the, for instance, typical New Republic journalist's attitude: "Okay, we were wrong, but surely you aren't going to start listening to those anti-war freaks, are you?" As it happens, some of those freaks really are crazy and wrong, and some people now climbing down from their pro-war positions are people I really do still respect, but that doesn't mean it isn't reliably hilarious to watch human beings struggle to preserve their pride and self-regard.

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 03:59 PM:

When I saw Fahrenheit 9/11, I couldn't quite escape the feeling that the audience I was part of -- a mostly young, almost entirely Scottish, crowd -- weren't always laughing at the places where Moore would have expected them to. At least, not all the time. I would be fascinated to be a fly on the wall at a showing of that movie, with Arabic sub-titles, in Baghdad.

"There is a price to be paid for indulging an aesthetic of anger and revenge, for disowning the intellect to make common cause with the many who will win or lose the future for all of us." Oh yes, yes indeed. Truer words have rarely been said, and they need not only be applied to Michael Moore; they sound to me like a fitting epitaph for the attack-dog Republican right, should their grip on power be broken and they succumb to the inevitable post-election night of the long knives.

Andy Vance ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 04:09 PM:

It may be that I've read one too many reviews of Tom Frank's new book, but lately there seem to be an abundance of stories addressing the question "Just how gullible are American voters?" Here's another:

None of the people at Kitty and Tom Harmon's bungalow are stupid. Instead they are the kind of "well-informed" that comes from overlong exposure to conservative media: conservatives who construct towers of impressive intellectual complexity on toothpick-weak foundations.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 05:33 PM:

I agree completely. It's about time we had one of those on our side.

Joseph Duemer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 07:09 PM:

"The enlightenment liberal prizes truth arrived at through an exchange of ideas in a zone free from basic prejudices of faction or identity."

It is so hard to be an old-fashioned Enlightenment Liberal these days. No sarcasm intended. I used to think Americans liked to chew the intellectual fat around the proverbial cracker barrel, but after exposure to Kitty & Tom (see above), I'm not so sure. It seems to me that our essential character is fundamentalist. Which is to say, we'll believe anything if it conforms to our prejudices.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 09:59 PM:

You know what Kitty and Tom are doing?


Meet Dubya fandom, folks.


Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2004, 11:20 PM:

The problem I have with Michael Moore is this: when you advocate for someone, you need to remember that your acts reflect on them; I don't think he does.

Oh, and I really hate that fake naivete thing.


Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 12:17 AM:

What weirded me out about that Village Voice article Andy Vance linked to above is that these people could have been the people who populate what is my local watering hole, and most of my neighbors. What he is portraying is not an exaggeration, in fact, he seems to be downplaying not only how widespread this view is but how deeply devoted these people are -- unquestioning devotion by virtue of literally parroting what they hear. Which just leads one to wonder: Does the "average" American listen to or watch anything but deeply slanted neocon media? Is it that pervasive, or are they just hitting the outlets they know are most popular (or accessible; i.e., the stations bar TVs are turned to)?

Locally, I'm a cypher (and made fun of to no end) because I don't get my news from just Fox and CNN.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 12:27 AM:

Wait a minute, the "average" American voter voted for Al Gore.

Don't fall for the Bolshevik/Menshevik trick, for cry eye. Before you declare yourself a "cypher," take several deep breaths.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 01:57 AM:

I just saw F911 yesterday, and I found it cathartic. After so many years of having much more manipulative right wing posturing saturating the environment, it's refreshing to hear it from the left. (Well, the center, there is no real left in the USA.)

If you're engaged in a war - and we are so engaged - it's important to be able to match your foe, weapon for weapon, target for target. For too many years, liberals have eschewed messages that appeal to emotions as well as reason. Michael Moore, flawed as he is, (and he is less flawed than pretty much all of his analogues on the right,) is our best weapon in capturing the hearts of the electorate. We should use him to our best advantage. Relentlessly, mercilessly, and with no regard to the discomfort that such usage might cause us.

Just because a voter thinks with his gut instead of his brain does not mean that we should be ingoring him.

Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 01:58 AM:

I wouldn't quite say that. I'd say the average American voter voted for something like 0.75 |Gore> + 0.66 exp(i φ) |Bush>. I'm not sure what the value of φ is.

(But the modal American voter voted for Gore, yes.)

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 02:13 AM:

Patrick, I'm taking you and T. to that bar when you're here. I am buying, and expect a great deal of entertainment as I watch you play Stump the Neocon in his own habitat. In fact, this should be a great deal of fun.

(Hell, I'd take you there, anyway, because it's our local hangout and they have pretty damn good drinks and VERY good food. And lots of dead beef cooked extremely well. Er, not well done. Just well. Oh hell, you know what I mean.)

bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 05:31 AM:
Call it stupidity or call it emotional intelligence, "I liked his face," but whatever you call it, it's not foolproof. Moore feels America's love of stupidity.

Bush has not been shy about letting us know that he's not afraid of ordering executions; it's one of the things he used to do as governor of Texas that he's proud of. "Dead or alive" he told us on national TV about his plans for Osama bin Laden.

Only showing him read "My Pet Goat" while the twin towers burned, or hammering his family's Saudi ties, his dinner with Prince Bandar on September 13, his prancing in a flight suit on the deck of the Lincoln is anything like an antidote or a reality check.

The Bush administration has not even been operating at the level of credibility of a Michael Moore documentary, but its methods have been sufficiently similar that a different exegesis couldn't make the point as well.

It's a pretty good movie.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 11:03 AM:

Matt: average couples have fractional children, as well. I'd just like to explain to you that among people who are not afflicted with hypernumeracy, 'average' has the colloquial meaning of 'typical'.

Almost no object of type X is "the average X" in strict mathematical terms; in common usage, however, it means "the common, garden-variety X." (Again, no specific or even abstract/theoretical garden need be cited, nor does this phrasing require that objects of type X commonly appear in gardens. I realize this is confusing to the literal-minded, but if you -- we -- are going to live among these humans, we must learn to think like them.)

(In case it's not absolutely clear, I'm kidding back. Yrct was funny, and inspired the above.)

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 11:30 AM:

Some of y'all should go take a look at what I posted on my blog last night. (http://marykay.typepad.com/gallimaufry)

This is very typical of what heartland America is like. And, Patrick, I still think there are more of them than there are of us. That is my experience of the world anyhow.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 11:48 AM:

I know you think that. With all due respect, I think you're mistaken.

Based on all the demographics I've seen, it looks to me like the unshakeably hard-core Fox-News-believing uncritically-Bush-worshipping portion of the American population is somewhere between thirty-five and forty percent. Which is enough to be darn scary, but it isn't a majority, and it doesn't represent an "average."

I repeat what I said to Nancy: don't declare yourself a cypher. I would suggest watching out for terms like "heartland" as well. The people we're up against--not your family, Mary Kay, but the people who have them entranced--are masters of dominationist language, of the kinds of rhetorical strategies that are deliberately designed to make their opponents feel hopeless and defeated. Don't fall for it.

You may never be able to make your family see reason, and that sucks. But that's not the world.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 11:52 AM:

By the way, amidst all this talk of what's "typical" or "average," of "heartland America" and whether "there are more of them than there are of us," let's remember some basic facts about the set that makes up America.

It's entirely plausible that within the set of white suburban Americans, there are more people in the tank with the Fox News worldview than not.

Quick, what's wrong with using this as the basis for claiming that "there are more of them than there are of us"?

Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 12:32 PM:

Believe it or not, I had a serious point behind my quantum silliness. If I had written that post in a more serious tone, I might have put it like this:

The electorate was closely divided between Gore and Bush. If Gore had won by a 20% margin then it would have been fair to say that the typical American voter was a Democratic voter, but that's not what happened; Gore won by less than 1%. So we've got to say either that Gore voters and Bush voters are both typical, or that neither are. We can't characterize a typical voter as either Democratic or Republican.

Are there any useful statement you can make about the typical American voter? Not sure. Here are some candidates all of which I find plausible. (You'll note that I'm only claiming they're "plausible", not that they're all true. They can't be, since they're contradictory.)

- The typical American voter is strongly committed to one of the major parties. Even voters who say that they are independent, and who say that they are undecided months before an election, have predictable voting patterns that tie them to one of the parties.
- The typical American voter doesn't even think about politics between elections and doesn't make up his/her mind until the last couple weeks before the vote.
- The typical American voter feels alienated by politics, thinks that all politicians are crooks and that the whole process is corrupt, sees no important differences between the parties, and decides whom to vote for based on the candidates' perceived personality (as mediated by TV) instead of what positions the candidates stand for.
- The typical American voter chooses candidates based on ideology, but it's an ideology of cultural self-identification rather than an ideology that has to do with policy proposals.
- The typical American voter votes based on perceived economic self-interest. (Some voters vote against their own actual economic self-interest, but that's just because they're making factual errors about what their self-interest really is.)
- The typical American voter supports economic policies that are characteristic not just of the Democratic mainstream, but of the Democratic left. (Single-payer health care, for example.) The reasons this doesn't translate into overwhelming Democratic victories in elections are complicated.
- The typical American voter is really the non-voter.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2004, 10:58 PM:

Matt, the reason it doesn't translate into overwhelming Democratic victories is because Democrats don't generally mention it. Single-payer can't be called a Democratic policy until the Democrats make it one. Mostly, they haven't had the nerve.

Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2004, 02:23 AM:

I see that Avedon has linked to this excellent article in The eXile. If it does nothing but spread the meme 'backstabbing Vichy Left' it'll have done its job. But for my money the money quote is:

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[...]
That's the spirit. The left, however defined, should learn from Schmitt and fight like its enemies do, because that's what fighting is.

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2004, 07:23 AM:

I'm with Ken. I've been both puzzled and disappointed by liberal
attacks on Michael Moore for several years now. Yes, Moore
doesn't play by Marquess of Queensbury rules and he's a rabble
rouser, but guess what? The rabble need rousing. If F911 can get
people voting who don't usually do so, then more power to Moore!
As Ken says, you have a fight on your hands. Behaving like this
is a genteel debating society when the Republicans keep turning
up with brass knuckles and tire irons is part of the reason Dems
keep losing. And liberals who've been expressing sniffy disdain
for F911 will help ensure you keep right on losing. As you've
often noted, Patrick, the perfect is often the enemy of the good.
Personally, I've long regarded the Dems as a spineless bunch of
tossers - and I'm deeply contemptuous of Republican fifth
columnists like Joe Lieberman - but if I was American I'd have
been holding my nose and voting for them because they've always
been so obviously much better than the only alternative. This
year, I'd have been holding my nose, voting for them, and working
for them, since the only thing that matters is getting rid of
Bushco, at all costs.

LowLife ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2004, 12:34 PM:

Michael Moore has made an intelligent film, a necessary film, and he should get kudos for being able to set his opposition of the Bush administration within his politic philosophy in a cogent form.

Moore argues that there is a class system in America. That's hardly a stretch, and many here will agree, and so he employs his visual artistry to make the point. On high there are the power and oil brokers of the world. His often criticised inclusion of the Afgani oil pipeline fits comfortably in this worldview. Though his distractors say he's claiming that the pipeline is the reason Bush went to war his strongest point was that the Bush administration was willing to deal with the Taliban to get it. With images, he supports his political understanding of oil money and oil power to deal with anybody and do anything to increase both.

In contrast, he shows the human costs of these exoteric decisions. With images, he shows who they are, how they think and the effects war can have on them. Folks, this is powerful stuff, and good filmmaking.

The dreamy sequence of the 2000 election is a very real version of how people experience the whole election nightmare.

The 911 sequence with dark screen and the NY street chaos sound-over yeilding to the paper storm with the Arvo Part work Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten with Strings and Bell was emotionally compelling.

His dispelling of the myth of Bush the strong and resolute leader, with images, is justice at last.

His clips of actual war wounded was ground breaking (at least within the cocoon of our current political news enviornment).

There is much to laud in Moore's film.

But since we are an argumentative group there is plenty here to take on. Instead of accepting the RNC talking points and nitpicking Moore's points lets talk about Moore's overarching arguments. Does oil money and power make decisions based on their own advancement and trick the poorer classes into fighting their wars? If so, has Moore adequently demostrated it? What did he include that he shouldn't have? What did he leave out that he should have included?

This whole "I don't like Moore, because..." is so RNC. He has set out some pretty cogent arguments, a visual essay, that will convince some and exhort some, to work against Bush this fall. The ambition of that work demands that our efforts to reject or defend his thesis amount to more than a comment on his physique or nitpickery.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2004, 04:07 PM:

The best reason I can think of to criticize Moore for being sloppy and occassionally untruthful is that his sloppiness and untruthfulness reduce the usefulness of his films. The weaker the film, the easier it is for the right-wing noise machine to reduce it to irrelevance.

I notice that Fahrenheit 9/11 was a tremendous improvement over Bowling for Columbine on that score. There was nothing in F9/11 that was as egregious as the inexcusable parts of Bowling--"the speech Charlton Heston never made" sequence (where Moore spliced together bits from five different Heston speeches to completely misrepresent what he said) and getting the facts wrong about the founding of the NRA.

F9/11 is a much stronger film for having its facts right. Of course, the right-wing noise machine is attempting to use the errors in Bowling to discredit F9/11. But they're not having much success.

On the larger front, among the biggest reasons I oppose the modern Republican party is that they are egregious liars who pander to stupidity. If the only way to defeat the Republicans is to promote lying and stupidity, I don't see that as much of a victory. The governance of the United States is not a matter of my team vs. their team; it's a matter of what type of people I want governing the country. I have nothing against populism; I have a problem with acting as if the only way to appeal to the populace is to be a stupid liar.

Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2004, 04:19 PM:

Kevin: I should perhaps mention that I'm against stupidity and lying. The point is, if you want to get (back?) to politics as argument, you have to defeat those who see politics as a war.

MorganJLocke ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2004, 08:16 PM:

Apropo American political demographics, there's a fascinating new study out from the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, that divides the populace into ten distinct groups. Pretty interesting stuff, and makes some associations I never would have anticipated, but which make a lot of sense to me.

Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2004, 04:17 AM:

Though his distractors say...

Lovely word, that, and a very accurate description of most of Moore's critics.

Anthony VanWagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2004, 11:29 PM:

"The propaganda which produces the desired results is good, and all other propaganda is bad... Therefore it is meaningless to say your propaganda is too crude, too cruel, too brutal, or too unfair for none of those terms matter."

Fondly Fahrenheit indeed.

Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2004, 12:47 AM:

The question begged would seem to be something like, "Is it possible to construct an argument that convinces the gut without offending the brain?"

I'm concerned that I like "Fahrenheit 9-11" the way a Straussian likes religion. I'm also concerned that if we accept the legitimacy of this sort of battle, we will lose to the other side, which I believe to be constitutionally (by virtue of their acceptance of Total Depravity, and so feel no resistance to assuming the populace gullible and deserving of it) and by long habit (they've had Nixon, Chotiner, Phillips, Atwater, Rove, we've had Carville) better suited to it.