Culture Rover

#7 - Moore Gore

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11

This film is an artistic breakthrough for Moore. Occasionally, he can't help falling into his old schtick as absurdist faux-naive schmo innocently confronting the abuses of power by state officials and corporate honchos. For instance, Moore broadcasts the Patriot Act to members of Congress while circling the Capitol building in a rented ice cream truck. But for the most part, the film isn't funny and wide open and quirky like Moore's previous efforts, which drew upon an enduring faith in the oddballs of everyday America, who Moore positioned as full of rootsy authenticity, heartland spunk and grit, charming, goofy stupidity, and occasional flashes of brilliance. Instead the pressure builds as the mercury rises. Fahrenheit 9/11 is claustrophobic, suffocating as it catches hold of and explores the way that the Bush junta wields fear, arrogance, and manipulation into a stranglehold of misrule.

At film's end, when we follow the mother of a slain United States as she squints through a fence blocking the White House, we feel how her anger, pain, and, above all else, her bafflement at the lame justifications for her son's death, have nowhere to go. This individual -- self-consciously part of the "backbone" of the United States -- is stymied by the screaming silence of her nation's seat of executive power, whose most prominent display of apology is snipers with machine guns roaming its roof. That's no apology at all. It is a startling admission of guilt, of hiding from the truth, and ultimately it is a cinematic moment of national shame.

In fact, shame is the dominant note of the film. Perhaps at some level, besides the silly squabbling about minor points, this is why they film has infuriated conservatives so much (shame being a much more piercing and powerful feeling than guilt or anger). They doth protest too much about the film, perhaps unable to admit the shame that they themselves feel about the questionable legitimacy of our current ruling regime in the United States.

One of the most shameful scenes is of the Congressional certification of the 2000 election. This moment was too quickly forgotten in the effort to live past that national crisis. Moore shows us how one African-American member of the House of Representative after another requested then-Senate President pro-tem Al Gore to accept a petition questioning the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida. Gore repeatedly turns them down because the rules require the additional signature of a senator, but not one senator will join the petition. Not one senator! It is an alarming revisitation of the ways in which the Democrats rolled over for the Republicans in 2000.

For the most part in Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore focuses on Bush as villain, but the unspoken part of his story is the failure of Al Gore. Perhaps the story of Democratic defeat in the 2000 election -- a defeat that begins and ends with Al Gore's lack of nerve to fight -- was one of class identity. Al Gore was ultimately of the bourgeois professional class. He was a policy wonk, a perfectly capable administrator, an eager if not brilliant aspiring intellectual, a nice guy. He lacked charisma, both the good kind, which we might think of as Clinton's Southern working-class Elvis will-to-pleasure-and-power, or the bad kind, the elite's assumed destiny of rule, most exemplified by Bush.

As he usually does, Moore argues that the battle in the United States is between the working-class and the underprivileged -- the "backbone" of America, as he calls them, and the elites. But there's a huge piece of the national population absent from his morality tale. The missing piece of the puzzle is the professional class. The 2000 election, which Moore uses as the grounding of his story about contemporary politics in the United States, was perhaps most of all a struggle between Gore as a symbol of the professionals and Bush as a symbol of the elites (especially the elites who pose as being in touch with the salt of the earth).

This professional class -- caught between its lower-class origins and ascensions to the upper-class -- continues to be as full of all the contradictions, fears, hopes, insecurities, and yearnings for stability that any bourgeois middle class in history. As a group, the professionals challenged elites in the 1990s, rising to cultural power on the bohemian-tinged technocratic inroads of the Internet and to political power on the pelvic thrusts and swinging hips of Clinton -- a working-class boy who rose to their ranks while reminding them of their roots.

It is this class that the Republican elites feared and reviled, and defeated in the symbol of Gore. What is rising from the ruins of Gore's defeat in the symbols of Kerry and Edwards -- an intriguing new arrangement of elite and common -- remains to be seen.

15 July 04

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