Bowling for Michael Moore

Bowling for Columbine

Michael Moore’s divisive Bowling for Columbine is ingeniously critic-proof. If one complains about the politics of the movie, one if branded a right-winger. If one complains about fact-fudging or fairness, one is accused of missing the point. It’s meant to spur discussion.

To which I say: Bullshit. It’s easy to be provocative, fiery, and outrageous. It’s a lot harder to be smart and convincing, and to put serious problems in a proper context that would allow for reasoned discussion. Michael Moore takes the easy route, and if he can’t be bothered to make a better movie, I’m not going to waste too much of my time writing about the one he did make.

Some people have described Bowling for Columbine as messy or undisciplined — and it is — but I don’t think that’s its problem. It is troublingly lazy, and that’s what turned me against it.

I don’t ask Michael Moore to be a journalist, but he rarely if ever puts his alarming statistics in context. Well, the number of gun murders is great, but what are the per-capita gun-murder rates, which are the only meaningful way to cast those numbers? Why rely on people’s recollections of the number of murders, when the number is surely publicly (and easily) available? Does anybody really think that’s the worst slum in Canada? And does anybody really believe that the Canadian health-care system is all that? These are just a few of the many, many times that he glosses over things that might actually bolster his case, if he took the time to provide the information in a way that meant something.

In addition, Moore obfuscates his best point so much — and he does it knowingly — that the power of the movie is greatly diminished. He’s also, I would argue, intellectually dishonest, because he presents this as an earnest inquiry into gun violence in America but already has a thesis — that we’re ruled by fear — that he presents at length but never puts up to close scrutiny. (Are other civilized countries not afraid? Is there not a large segment of Germany that’s as xenophobic as anything in this country?)

All the Michael Moore as Celebrity stuff is there, too, but it only bothers me in the context of everything else. I mean, if you have time to glibly spank the CIA, can’t you spend five minutes seriously considering gun control? (My guess is that Moore doesn’t believe gun control works, but he’s afraid to piss off his liberal constituency, so instead he bitch-smacks corporate America [Kmart] for selling ammo.)

Now, all that aside, was it provocative? Yes. Was it provocative about gun violence? Not to me, really. What we discussed more than anything after seeing the movie was Michael Moore and his methods, and I fear that pleases him greatly, because The Big One made me feel like all the troubles of the world weren’t quite as important as Michael Moore being famous in his own odd way.

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