Michael Moore represents the worst of twenty-first century media culture. He looks at the hot topics, sniffs out potential for conflict and goes out to ambush ordinary Americans with pointed questions. Feeling satisfied when their stunned ignorance is caught on tape, he begins the publicity for his latest muckraking conquest. This will include preaching his gospel on every talk show that will have him. He shows blatant disregard not only for the reputations of others but for the truth itself.
There are many things wrong with Moore. He clearly has no idea of what he wants to say (just watch him on TV). The man had the stones to write Charlton Heston a letter calling him "a coward," and saying that the "nation was shocked" (based on his own polling service, I'm sure) that the NRA chairman would continue with an already planned event in Michigan a couple months after a local elementary school shooting. His lies are most revealing, like his ongoing claim that the U.S. gave $43 million to the Taliban before September 11. Moore also makes wild use of prima facie material in his new film Bowling for Columbine--he bemuses that it is "weirdly ironic" that Lockheed Martin has a major plant in Littleton, Colorado, making a connection between the manufacture of weapons and the massacre at Columbine. No Mike, it's a coincidence, and not even a strong one--Lockheed Martin didn't even make attack weapons there.
Moore glosses over some of his fabrications by saying that he is an entertainer, and thus can slander people provided it is in a funny context. Or he hides behind the First Amendment, the all-purpose method for squirming out of a rhetorical tight spot.
It's tragic that after a decade of obfuscating, dissembling, and just plain making an ass out of himself, Moore is unrepentant. Usually, people learn from their mistakes and grow up. If anything, Moore has become more fatuous (witness the cover picture of his book Stupid White Men where he stands triumphant, towering over white-collar men with a sanctimonious smirk on his face). Fueled by his followers, Moore has built himself up as a working class Mother Teresa-cum-H.L. Mencken, fiddling a tune against the evil corporatists and their slave consumers while issuing unoriginal and unfeasible ideas for reform like "everyone should have a collective responsibility toward each other." Well, I guess that settles everything.
Is he for real, or just cynically crafting an image, designed to sell books, movies, or whatever project he's pushing? (Stupid White Men attained number one on The New York Times's best-seller list). From an analysis of his work, the latter seems likelier.
Moore is too far gone, hibernating in his world of delusion. But many of those who make up liberal or socialist campus organizations are still figuring out their political selves and, like many young people, gravitate towards the path of least resistance--conflict. I did too, first when I was a rabid liberal in my high school days, and then when I switched sides in 1999. The best way to find my political identity was to position myself against those I viewed as wrong--the people that stand in the way of a good life for all. But the road to satisfaction does not go through bitterness. From talking to many of the activists on campus, I appreciated their conviction. But I never truly found out why. Why protest Taco Bell, and not the smaller company that employed the exploited tomato workers?
What is to be done? I don't pretend to know. My conservatism is based on the tenet that we don't know enough to form a perfect world, so we have to rely on the best we have--institutions, tradition. I'm not suggesting that all the radicals completely drop their ideals and start a tab at Brooks Brothers. I can offer some advice in the words of that immortal philosopher, George W. Bush.
Along the campaign trail in 2000, Dubya expressed himself as a "compassionate conservative." I was never a fan, but perhaps he was onto something with introducing "compassion" to the political rhetoric. Too often politicians mention their compassion towards the downtrodden before engaging on a harangue against nefarious entities (drug companies, power companies, Big Tobacco) that must be the root of all the pain. That has become what people respond to, and it didn't start with Moore. But he has come to the forefront at a time when audiences crave reality, and voyeurism especially. We follow tales of these wicked men, and root for their destruction from our living room. It's a spectator sport, and compassion would only ruin the fun.