Friday, July 09, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

I've only looked at a few reviews - from the dismissive who haven't seen it to the thoughtful to the conflicted. This is a few comments after seeing it last night.

First, to argue that the film is literally true or false, and then to praise or blame it as good or not good propaganda, is, I think, unhelpful.

The most scandalous moments are those scenes that uncover nothing hidden, but simply show specific things actually happening - when, for example, Al Gore presides over a polarized Congress that either must object to or approve the results of his race against George W. Bush. Black representatives express anger and shame at the US Senate's frozen inability to muster a single objection to the 2000 presidential election. The scene works because it underplays the moment, refusing to focus in on specific senators, or to preach to us about what it all means.

The film, by Moore's standards, goes out of its way to avoid cheap shots. (It uses plenty of unflattering shots of Bush, but that is not a cheap shot - it is allowing Bush's face to say something about Bush that nothing else can quite say.) A cheap shot would jump all over the religious leanings of Bush, Ashcroft, Rice, or the Right in general. Whether or not Bush and co. actually believe they are executing the Will of God on earth, Moore deems that level of political rhetoric beneath serious consideration. These people aren't deluded christians, he seems to say -- a much more devious game is afoot.

So the first rhetorical gambit of the film is restraint. Moore goes out of his way not to exploit the horror of 9/11. The event, whose every pixel was burned compulsively into our brains by television "news," acquires a fresh gravity via the black screen. As the Greeks knew, tragic things seem moreso by being repressed offstage.

The next smart move is Moore's choice to mime the genre of careful investigative inquiry -- the dry, factesque mode of Frontline.

To mime a genre is to employ it, but not necessarily because the form suits the function. There are varieties of genre imitation that range from homage to pastiche to parody. I think Moore's choice to make it seem as though he was building an investigative case about the Houses of Bush and Saud was inspired. It gave him a format in which various data and scenes appeared to add up, but without the tight intricacy of traced connections. Much is made of the name of Bath, and it is an interesting thread. But a full blown investigative report would have involved much more documentation and sifting of evidence. It isn't what the film is about, but it allows the film to incorporate lots of background information.

The "investigative journalism" is really just the manner, the outward shell, through which Moore deploys a much different, more outrageous thing. Just as he says that the Patriot Act is not really about defending the Homeland, and that defending the Homeland is itself a ruse hiding a more sinister agenda, Moore is only externally attempting to prove Bush-Saud collusion. His actual argument is an attempt to explain class war to a populace that is conditioned not to recognize classes and how they conflict.

On this narrative plane, Bush, the Sauds and the Bush "Base" are barely distinguishable players (different hats, maybe) in a completely different theatre of war, involving the haves and the have mores above, and the cannon fodder we think of as the have nots below. In the middle is us, the US, mediated by a media whose social imagination has ever failed to grasp any of this (& therefore cannot represent what it cannot imagine.)

The war on Iraq, it turns out, is merely a pretext for a reconfiguration of global resources. In the US, this assumes a form shaped by the stagnant economy: Having displaced all actual productive jobs, all a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist can do is imitate manufacturing by having a job corps that produces and distributes lots of bombs. If the "workers" die, there are plenty more where they came from. They'll serve. In Moore's vision, the US poor being recruited for war are the mirror reflection of the apolitical elite - equally distant from the great barbecuing middle class, god bless 'em. So long as they serve, the rest of US can continue to dream, praising Bush or blaming him, placidly exulting in our freedom of speech.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jon Husband said...

This is it.

the mirror reflection of the apolitical elite - equally distant from the great barbecuing middle class, god bless 'em. So long as they serve, the rest of US can continue to dream, praising Bush or blaming him, placidly exulting in our freedom of speechand
His actual argument is an attempt to explain class war to a populace that is conditioned not to recognize classes and how they conflict.

As I was reading your review, I thought of the notion of a "mirror" and then to my surprise (and relief) I found the same notion a couple of paragraphs below. Perhaps he is only beginning, just, to show Americans aspects of their (imagined) soul and character come into being, those that normally the powers that be actively work to disguise or hide.

I wonder if there will be a sequel ? Certainly he has staked out a certain territory, and seems to be evolving as a story teller and film maker - thus making him more and more dangerous to those who are minimizing or denigrating his work.

It's very enjoyable meeting AKMA and Phil in the flesh.

7/10/2004 3:54 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Jon, knowing you are all at the Open Space Giving Conference, and keeping an eye on the proceedings, I wish I had been able to go. Best to you all.

7/10/2004 4:03 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

The Open Space Giving Conference proceedings are at:

http://www.globalchicago.net/giving/givingwiki.cgi?ConferenceProceedings

7/10/2004 4:10 PM  
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10/03/2005 3:38 AM  

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