In Defense of Michael Moore's "Propaganda"

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

  • Moore: fighting fire with fire.

    Moore: fighting fire with fire.

Written by Kyle Lambert

Earlier this week I finally had the chance to view Michael Moore’s newest motion picture creation, Fahrenheit 9/11. I certainly don’t need to describe the massive box office success which Moore’s candid look at the Bush regime has already had, though I will say that Tuesday’s viewing was my third attempt to see the film, the first two being sold-out well before I arrived at the theatre. Fahrenheit 9/11 has been called many things, ranging from brilliant to pinko, America-hating, propagandist crap. Personally, I think the film falls closer to the former, though I’m not about to call it the best documentary ever made, or even the best of the past year. Anyone who has seen The Corporation likely understands that last comment.

What must first be understood about Moore’s film, and what a number of elitist Canadian commentators seem to have overlooked, is that his target audience is not an academic elite of social theorists. Michael Moore is pitching his views to an audience which has likely never heard anything like them before, at least not without the heading of conspiracy theory attached to them. While I’m not about to commend the brilliant journalism of the Liberal-biased CBC or the tabloid-like Sun media, I will say that on the whole, Canadians get a much more rounded coverage of key news events.

In the weeks and months following September 11, 2001, stories began pouring out about the Bush family’s ties to the Saudi Arabian elite and how those ties led to an invasion of Afghanistan as opposed to Saudi Arabia (not to mention the oil factor). Yet in the United States, stories such as those were and remain hard to come by. Numerous authors such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn have been railing for years about American ties to Saudi Arabian royalty and the Bin Laden family. However, such authors and left-wing publications like The Nation were very easily marginalized in the post 9/11 period by the conglomerated American mainstream media. Fahrenheit 9/11 is being sold to those people who weren’t allowed to hear what Moore sees as the truth behind the events of September 11 and the Iraq war – those people being the general American public.

One of the main criticisms of Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it appeals to the emotions of the masses in the same way that government propaganda does. While this is definitely true, I don’t necessarily see the problem. The Bush government and its predecessors have used similar forms of propaganda many times to get the American public to buy into their message; the same can be said about politics here in Canada. What Michael Moore has successfully done is used his opponents’ tools against them. Too often the left media in North America has been afraid to use methods of media manipulation which others have proven so useful. Jack Layton was heavily criticized for using catch-phrases and appealing to ethnic minority voters in the recent election. Its not that other parties don’t use the same tactics, it’s just that the left is supposed to be (in the minds of the many) “nicer”.

People are happy when the Michael Moores of the world can remain on the sidelines of political commentary and give an opinion every once in a while, just as long as they don’t get too much publicity. However, many seem to get very upset when messages such as Moore’s get mainstream coverage. Suddenly the typical offensive defense tactics come out and words like “propaganda” start getting tossed around. Well here’s a quick question – did anyone question the use of propaganda when Bush called himself a war-time President? How about when Jean Chretien toured the Manitoba after is devastating floods? The answer is an emphatic NO.

The fact is that propaganda is used whenever the media is used to convey a political message. Aside from the extremely rare occasion that a politician will speak in complete candidness about his intentions, political messages are always skewed in a manner which will be most convincing to intended audience. Michael Moore used footage of war victims and an interview with a mother who lost her son to the war in order to convey his message that the war in Iraq was wrong and has served no real purpose other than to cost thousands their lives. Such a message is not as effectively presented if done by simply explaining one’s position. To get people to actually understand what he is saying, Michael has had to thrust very troubling images in the faces of the American public. He has shown the very images that the mainstream media were essentially banned from displaying.

If Fahrenheit 9/11 has used propaganda to make supporting Bush’s war in Iraq harder to support, then Michael Moore has done his job. Personally, I’m thankful that someone who represents my views on the situation has finally had the courage to fight fire with fire.

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