This article was first published in The eXile on July 8, 2004
Much has been said over the past week about the final collapse of the Russian Left-opposition. Even a neo-con like Michael McFaul publicly lamented (through crocodile tears) the weekend split of the Russian Communist Party opposition, charging that “democracy as a result has suffered.”
But the fact is that the Russian Left died a long time ago — in the mid-1990s, when they agreed to collaborate with the powers-that-be, and to destroy anyone within their ranks who tried breaking free from their sleazy arrangement with Yeltsin and the oligarchy. The Communists didn’t want to win power, in fact they were terrified of taking power — they were safer, and better-off, as a toothless, fake opposition, which served Yeltsin well because he could whip up Return of the Red Scare fever any time he needed more IMF funds or any time Clinton’s people threatened to make a stink about the corruption and genocide that Yeltsin was responsible for.
This is roughly the same wretched story of the American Left ever since Reagan quashed it. For years now, America’s Leftists have been flogging themselves to death wondering why it is that they remain so weak and disenfranchised. Most Leftists agree that it’s all the fault of the right-wing dominated media, and the Republican-infested corporate conglomerates that control the major media outlets. Others blame religion, or advertising, or popular culture, or something inherently base within the genus americanus. Sometimes they even blame themselves, though only in a safe, disingenuous, fake-self-loathing way: we’re out-of-touch, too serious, too high-fallutin’, we need to get with the times, etc.
In fact, the main cause for the demise of the American Left is much more sinister than that. The American Left is responsible for destroying the American Left. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean quite literally that anytime the Left starts to get somewhere, you can be sure that a vigilante mob of other Leftists will rise to the occasion to crush it, to make sure they stay as marginalized and ineffective as always. It’s a kind of ghetto envy endemic to the Left – the Right is always rooting for its heroes to succeed. Not the Left. The key for them is to sound Virtuous – and oftentimes that means eating their own in order to promote themselves.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the American Left’s envy-fueled lynching of Michael Moore, the only Leftist to make it out of the ghetto. I cannot think of a single American Leftist in my lifetime as effective as Michael Moore, and if Fahrenheit 9/11 is objectively anything at all, it is objectively effective. Bravery is fairly cheap on the Left exchange — you have to be brave to be Left in this Reptilian Age — but to actually get out of the Left’s ghetto, into the debate, and to strike and strike hard…only one managed that, without going soft or becoming “balanced” and “realistic.”
Consider this recent interview over the Fahrenheit 9/11 controversy between Moore and former sports correspondent-turned-CBS Early Show anchor Hannah Storm on June 25th.
Storm: “So this is satire and not documentary? We shouldn’t see this as-”
Moore: “It’s a satirical documentary.”
Storm: “Some have said propaganda, do you buy that? Op-ed?”
Moore: “No, I consider the CBS Evening News propaganda. What I do is — ”
Storm: “We’ll move beyond on that.”
Moore: “Why? Let’s not move beyond that.”
Storm: “You know what?”
Storm: “No, let’s talk about your movie.”
Moore: “But why don’t we talk about the Evening News on this network and the other networks that didn’t do the job they should have done at the beginning of this war?”
Storm: “You know what?”
Moore: “Demanded the evidence, ask the hard questions-”
Moore: “-we may not of even gone into this war had these networks done their job. I mean, it was a great disservice to the American people because we depend on people who work here and the other networks to go after those in power and say ‘Hey, wait a minute. You want to send our kids off to war, we want to know where those weapons of mass destruction are. Let’s see the proof. Let’s see the proof that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11.'”
Moore: “There was no proof and everybody just got embedded and everybody rolled over and everybody knows that now.”
Storm: “Michael, the one thing that journalists try to do is to present both sides of the story. And it could be argued that you did not do that in this movie.”
Moore: “I certainly didn’t. I presented my side-”
Storm: “You presented your side of the story.”
Moore: “Because my side, that’s the side of millions of Americans, rarely gets told. And so, all I’m, look, this is just a humble plea on my behalf and not to you personally, Hannah. But I’m just saying to journalists in general that instead of working so hard to tell both sides of the story, why don’t you just tell that one side, which is the administration, why don’t you ask them the hard questions-”
Storm: “Which I think is something that we all try to do.”
Moore: “Well, I think it was a lot of cheerleading going on at the beginning of this war-”
Moore: “A lot of cheerleading and it didn’t do the public any good to have journalists standing in front of the camera going ‘whoop-dee-do, let’s all go to war’. And, and it’s not their kids going to war. It’s not the children of the news executives going to war-”
Storm: “Michael, why don’t you do you next movie about networks news, okay? Because this movie-”
Moore: “I know, I think I should do that movie.”
Storm: “-because this movie is an attack on the president and his policies.”
Moore: “Well, and it also points out how the networks failed us at the beginning of this war and didn’t do their job.”
You want to fall to you knees and thank God or Allah or Harvey Weinstein, or just Mr. and Mrs. Moore, for giving us Michael Moore! Watching him pimp-slap a corporate goon like Storm (an apt name for an unter-SA functionary like her), directly lancing the heart of the evil beast, is sweet, satisfying revenge, and not a moment too soon. It’s the little things that Moore does in this interview that make it so effective. Anyone familiar with the crushing little nuances of American diction — the “you know what?” and “let’s move beyond that” as modern versions of the “censored” stamp — feels this rare sense of vengeful pleasure. Moore’s tactic is simple and brilliant: he proved that you can actually neutralize those little bio-weapons they use to censor unpleasant truths simply by ignoring them and talking through them, without apologizing or qualifying yourself, without being embarrassed for being Left.
Russian readers might be wondering, “What’s the big deal?” That’s because Russians are far braver in their political discourse, even now under Putin’s crackdown, than Americans are, despite our First Amendment and how little we have to lose compared to Russians. But let’s face it: America’s opposition, and America’s mainstream, are utterly, venally craven. Except for Michael Moore.
He has single-handedly managed to turn the Right-Wing brutocracy into a pack of whiny fags scrambling to get out of the way of the message that his movie Fahrenheit 9/11 brings, lest it smack them with such a powerful dose of cognitive dissonance that their skulls will burst wide open like that guy in Scanners. They’re so frightened that even the “intellectuals” among the Right have been forced to publicly admit that the only defense against him is to run into the basement, lock the doors, shut off the lights and pray, as revealed inNational Review editor Jonah Goldberg’s recent column: “I haven’t seen Fahrenheit 9/11 and I have no intention to. So, if you want to make one of those pious declarations about how you can’t judge the movie unless you’ve seen it, be my guest… I don’t need to know very much about you or your ideas to know that if you think Michael Moore is just great, a truth-teller and a much-needed tonic for everything that is wrong in American life, you are not someone to take seriously about anything of political consequence, or you are French.”
J. Hoberman does it for the little people
Oo, that’s a zinger! “French”! That’s some co’d shit, nigga! Damn! Even Robert Furs wouldn’t go that low!
Ah, what a joy to see the Right behaving so shamefully lame. In fact the Right has been so thoroughly pimp-slapped that they’ve been forced to turn to a sweaty fair-weather neo-con Brit named Christopher Hitchens to protect their little bubbles from bursting. Hitchens’ critique of Fahrenheit 9/11 still stands as the only half-way effective antidote to Moore’s movie. When the Republicans have to hide behind a John Bull to defend themselves against an American filmmaker from Flint, Michigan, then you know they’re squirting hard. The Right hiding behind a foreigner to protect them from an American liberal. That’s right-wing decadence at its clearest, folks.
But just when you thought they were down, there’s good news for the American Right. Help is on the way. There’s a white knight on the horizon ready to ride in and slay the bad ol’ Michael Moore. That white knight — or rather, that vigilante posse of white knights — is none other than the American Left. And here is where the anti-Fahrenheit 9/11 campaign gets really depressing.
Incredibly enough, the most vicious attacks against Moore come from the LA Weekly, perhaps the most relevant Leftist outlet combining cultural/film criticism and leftist ideology. Reporter John Powers, who covered the 2004 Cannes film festival for the LA Weekly, sneered in typical American-left fashion: “Fahrenheit 9/11 was clearly not the best movie at the 57th Cannes Film Festival…Michael Moore’s cauldron of Bush-scalding agitprop enjoyed a visibility as oversized as the director himself.” Then he unleashed a kind of hick-populist attack that coastal intellectuals are fond of employing: “Moore is a master of feeding foreigners’ anti-American fantasies.”
You expect Republicans to go after him for being fat, but oddly enough, Leftist attacks on Moore for being fat are surprisingly common. Ralph Nader, in a recent interview in the Washington Post, said, “I’ve been at [Moore] for years, saying ‘you’ve got to lose weight.’ Now, he’s doubled. Private exhortations aren’t working. It’s extremely serious. He’s over 300 pounds. He’s like a giant beach ball.” Even though most studies show that obesity is a product of poverty and depression, Nader bragged that his followers are “trim and take care of themselves.”
But much of the venom is spent on obviously-fake concerns, such as the fake populism of Powers, which he also leveled at Moore in his 2002 review of Bowling for Columbine: “One of the mosquito-bite irritations of being on the left is finding your ideals represented in public by Michael Moore, whose ball cap, burgeoning belly and self-promoting populism have made him an international brand name. When his documentary Bowling for Columbine played at Cannes this May, it was received with wild enthusiasm — predictably so, for it seems to have been made to delight European intellectuals and anyone else who believes that America is a land of bloodthirsty yet comical barbarians.” Powers is clearly both outraged because Moore has made him realize what a fake-leftist he is, and because Moore has unusual monetary success and fame – unusual for an American Leftist. This outrage reveals itself in Powers’ fake either/or choice: “Absent any serious historical analysis, his implication seems to be that this country is incorrigibly murderous. You don’t know whether to be outraged or yawn.” You can’t either be outraged or yawn. If you even pose the question, then it’s pretty obvious which side you’re on (while trying to pretend that you’re not really outraged, because you could just as easily yawn…seriously!). And you better reach for the Tums quickly before that outrage eats a hole in your Tummy.
Another LA Weekly leftie, an old hippie named Marc Cooper, is even more openly hostile in his March 5th piece “One stupid white man’s problem with the man in the ball cap”: “[I]t was neither Marx nor Marcuse that initially radicalized me as a teenager in the 1960s but rather the comic, Mort Sahl…I cannot imagine Michael Moore having that sort of transformational effect on anyone. Moore arrives before us not with a newspaper under his arm, but rather with a bullhorn and a sledgehammer…Which wouldn’t be so objectionable if there was evidence that Moore had any depth, any nuance or at least some consistency to his own thought.” Cooper literally hates Moore, so much so that he’s willing to openly admit his deeper allegiance to the Right rather than support one of his own who’s made it: “Call me a nostalgic or even a stupid, white man, but when I hear the bellowing of Michael Moore I achingly long for the days of Mort Sahl. Or even, yes, it’s true, William F. Buckley.”It’s strange, but even though Leftists have always criticized America’s militarism when it was at its worst, for some reason, when Moore criticizes it, the masks come off and the Left is outraged, moving in to crush him at all costs for daring to suggest that America shouldn’t be invading other countries. Maybe that’s because they’re envious that for once, someone’s being listened to. Even a somewhat sympathetic writer like the LA Weekly</em>’s Ella Taylor wrote, about Fahrenheit 9/11, “Moore, though, wants us to see the mere existence of casualties as proof that the war [in Iraq] is illegitimate. Would he take the same approach for casualties of World War II?” Here she is using the Delta House argument from Animal House: “And if Iraq is wrong, does that make World War II illegitimate? And if so, would you also undo the Civil War to free the slaves? Gentlemen, I will not stand here and let Michael Moore overturn the Declaration of Independence and hand our country back to the British Monarchy!”
Marc Cooper: Closet Buckley fan
This is pretty much the range of Left-intellectual criticism: hate him because he’s fat, aggressive, or, if you have to admit he’s good, then qualify that with lies about his ineffectiveness, which is exactly what he isn’t. This backstabbing Vichy Left attack on Michael Moore is exactly the reaction predicted in the eXile’s May 3, 2003 issue, when Dr. Dolan quoted Eileen Jones of Chapman College’s Film Department: “We’re going to see many, many reasons to repudiate Michael Moore in the coming months. He’s too bold, too outspoken, too smart, too effective — he really hits a nerve. And Lefties can’t handle it. He isn’t a statue of a long-dead Lefty saint, so he must be neutralized! Just wait’ll his next movie comes out, which is going to be a merciless, feature-length drawing-and-quartering of George W. Bush. Then we’ll see some fast and furious repudiations, lemme tell ya!” Folks, you’re supposed to prove our predictions wrong – you’re supposed to make us look like fools, not make yourselves look like predictable single-celled Left-organisms.
This is how Moore is treated by what should be his comrades on cutting-edge left-wing culture press. But it goes beyond that. Last year, Moore was savaged in Dissent, the 60’s-Left magazine. After grudgingly admitting, “People who have never read Dissent have probably seen Moore on prime-time television (Fox, NBC, or Bravo) or in a movie cineplex (Bowling for Columbine most recently) or maybe purchased one of his best-selling books. Moore has busted through, as the saying goes, reaching a broad audience,” and from here the article argues that Moore’s over-reliance on revealing the truth about corruption in both political parties is “cynical” and therefore “counter-productive.” He also calls Moore’s mixing of entertainment and radical politics “dangerous.” As an example, he cites the wrenching scene in Bowling for Columbine where Moore appears at K-Mart’s headquarters with victims of the Columbine massacre, and demands, successfully, that K-Mart stop selling bullets. Here is Dissent</em>’s interpretation of this clear expression of how citizens can shame and shape corporate policy if they just get up the courage: “Armed with nothing more than a movie camera, Moore shames a corporation into making a moral decision. What’s odd about this sort of engagement, though, is that it avoids the hard work of forming movements that could press for change. No need for that when Michael Moore, with just his camera, microphone, and baseball cap, can come to the rescue.” The envy here is so apparent that it almost makes you cringe. It worked! Oh shit! It’s not supposed to actually work! Leftism is all about academic conferences and papers, not changing policy! It should take 30 or 40 years, not a few weeks or days. That is what is so “odd” – rather than “pressing for change,” Moore actually changed, upsetting the olde guild.
The author of this article, Kevin Mattson, is an American academic, a left-wing Ohio University professor, so you can imagine that his life is excruciatingly dull, his impact on his frat-jock students somewhere between nil and negative-nil, and he doesn’t want to think that somehow, this late in the game, he’s the one who’s gone about it all wrong. Moore makes Mattson and his type look like chumps and frauds – in fact, he threatens their pat jobs as much as the Right because he might flush them out of their campus offices. Mattson even admits so much: “Moore’s defenders will claim I’m jealous because I lack a camera and large audience and my views are consigned to small magazines. I grant the point…I am not against humor (ask my friends). But I am worried about what happens to the vision of the left when it plays on the grounds of the sound-bite society.” Yeah, if we all just set up more committees and publish more obscure articles in more obscure magazines, the Revolution will finally come. Just ask Mattson’s friends, they’ll tell ya.
While Dissent offers a clear window into the ossified Leftist-middlebrow mentality, a creature that by design fears the noise and emotion that Moore brings, The Village Voice, the most famous of all Leftie-intellectual/cultural outlets, dealt Moore a slew of back-handed compliments, the most cowardly of all Leftist positions, combined with the same knee-jerk populist patriotism of the LA Weekly. Here is Voice film reviewer J. Hoberman’s June 21st review of Fahrenheit 9/11:
Michael Moore: the man liberals hate more than Bush!
“In Cannes, where locals express incredulity at learning that, hardly a marginalized scribbler of samizdat, Moore is actually one of America’s bestselling authors, Fahrenheit 9/11 was wildly overpraised as filmmaking. (Moore was repeatedly hailed as a new Eisenstein — although, if anything, his wise-guy vertical montage is ultimately derived from Kenneth Anger’s underground biker doc Scorpio Rising.) Moore’s metier is not the scene but the shot — in context. Self-promotion aside, his most formidable talent has turned out to be editing found footage. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore wisely keeps his on-screen stunts to a minimum — this is the least grandstanding movie of his career. Still, he finds it difficult to resist his least attractive urge, namely the mocking of those ordinary Americans whom he purports to champion… If Moore is formidable, it’s not because he is a great filmmaker (far from it), but because he infuses his sense of ridicule with the fury of moral indignation.” Yes, those lovely ordinary Americans – the ones who would scream and shoot you if you ever used the word metier within a thousand yards of their crumbling A-frames.
What is it about this alleged mocking of ordinary Americans — that is, the type a Manhannite like Hoberman wouldn’t touch with a 10,000-mile pole? — that so upsets Hoberman so much? He’s talking about Lila Lipscomb, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq. Lipscomb lives in Moore’s hometown of Flint. Moore’s problem is that he shows her crying — and shows a vicious urban yuppie woman screaming at Lipscomb in front of the White House, accusing her of lying about her son dying in Iraq. It is one of the most shocking, infuriating scenes in modern American any-media: Lipscomb, a heavy-set middle-aged mother, can barely respond to the thin, Gore-Tex’d out yuppie woman screaming at her. “Oh yeah? If he’s really dead, where did he die then? Huh?” the yuppie screams. Lipscomb finally answers her, “Kerbala…” to which the yuppie woman scoffs, “Yeah, well a lot of people died over there.” The yuppie is confident, vicious and dismissive because Lipscomb is poorer, fatter and possibly Liberal – the three great sins in America. Lipscomb stumbles away from the yuppie, incapable of defending herself, and no one comes to her aid, not even Moore. The camera rolls, as she doubles over a patch of grass with the White House in the background, and she starts to dry heave. In the eyes of so many envious American Leftists, this is an example of Moore “mocking ordinary Americans.” Maybe he should change his metier or something.
In Hoberman’s earlier attack on Bowling for Columbine, he follows the path of other anti-Moore Leftists by claiming that Moore’s deeply-deserved roasting of that evil old shit-head Charleton Heston “might almost inspire pity for the doddering actor (who has since announced that he suffers from Alzheimer’s)…” If, after Bowling, you want anything less than a slow skin-peeled death for Heston, then, to paraphrase Jonah Goldberg, “You are not a Leftist. You are Jonah Goldberg.”
And on and on it goes. Salon.com, which every day devotes its site to finely-nuanced attacks on the Bush Administration, reveals its own Peyronies-Syndrome-penis envy in Stephanie Zacharik’s article “9/11: Nay!” The first part of her argument is dedicated to defending left-wing critics of Michael Moore using a less-than-Animal House argument which goes something like: “They say if you criticize Michael Moore, you’re not really a Leftist.” By bringing this up, she thinks she’s neutralized the argument in-advance of her attack, which is qualified by a double-qualifier:
“Although he has stated that his aim is to force the election’s outcome by calling attention to the Bush administration’s web of duplicity and deceit, Moore, ever the self-promoter, is the real star of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ I agree with probably 95 percent of Moore’s politics…But even though I’m part of the choir Moore is preaching to, I can’t help blanching at his approach…preaching to the choir just isn’t good enough.”
Oh, so what is salon.com doing? Whispering calmly in the back of the choir, hoping no one’s really listening so as not to get in trouble?
This is the other false argument: those on the genuinely ineffective-Left argue that Moore is ineffective, “preaching to the choir,” even though the evidence — a record-breaking documentary at the box-office — conspires against this hopeful claim.
Numerous articles featuring interviews of “ordinary Americans” fresh out of Fahrenheit belie this argument. Even Time magazine admitted as much:
“But in theaters, the movie can hit home, especially for those who have loved ones in Iraq. Greg Rohwer-Selken, 33, of Ames, Iowa, and his wife Karol are former Army reservists who both volunteered for Afghanistan (but weren’t sent). Now Karol is serving in the National Guard in Iraq. After seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 in Des Moines, Rohwer-Selken wipes away tears as he says, ‘It really made me question why she has to be over there.’ (The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which books films to be shown on military bases around the world, has contacted Fahrenheit</em>’s distributor to book the film.)”
Even salon.com’s pro-Moore reviewer, Andrew O’Hehir, felt obliged to qualify his praise, as they always do, slipping in a long anecdote that casts doubt on Moore’s reliability: “My point is not to damn Moore as a fabricator, but rather to suggest that from early in his career there were signs that his true calling lay not in journalism but in storytelling, or, more specifically, in the dangerous and difficult territory that lies between them.” No, actually, your point is to make sure that you bring Moore down just a peg or two, while at the same time elevating your earnest-to-a-fault self.
The World Wide Socialist Web Site also found much to criticize: “The director here has taken the line of least resistance, succumbing to the lure of the easy explanation, rather than providing a more profound analysis.” But not to worry. Marx is going to be right one of these days, and that day is finally at hand: “The popular outpouring confirms that a radicalization is under way in the US, with far-reaching implications.” Yeah. If only Moore’s analysis was as profound as that.
Even the alt-paper I write for back home, the New York Press, published a cover article accusing Michael Moore of being a “Liberal Fascist.” At first I assumed it was a compliment — but then I realized that the author, Armond White, really thought he was clever when he lobbed that facile oxymoron-packed ladyfinger at Moore. White was so carried away by his flip-flops that he even accused Quentin Tarrantino – who awarded Moore with the Palme d’Or at Cannes – of directly influencing the Abu Ghraib tortures. I don’t quite understand what Armond White’s agenda is, but some spite clearly underlies his hatred of the most effective pro-African-American white propagandist working in film (Armond White is African-American). White should know that Abu Ghraib came directly out of the cotton plantation culture of Halliburton and Corporate Texas that his Liberal Fascist nemesis Michael Moore wages war on. What the hell is wrong with Americans today? Why is it more important to take a stance that you think is Uniquely Contrarian – to borrow from Not Another Teen Movie – than to support someone who might be doing you some good? This is the heart of the problem with the American Left – what matters for them is not winning the game, not even how the game is played – what matters is losing the game at all costs.
It isn’t just on the left-wing fringes that Moore’s “choir” attacks him. Mainstream liberals also got their knives out. Liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, an opponent of the Iraq war, told his readers that he “recoiled from Moore’s methodology,” whatever the fuck that means. Can you imagine a right-wing columnist recoiling from anything right-wing that might help their cause? Or just recoiling? Here is the problem in a nut-shell: the Left is dominated by recoiling squid like Cohen, whose ink-squirting instinct is only triggered by the sight of someone who might actually help the cause. So he inks Michael Moore, skirts away, hides under a rock and hopes that the Moore never comes back.
Even The Onion – jesus christ, THE ONION! – hopped aboard the Attack-Moore-cuz-I’m-not-really-shocked Express. Calling it a “dirty bomb of a movie” the wink-wink-humorist-mag author dragged out the usual populism and crypto-Rightish sympathy by claiming, “A Bush apologia made with the same mixture of speculation and low blows wouldn’t even have warranted an invitation to Cannes.” Those damn French liberals! Always mocking us Americans, even those of us who fled Wisconsin for The Big Apple. One has to remember that the Onion is essentially squeamish – they stopped joking for weeks after 9/11 because it scared the shit out of them, and now, after viewing Moore’s genuinely dangerous film, that same shit has once again fled for the flag-lined exits.
This story of how the elite of the intellectual Left was roused out of their slumber and turned into a Vichy-uniformed mob out to lynch the one Leftist who made it out of the ghetto is the best illustration of why the Left is so marginalized and ineffective in America: the Left likes being exactly where it is, and it will destroy anyone who messes with this convenient set-up in the safe corners of the opposition, where it can play petty-Christ to pay its mortgages until the day Medicare kicks in. There is no real fight, just a lot of fist-waving at C-SPAN from the safety of one’s home office, where reading buzzflash.com and getting angry are as far as anyone on the Left wants to go.
This article was first published in The eXile on July 8, 2004
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.
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