Bowling at Columbine

Moore, I think, is able to get away with a lot that otherwise would never penetrate into the mainstream media because he has managed to neatly straddle two worlds – the working class culture of booze, junk food and couch potato TV addicts and the political culture of the populist left. He looks like a factory worker who spent the weekend downing several cases of beer and then slept it off somewhere underneath a motorway overpass. He’s not threatening because he appears like a tramp without an educated thought in his head. But he’s clever, plain speaking, articulate and able to cut through all the carefully phrased crap spewing from the mealy-mouthed apologists who try to justify the nonsense that’s held up as sane political discourse.

The theatre was packed out and the audience, for the most part, enjoyed his thesis that America is a weird and wacky country where people shoot each other for no apparent reason. What was good, I think, was Moore’s analysis of the climate of fear which has made everyone there so jumpy and gun crazed. For the most part it’s provoked by a media that focuses on crime and violence as a way of drawing in viewers. Fear sells. Even the liberal TV producer of ‘Cops’, whom he interviewed, understands that if he’s ruled by the marketplace then he has to produce shows that make people want to watch them – and white police cuffing big scary-looking black men as they lie helpless on the ground is a real winner. But, as aprofessor of media studies in LA pointed out, even as real-life incidents of violent crime fell, the percentage of space taken up by the news for violent crime rose exponentially. Fear is endemic and people, distrustful of government anyway, seek personal protection in the form of weapons of destruction. Moore contrasted this ideology with Canada, where people who for the most part come from a hunting culture, are also armed to the teeth but keep their doors unlocked at home because they don’t want to live in terror. (He interviewed several people who had been robbed but still keep their front doors unlocked anyway because to do otherwise would have been seen as a defeat for their live and let live culture.) What he effectively pointed out, however, by a clever interview with some truant kids who were hanging at some burger joint, was that fear in Canada has been moderated by a program of subsidised health care and housing which attempts to give most people a decent social safety net. This he contrasted with a tragic story of a young girl – maybe seven or eight years old – who was shot in school by a little boy about the same age. The boy’s mother was shunted into a horrendous welfare to work program which forced her to find a job in the wealthy suburbs, taking the bus each morning before dawn and coming home after nightfall, just to collect her welfare check. It still wasn’t enough to save her from eviction which caused her to move in with her brother whose gun the little boy found and brought with him to school.

As a social documentary this was good. It was both entertaining and made some good political points about the sickness of corporate America. But some of it was easy marks. And it made too much of America’s speciality rather than focusing on a cultural system of free market corporate capitalism that is making the rest of the word into little Americas anyway.

24 November 02