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(en) US, Philadelphia, Thedefenstrator #30 - Puncturing the Spectacle: Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 By Bronwyn Lepore

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 11 Aug 2004 05:45:34 +0200 (CEST)

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It may be awhile before any tangible effects of Michael
Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 can be gauged as so much depends on
those who see it. Moore would likely agree with long-time
activist George Lakey that "the foundation of political rule is the
compliance of the people, not violence. People power is more powerful
than violence. The sooner we act on that knowledge, the sooner the
U.S. Empire can be brought down." Moore doesn't really provide any
tools for taking down the Empire (besides the example of his own
efforts) but he does put forward information to encourage the
critical consciousness and outrage necessary to incite.

"What is important in a text is not what it means, but what it
does and incites to do. What it does: the charge of affect it
contains and transmits. What it incites to do: the metamorphoses
of this potential energy into other things -- other texts, but also
paintings, photographs, film sequences, political actions,
decisions, erotic inspirations, acts of insubordination...."
Jean-Francois Lyotard 1984

We live in a time where what should create daily outrage in the
streets - the last election, the Enron scandal, the lies told to
promote the War on Iraq, the way-easy cronyism of Halliburton
and Bechtel, Abu Graib, the daily death toll in Iraq, a massacre
of a wedding party in the desert by the U.S. military - is often
quickly subsumed and what one day may seem to be the final
straw to break the camel's back - is the next barely newsworthy.
Like Jane's Addiction sings, "Nothing's Shocking." But there
must be a cumulative effect on our political unconscious, a sense
that, as the Buddha said, certain things are unwholesome and
wrong and must be given up, and I imagine it is Moore's hope
that his film will at least prod this sleeping giant and make
nervous the powerful, by puncturing the spectacle that has driven
the response to the horrors of the past three years. Moore himself
we hardly need to worry about; it's unlikely he'll calm down and
retire to porch-sit in Flint, Michigan anytime soon; he's like a
tsunami - when people see him they either get out of the way (in
the film, Congressmen he accosts and encourages to enlist their
own kids in the military literally skitter away from him in fear) or
are engulfed in his quest. What's good is that his vision isn't
insular; it moves outward, and Moore may set out with a very
definite perspective but he is also changed by much he discovers.
In Bowling for Columbine, when Moore pushes two young male
victims of the Columbine Massacre to seek justice from K-Mart
for selling the bullets that injured them, at first it seems like he's
using them to make a point, but they become visibly empowered
by the experience and the greater recognition of the
preventability of their suffering is inevitably cathartic. A friend
who's finishing her dissertation in political science finds the
polemical nature of Moore's work dangerous - "if he were on the
other side," she argues, "you'd think he was the devil." But to
imply that all Moore achieves in the film is the creation of a
counter-spectacle as manipulative as the one created by our
government and a complicit media is completely cynical. Moore
is manipulative, but he's also awkward, curious and genuinely
concerned, and it is in such awkwardness that his films offer up
the most potential for empathy and hopefully change. There's no
way that Moore could have prefabricated Lila Lipscomb, the
working-class, patriotic, military mom who loses her son to the
War on Iraq and whose singular story resonates with the layers of
betrayal and ignorance and shame, alongside the working-class
struggles and dignity and dreams, that are the history of the
United States. And the young black males of Flint, Michigan
Moore talks to, along with the African- American and Asian
congress people who stand up to denounce the blatant racism
and disenfranchisement of Floridian blacks in the 2000 election
only to be further disappointed and ignored by the total lack of
bravery of members of the U.S. Senate, depict a continuing
strength and refusal to sit down in a country still mired in racist
behaviors and policies.

A lot of critics have found Moore's footage of the faces of the
powerful - Bush, Condi, Powell, Wolfowitz, et al. - getting made
up and prepping for the camera petty and unnecessary; everyone
gets made up for TV, they say - but that's the point - real life
takes place outside of the media matrix where ordinary people
don't have time to put on that special face for the show; they're
too busy trying to find or keep work, housing, a decent quality of
life, or getting sucked into the army by shady recruiters for lack
of alternatives. Moore's footage of the soldiers preparing for the
"shock and awe" by listening to heavy metal on head phones is
ugly in its representation of the dark side of militarization, but we
know that Bush and Condi get to go home to their swank lives of
golf and dinner parties after their TV performances, while
Moore's scenes of the after effects of "America at War" (clips the
media had every responsibility to present) show what the less
fortunate get - missing limbs, military and civilian casualties,
wounded and embittered soldiers, broken families and lives, loss
and betrayal.

Though his films are undoubtedly humorous and offer biting
satire, as with Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, what
interests Moore most in Fahrenheit 9/11 are themes of betrayal
(on multiple levels - but mostly of the wealthy/elite towards the
less fortunate) and fear (both real and
media/government-manufactured) and loss (of jobs, of hope, of
children, of dignity, of the soul - a young soldier in Iraq talks
about the disappearance of a little piece of his soul every time he
sees or participates in the killing of the 'enemy') and the
magnitude of such tragedy recently means that Moore can only
skim the surface of the damage done; he barely has time to point
towards a way out of such a mess. When Lila Lipscomb goes to
the White House (which she can't even get close to) to find an
object in which to place the blame for her grief over the loss of
her son, the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled is
overwhelmingly apparent. No one appears with an apology. The
only visible humans are the gunmen on the White House roof.
So where to now America?

I saw the film for the second time with a friend who had thought
the war was necessary because even though I and many others
contested her viewpoint, she still - irresponsibly, I think -
believed the media spin because of fear and a lack of willingness
to take the time to get closer to the truth. She cried over the
mother's bereavement, gasped at the charred bodies, and shook
her head in disbelief over the shrapnelled Iraqi children. But what
did she and Lila Lipscomb think the military was for, war is
about? What do people think has been happening over in Iraq all
this time? The government and media created the spectacle to
get us into this war, and we will continue to live with the fallout if
we refuse to wake up and start poking bigger holes in it. War is
not Peace. The military is not a stepping stone to a "better" life.
Moore captures the state trapped in its own lies and apparatus
and utter disregard for the average American, but we have to
decide what to do about that.

Bush, confronted by Moore at a rally, tells him to behave and
"find real work," but if anybody's slouching it's not Moore who is
less of a physical presence in this than in his previous films, but
is still the moral backbone, directing the audience to laugh, to
feel outrage, and to cry. People on both the left and the right find
Moore irritating and it's not hard to see why; he's like that
annoying kid in class who was always taking up all the teacher's
time with goofy questions that sometimes, but not always, led to
interesting discussions. In 9/11 Moore's obsession with the
power-politics of the House of Bush and the House of Saud is
understandable, but on a pragmatic level it's hard to know what
to do with such information. What's both admirable and
somewhat swell-headed about Moore is that he doesn't really
care. His bit last year promoting military guy Wesley Clarke for
prez was truly puzzling. There was the Mumia faux pas where he
managed to get himself included in his own stupid white guy's
category. In 9/11 he does this 6th-grade social studies
anthropologically stereotyping film clip bit of the nations dragged
into Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" that's kinda fucked-up and
could use a good, if brief, explanation of just why such countries
put up no resistance. But overall, I'd have to say I'm glad
Moore's around, shooting his darts at the sickening spectacle of
U.S. power.

"States can behave like maddened beasts… and still get their
way. They regularly do. But the present madness is singular: the
dimension of spectacle has never before interfered so palpably, so
insistently, with the business of keeping one's satrapies in order.
And never before have spectacular politics been conducted in the
shadow - the 'historical knowledge' - of defeat. It remains to be
seen what new mutation of the military-industrial-entertainment
complex emerges from the shambles." "Afflicted Powers: The
State, the Spectacle and September 11,"

Wouldn't it be something to watch instead capitalism's suicide,
and along with it the state collapsing into its own death instinct,
another world growing out of the rubble.
"The Defenestrator - a newspaper of refusal and optimism
..... from an anarchist or autonomist tradition, which proposes
a revolutionary transformation of society, the abolition of
property and of all hierarchies and coercive power."

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