What the world needs now … from Michael Moore and the rest of us

Hooray for David Poland for saying what so desperately needs to be said, over there at The Hot Button. I resonate with his words about divisive behavior on both sides of the political fence, about Michael Moore, and about a need for more respect from each side for the other.

I’m really sorry I missed this episode of the Bill Maher show now that I hear about THIS happening…

I have been in a bit of a death match with Michael Moore in this column, on the site and on the blog over the last five months. It has cost me dearly. I have been accused of being a right winger, a fascist and an obsessive. I see my role as that of a tennis pro, hitting volleys back over the net relentlessly – but make no mistake, I have heard the rage of many of my (and our, at MCN) valued readers.

I would argue that Moore lost perspective in his journey.

I would argue that his anger got the best of him in the rush to get Fahrenheit 9/11 completed and into theaters in time to make an impact. And I would argue that the embrace of his film, which still stands as a political finger wagging instead of a film of thought and insight as his other films have been, emboldened him to go further and further down the road of excess.

And I played my very best Ginger Rogers to that extremist positioning.

But even in trying to defend the middle, the dance made me a bit of an extremist too.

My favorite moment of post-election media was watching Alan Simpson, a very moderate and earthy Republican congressman who is now a civilian, tear Bill Maher a new a—— on Maher’s HBO show last Friday night. Simpson unleashed the rage of the “red staters” in a flow of real and powerful ideas. When Maher made a passing joke about there only being two gays in Simpson’s Wyoming, Simpson called him on his bullshit, in that word. He reminded Maher that the people of Wyoming, left, right and center, were disgusted by the murder of Matthew Sheppard. He reminded us all that Sheppard was a real person who suffered a real death and that people on every side of the political spectrum are still human, even if they lose perspective on the humanity of others far too often.

Andrew Sullivan continued that theme, taking a centrist position on a liberal-ly stacked panel (as usual), taking on the mythology of the “people voted on morality” myth that was created by an exit poll (are we trusting those again?) that had morality on top with 22% to 21% for Iraq and 20% for the economy as motives for voting. After a couple of days of bashing the “red states” on this, even the NY Times backed away, running three of five Op-Ed pieces last Saturday on why the poll was inaccurate and should not be used for political capital.

The tone on Maher’s show changed radically. And it wasn’t the rise of the right. It was a demand from some very smart and caring people for true civility. It was a call to remember that raging at and belittling others for seeing things differently than you and making wide-raging assumptions about who they are based on one slice of their actions is divisive and destructive.

Thing is, I believe in Michael Moore. In some ways, this very column emulates Michael Moore’s work. It is the effort of the creative mind, struggling to find a way to communicate ideas in a way that is accessible, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. But the effort must be celebrated.

An image of Moore came to me from a different angle recently in a chat with someone in the industry (who will remain nameless since this person probably did not mean to put Moore on the spot or to become the center of a controversy by saying this to me), who told me that Moore had expressed some disappointment in himself for his Oscar acceptance speech, realizing in retrospect that he hit the wrong note with the aggression of that speech. The remark came so casually that I don’t doubt it for a second. And how can Moore, always under fire, ever take a step back and publicly admit in the heat of battle that he had mis-stepped? Like Harvey Weinstein, who he teamed up with for Fahrenheit, Moore is the tank that must keep rolling along lest anyone see the points of vulnerability.

But it is time to get out of the tank… to take a good look at the world around us… and to reassess our targets. Michael. And me.

If Moore’s new documentary about HMO malfeasance makes just $10 million, it will be a success by comparison to any other docs. And given the space and time he will, I expect, take on this one, it will probably match the quality of his other films, piss some off, be beloved by many, and be a lot less personal.

The public right wing of America went after Moore in much the same way that Moore went after Bush. We can do an autopsy someday, but it is time to move along. When I see Susan Sarandon still questioning the validity of this election (also on the Maher show), claiming voter fraud might have stolen the election for the Republicans, I am saddened. Would she have been questioning Kerry’s victory had it been by one small state’s electoral votes and a popular vote of less than 100,000? I doubt it. But the idea that questionable ethics are purely a Republican or Democratic thing is simply a denial of reality.

 

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.


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