for Business, Bad for the People
By Daniel Patrick Welch
It's funny. I'd seen all this stuff before - I mean it isn't
as if there was anything really new here for anyone who's
been paying attention for the past few years. And yet, I cried.
Maybe it's the deprogramming of having at least some of what
we've seen replayed with any decent focus for One Brief Shining
Moment, beyond the self-imposed straitjacket of a docile and
dangerously inept US press. Maybe it's just the oxygen given
to all those impulses so many of us have kept in check, all
those shoots of anger, sadness and embarrassment blossoming
into full blown consciousness.
My own thought process in response to Michael Moore's new
film reminded me of one of those dessicated sponges you put
in water - a few hours later and voila: your tiny piece of
foam has bloated into a full blown fish, or frog, or palm
tree ten times its original size. Or maybe like opening an
archive, unzipping a million saved files at once. My brain
fairly exploded with repressed anger going back to the Florida
recount disaster: things I had known in much more detail before
Moore scratched the surface again and brought it all flooding
In fact, as soon as we got home, my wife and I started searching
through old folders of emails from that period tucked away,
too important to throw away, yet too disheartening to face
on a more regular basis. This is the potential power of Fahrenheit
9/11: rousing the natural, inevitable rage against the machine
of war, lies and fabricated videotape. Of course, many people
will be exposed to new (for them) truths or aspects of the
current crisis they haven't fully thought through. But more,
I suspect, will be nudged into acknowledging nagging feelings
that something is terribly wrong in this country, feelings
they have been harboring but afraid to express.
What Moore does is let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.
When we left the theater, there was a crowd of young aspiring
journalists waiting to ask our impressions of the film. One
young man in front of us was a bit evasive, simply offering
that it was "mostly stuff he had known all along, but maybe
people will start to wake up." As he walked away, one of our
crowd recognized him from high school. "Hey, isn't that so-and-so?
His father died in the military, right? And he just got out
from a four-year stint."
It is this level of penetration that is familiar, yet still
surprising. Since even Republicans are bolting left and right
from the sinking, stinking ship that is the Bush administration,
it stands to reason that the defection goes more than skin
deep. Still, it is gratifying to see that the disaffection
with The Way Things Are affects such a broad swath, from soldiers
in Iraq to unemployed workers in Michigan and elsewhere.
Of course, I was wary, as usual, that I would wind up hating
something so overhyped. But I was pleasantly surprised at
how moved I was by this film. Yes, Moore resorts to his tired
old frumpy-schmuck tactics of ambushing targets and coming
away the rejected loser who is, after all, only looking for
the truth. But it is hilarious watching congresspeople scurry
away from him like cockroaches in the sun as he tries to enlist
their ruling class kids - made especially poignant by the
marine at his side, who would rather risk jail time than go
back to Iraq "to kill other poor people."
In fact, one of the more didactic subplots of the film,
in which Moore painstakingly follows the transformation of
a military mother who, early on, proclaims herself a 'conservative
democrat,' is also the most moving, probably because Moore
eschews his earlier guerilla theater instincts and lets the
drama play out. Mining the dramatic gold of this mother reading
her dead son's Last Letter Home may be Moore's stock and trade,
but there were few dry eyes in the theater (mine not among
It may be a bit discomfiting for astute American viewers
to find themselves more focused on - and perhaps more moved
by - his woman's plight than of earlier shots of Iraqi civilian
dead. Moore does create the echo of mourning parents in each
country, the plaintive Iraqi mother's cries to Allah: "what
did he do? Why did he have to die?" Michael Pederson's mother
eerily refracts this plaint, calling on Jesus to help her
and questioning "why did they have to take him? He was a good
kid!" This brilliant parallel makes the transformation one
Moore apparently hopes domestic viewers can identify with:
seeing this mother, wracked with grief, after a confrontation
with some brain-dead loser who accuses her of "staging" her
son's death at an antiwar display outside the white house.
In fury and self-blame, she laments that "People think they
know, but they don't. I thought I knew, but I didn't know."
Then her legs seem to buckle under her as she cries out with
a mother's grief: "I need my son!" while Moore's probing yet
tender camera keeps running, helpless, distant, paralyzed
by the same realizations.
It is rousing the US public out of this paralysis that may
be the chief goal and result of this film, as tall an order
as that may seem. It fairly burns to see the puffy red face
of Jim Baker from Florida 2000, the oil-greased slide of power,
death and war profits that motivates these bastards, the total
contempt for the poor and working-class kids they snare in
relentless, targeted recruiting shams - all while yucking
it up with the "haves and have-mores," what Bush loathsomely
refers to in one of his scripted, awkward, podium-joke deliveries:
"some people call this the elite - I call it my base!"
But more importantly, even while focusing on what a jackass
Bush is - hey, it's funny - Moore manages to delve deeper
than his ill-conceived fawning over War Hero Clark last Spring
would imply. In particular, the Democrats take the pasting
they deserve for the abysmal fact that not a single Senator
would come to the aid of the Congressional Black Caucus in
officially protesting the 2000 election. Deftly, Moore is
able to tie this spineless moral failure in with an even more
criminally immoral system where salivating recruiters hunt
down (there is no other word for it, as the footage makes
clear) brown and poor kids to fight the wars of the rich.
The disingenuousness of the "opposition" party is laid bare,
despite a few important interviews from members of congress
fighting the good fight, as the consummate corporate ass-kisser
it is, too addicted to campaign cash to effectively oppose
the president's march to war. War is, as one eager potential
profiteer sheepishly concedes on film, "good for business,
bad for the people."
Enraged and ashamed (hopefully), the audiences at Moore's
film can indeed rise up if they seize the opportunity, throwing
off the bullshit-encrusted mantra that "we are stuck in Iraq,"
along with the sham arguments that sold a pack of war crimes
disguised as "liberation." A friend's reaction was simple
and succinct: "It makes me mad. I probably should have been
more aggressive with people at the grocery store, or people
at my old job. You know, people you just feel like choking."
Is it too late to turn back the rising tide of ignorance and
budding fascism? For the sake of humanity, we have to hope
Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick
Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife,
Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse
School. His website is at danielpwelch.com.