Ask Auntie Pinko
Dear Auntie Pinko,
Why is everyone writing off Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911
as "propaganda for the faithful?" I took my Dad to see it, and he's
definitely a sort of conservative independent voter (he voted for
Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II) and he didn't write it off
as "propaganda," although he was a bit put off by the obvious bias.
As far as I can tell, none of Moore's factual material was inaccurate,
and he was honest about his opinions. What's the difference
between an "opinion piece" and "propaganda?"
Well, it would seem to be pretty subtle, wouldn't it? The difference,
In an editorial or op-ed piece, the writer's (or producer's) intent
is to examine some event or situation, from their own viewpoint,
and clearly explain their viewpoint. It's in the interest of the
creator/writer to describe the actual situation or event as objectively
and factually as possible, to clearly differentiate "what is"
from "'what I think about it." Their primary intention
may or may not be to "convert"' the reader or viewer to
share their opinion - although that usually is why an editorial
or op-ed is created. Also, it is usually those on the "outside,"
who do not necessarily have the direct power to change or implement
what they are commenting on, who create "opinion" pieces.
Propaganda, on the other hand, has the clear primary intent of
"converting" others to share the views or support the
positions of the propagandists. As such, it makes no attempt at
objectivity, and propagandists have sometimes presented incomplete
or distorted versions of the facts in order to make their point
more powerfully. Propaganda is often (though not always) created
by those who are on the "inside" of a power structure,
party, or movement, to draw others "in."
If you accept these definitions, Larry, then Mr. Moore's film
would appear to fit both criteria. He makes no secret of his biases,
and presents a good deal of factual material clearly - even while
commenting upon it with unconcealed bias. He also does some selective
presentation of facts and juxtaposes them with his own conclusions
or opinions in a way that is definitely not objective. And he makes
no secret of the fact that his primary purpose is to convince others
to share his views and/or "draw them in," even though he himself
is an outsider without direct power in the government he criticizes.
What makes this film so explosively controversial and provokes
such strong reaction is the subject matter Mr. Moore has chosen
as his focus: terrible, tragic events that have had deep impact
on all Americans, and how the actions (or inactions) and personal
characteristics of our head of state interacted with those events.
This is an area where feelings run deep, and there is already a
substantial and well-established public disagreement. Had Mr. Moore
applied the same type of techniques to something that was less emotionally
explosive, or where Americans are more unified (as he did in his
first film, "Roger and Me") there might be a very different critical
response to his documentary technique.
Auntie Pinko has seen the film, and it was clear to me that one
reason the negative response has been so strong is because the film
itself has such a very powerful impact on the viewer. Even if one
doesn't share all of Mr. Moore's views, or agree entirely with his
interpretation of the facts, one cannot fail to be deeply affected
by the masterful techniques he uses to expose them. It takes a strong
effort of critical thinking to overcome that emotional impact, and
separate the objective realities Mr. Moore is describing from the
feelings and opinions he conveys so effectively.
Of course those who disagree with Mr. Moore feel deeply
threatened by his film, and want to alert potential viewers to the
mechanisms used to manipulate their feelings and opinions. They
want to help people rise above the emotional content so powerfully
presented, and enable that critical thinking. That is what Auntie
Pinko would be doing, too, if someone who held the opinions that
(for example) Mr. Cheney holds, had created such an artful and effective
film to advance their own views.
The good news is, Larry, that there was plenty of unavoidably
factual material that does not lend itself to "other interpretations"
in the film. A careful effort at critical analysis, while it may
lead the viewer to discard many of Mr. Moore's conclusions and interpretations,
cannot help but make them think deeply about what he described.
And anyone who carefully examines the facts available and thinks
critically about them will make better decisions, come Election
Day in November. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko, Larry!
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