I just read Robert Jensen’s review of Fahrenheit 9/11, which he calls a Stupid White Movie. I have to be honest. It is hard to argue with any of the points he raises.
-The Saudi stuff is sketchy and racist.
-The invasion of Afghanistan stuff does sort of imply that the US should have done the whole thing on a bigger scale (which would have been a bigger disaster).
-The coalition of the willing stuff is insulting.
-The idea that the real mission of the US military was subverted by the Iraq war is preposterous
And then there is all the omission — Israel, Clinton, and a hell of a lot more — all of which Michael Moore, who criticized Clinton plenty when he was in power and who dedicated one of his books to Rachel Corrie — can’t exactly argue that he didn’t know about.
It’s also the case that Moore could easily have fixed plenty of the politics of the film and not reduced the visibility or popularity (in other cases, like Israel, there would have been tradeoffs, where the right thing to do would have carried a cost, and I believe Moore chose deliberately not to pay that cost, whereas I think some of the subtle racism Jensen points out was just unexamined and unintentional, part of his adoption of a basically mainstream framework).
I do, however, have some disagreements with Robert.
The main one is when Robert says: “the real problem is that many left/liberal/progressive people are singing the film’s praises, which should tell us something about the impoverished nature of the left in this country,” and his admonition that “Rallying around the film can too easily lead to rallying around bad analysis” strikes me as a bit of a non-sequitur.
Who does he mean when he says that the left is ‘rallying’ around the film? There isn’t any such rallying going on at ZNet, although Paul Street gave it some qualified praise and I said I was glad it was as popular as it was (I’ll elaborate more on why I still think that below). But the other piece ZNet ran echoed Robert’s criticisms. If you look at Counterpunch, there is a deluge of anti-F911 commentary. Douglas Valentine sees it as Democrat apologetics. A piece on Tom Paine asks if Moore is blind or a coward. Not a lot of rallying going on over there.
How about the liberal/progressives? Some liberals (like Richard Cohen) hate the film, but if you look at Commondreams, there’s probably some ‘rallying’ going on around F911. But isn’t it mixing up cause and effect? I would say that CommonDreams has a lot of the same mainstream biases and flaws that Moore does: it counts Howard Dean (who was about as able at counting Iraqi deaths as Moore was, except a little less), Ariana Huffington, and other mainstream types among its writers. For Commondreams to ‘rally’ around F911 wouldn’t be taking it in a dangerous new direction of bad analysis. It’s where Commondreams is already at. Michael Moore’s own website has a prominent link to Commondreams — it has no such link to ZNet. Nor would I expect one.
The reason I am very happy to see the film getting the response that it does isn’t because it reflects my politics. It doesn’t. But, agreeing with all of Robert Jensen’s criticisms, I found it to be far less of an assault on my dignity than the nightly news with Lou Dobbs on CNN (we don’t get Fox News in Canada), and I found it outright refreshing in parts.
I don’t think of Michael Moore as part of the ‘left’. He is part of the mainstream, and, to my mind, the healthiest part, the part that is genuinely trying to be decent. That’s why I think of him as becoming the ‘official opposition’ in the United States. Of course we need to go well beyond ‘official opposition’ and Michael Moore’s movie. But on the spectrum of developments in mainstream, white America, I think the massive popularity and visibility of this film is a positive development. Of course I would much rather it was the ‘left’ reaching all those millions of people than the film, but that we aren’t isn’t Moore’s fault, but our own.
The response might well be that I don’t understand mainstream America or the ‘left’ very well, that my expectations of Moore or the ‘left’ or the US are far too low. It could be that I watch too many bad movies and too much bad television and have developed too calloused a skin for the racism and sexism in all of it that I just filter it out and look for what’s good. But really, what I like best about the movie is that Michael Moore doesn’t need the left to rally around him (he doesn’t deserve it either — the part where I agree with Jensen — but that’s a different issue). He will do just fine without any such rallying. And so, while I wouldn’t even think to lift a finger to rally around the film or Moore, I do wish both well.