Michael Moore was born in 1954 in Flint, Michigan -- "the home of the wealthiest corporation in the world: General Motors." (Roger and Me, 1989). The tragic plight of this once economically booming, blue-collar city is the basis for much of his filmmaking; and it is what formed the foundation for his particular outlook on the state of American society. The theme of corporate abuse and exploitation of the American working class has run throughout his three films, two television shows, and four books.
Most of his arguments, whether you agree with them or not, are based upon true investigative journalism or are simply built upon facts available to anyone who cares to look into press reports. Additionally, many of the things he says are the same things that people have been saying for years while standing around water coolers, working on assembly lines, or flipping Big Macs. Why then, has he become such a controversial figure? Clearly his films have struck a chord, both for the people who agree with what he has to say and for those who consider him to be "a dangerous person." (The Big One, 1997). What has gained him notoriety is his low-key, pull-no-punches approach to documentary filmmaking combined with expert comic timing.
However, it is not just humor that lends power to his message but the rarity of the message itself. Although many people in America hold the same views as Michael Moore and may discuss it among themselves, there are very few far left-wing spokespersons in this country. Nearly every political radio and television talk show host is a right-wing, Christian, capitalistic, wealthy mouthpiece for the Republican Party. This is what separates Michael Moore from the rest of the pack. Someone like Bill O'Reilly may say more things that anger groups of the American public, but the things Michael Moore has to say truly challenge the status quo, and therefore, make him a target to be discredited.
Spike Lee is another filmmaker that challenges mainstream white society with his work. Like Moore, his messages center around the issues that he experiences growing-up -- racism and poverty. Yet, Lee's method of expressing that message is rather different than Moore's: Lee brings you a story; Moore brings you an argument.
How Can "the Greatest Nation on Earth" be Flawed?
Michael Moore's central criticism of the United States is its committed marriage to big business. A key issue that keeps coming-up in Roger and Me, The Big One, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11 is the problem of American corporations eliminating thousands of jobs while, at the same time, making record profits. Essentially, Moore feels that these corporations owe something to the workers who helped to make it profitable.
In The Big One, Moore visits a Payday candy bar factory that is closing down on its last day of operation. He asks a spokesperson if Payday candy bars are going out of business, or if they can no-longer afford to keep this particular factory running -- he tells him no, and that Payday is actually earning more than ever.
Moore asks: "So if the employees here had somehow done a worse job, or somehow made your company less profitable they might still have their jobs."
The spokesperson replies: "That's what I'm telling you."
Moore: "That's insane!" (The Big One, 1997).
Michael Moore goes on to chronicle the same practice of downsizing and relocation occurring in a number of corporations including Nike, Dow Chemical Company, The LTV Corporation, and -- the one that ruined the economy of his home town -- General Motors. (Downsize This, pages 113-120).
In Roger and Me, his first film, Moore confronts the public relations spokesperson for General Motors and asks whether it was wrong for his company to devastate a community the same way in which Flint was devastated. The spokesman -- who was later laid off himself -- replied, "The Business of corporations is to make money, not to honor their home town." (Roger and Me, 1989). This illustrates one of Michael Moore's main problems with American society: businesses are immoral.
In keeping with this theme Moore goes on to argue, in Bowling for Columbine, that what separates the United States from the rest of the world, and makes us the most violent industrialized nation, is the "campaign of fear and consumption" tempered by our media and driven by racism (Bowling for Columbine, 2002).
It would seem, according to Moore, that companies have tapped-in to white America's ingrained fear of crime by providing consumers with products like home alarm systems, car alarm systems, locks of every kind, products for building bomb shelters, and bombs, ways to stock-up for Y2K, the club, pepper spray, mace, and of course -- guns. Since, "the business of corporations is to make money," Moore argues, corporations are not concerned with the social consequences of their "campaign of fear." Marilyn Manson states the only true concern of corporations: "Keep everyone afraid and they will consume." (Bowling for Columbine, 2002).
In Michael Moore's latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, he reveals what he believes to be the ultimate example of immoral corporate behavior. He insinuates that there is some deeper relationship between the Bush family and the Bin Laden's of Saudi Arabia, and that Bush used the attacks of September Eleventh to misdirect American attention to Iraq. The corporate advantages in all of this include, clearly, a firmer grasp on Middle Eastern oil, but also, the granting of much larger military contracts to huge corporations like Lockheed Martin (Fahrenheit 9/11). Moore asserts that while most of the nation was reeling from such a brutal and immoral attack, American corporations -- who were free of such hang-ups -- were already plotting ways to cash-in on our re-enforced fear of the unlikely.
Essentially, in all of Michael Moore's films he strives to uncover the ways in which the wealthiest two percent of the nation have fleeced the remaining ninety-eight percent. Moore believes that large corporations wield entirely too much power over a government that is supposed to exist, largely, to limit that power. Furthermore, he believes that it is often in the best interests of these corporations to completely ruin lives and whole communities because it is the nature of a business to be completely without a social conscience.
Documentary films are the media by which Michael Moore has chosen to spread his message. It is debatable whether he might have reached a larger audience if he had decided to create feature films like Spike Lee, or if he had started-up a cable talk show like Al Franken, but it is pretty safe to say that he chose the form of media that fit him best.
Since the underlying premise of his work is that corporate America is immoral and exercises altogether too much power, the documentary form of filmmaking is ideal for spreading this message. A documentary allows Moore to present the viewer with a number of facts and then transport them to a real place with real problems they may not have encountered before.
This is the documentary's advantage over feature films. A film by Spike Lee may be gripping and eye-opening, but in they end the viewer can always tell themselves that it was not completely real -- the characters were made up, the setting was made up, and maybe even the content had less truth to it. An individual watching a fictional tale has the luxury of believing that perhaps they are not seeing a glimpse of reality, but when they see a middle-class woman in Flint, Michigan club a rabbit over the head for dinner they know that it is real, and they know that it happens in the United States of America. A documentary does not allow the audience to distance themselves from the story.
It is legitimate to ask, however, whether Michael Moore's films are true documentaries. When something is a documentary it claims to depict an actual event, accurately, and without fictional elements. Moore's works have come under fire for making some truly outrageous claims, and manipulating statistics. He has even been accused of not actually being raised in Flint, Michigan: "In reality, he was born and raised in the wealthy, lily-white town of Davison, Michigan." (Hardy 15). Opponents of Moore's have attacked him from every angle, and accused him of completely fabricating nearly every piece of information he has ever used.
Yet, Moore maintains that his figures come from legitimate sources. His depictions of reality, although edited to re-enforce his point, are not pulled out of thin air. Moore does not use sock puppets and shadows to make it appear as if President Bush has made false and stupid statements -- President Bush has made false and stupid statements, no matter how his administration tries to sugar coat it.
The primary knock on Moore is that he is openly biased; he has a clear agenda against right-wing conservatives. As such, he skews the facts…