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Fear according to Michael Moore

July 1, 1993

Fear according to Michael Moore

By Jim Spelman

In my pondering and in some of my articles, I have asked, “Why are so many Americans so afraid?” Michael Moore, the producer and director of Roger and Me the documentary film about the corporate callousness of General Motors after it closed factories in Flint, Mich., has asked the same question and actually entered upon a mission to find an answer.

Fortunately for us, he documented his undertaking. The result is a film called Bowling for Columbine which was showing at Colonial Village Cinema. Unfortunately, it only ran through Thursday Jan. 9. Unlike the Kerasotes group, which monopolizes and censors our local access to the cinema and might be fearful of conservative backlash, the Marcus Westgate Theater in Madison, where I viewed the film twice, has been showing it for weeks.

One lady who had seen the movie told me she thought it was “contrived.” And so it is, a masterfully crafted series of interviews in which Moore, dressed in his customary field jacket, jeans and baseball cap, with sardonic cleverness induces his fearful pro-violence interviewees to hang themselves.

Sometimes guffawing, sometimes groaning at the inanity of the responses to Michael’s well-aimed questions, the audience watches as militiamen, corporate executives, celebrities and finally Charlton Heston himself each tightens the noose around his or her neck until they choke on their own ignorance, stupidity and denial.

The upshot of Moore’s undertaking is a realistic look at one aspect of the dark side of our culture. If it wasn’t already obvious, the film makes it clear that the United States claims it is what it isn’t.

For instance, Moore shows in a sequence lasting less than five minutes, that in spite of proclaimed pacifism, how warlike our culture truly is. He vividly illustrates how we have instigated or joined bloody conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. The film contains clips showing how the U.S. has supported and nurtured murderous tyrants in, among others, Iraq, Iran, Cuba and Panama. It also mentions that our government was instrumental in the murders and overthrow of freely elected leaders in Chile and South Vietnam.

It certainly took much research, travel and above all audacity to make the picture. The film opens in a bowling alley, where presumably the Columbine assassins attended their last class before executing 11 people and themselves. Ergo, the title.

Then to Michigan, Michael’s home state, and talks with men and women of the Michigan militia, a reactionary survival group. One of them told Michael, “It’s my duty as an American to own and keep guns. Anyone who doesn’t isn’t a good citizen!”

A visit to the farm operated by Terry Nichols’ brother follows. “I sleep with a loaded .44 magnum under my pillow,” he tells Michael. Incredulous, Moore asks to see it, and is amazed to find the man is telling the truth. It’s easy to imagine how little sleep I’d get with any kind of gun under my pillow, much less a .44 magnum. Nichols, who was arrested, questioned but released in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing, also admitted that all the materials necessary to make bombs were right there in his barn. “That’s just farming stuff,” he says.

Off to Littleton, Colo., where Moore probes the background of and the events leading to the Columbine tragedy and looks at and into the massacre itself. Coincidentally, until their families moved to Colorado, the two boys who did the shooting had both been reared in northeastern Michigan, not terribly far from the homes of McVeigh, Nichols and the Michigan militia.

Then back to Flint, Mich. and an exploration of the facts underlying the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old girl by a 6-year-old boy. Here, through interviews of the county prosecutor, the children’s teacher and the boy’s mother, Moore skillfully links racism to fear to poverty to violence and life and fear in eastern Michigan to that in central Colorado.

Did you know that there are probably more guns per person in Canada than in the U.S., yet Canada suffered only 165 gun deaths in 2001 compared to 11,270 such deaths in the States? To sate his curiousity about that disparity, Michael visited Sarnia and Windsor, Ont. where he interviewed Canadians about fear and safety. Not one of them had a house key—they don’t lock their doors! Moore then proceeded into neighborhoods and found he was able to walk into homes at will. When some residents caught him in the act, not one became angry or upset!

There’s much more to tell about Michael Moore’s courageous look at how fear has become an industry, here more than anywhere else. It’s a side of our culture we don’t like to admit, but in spite of our denial, it’s there. I’m glad someone with some clout has had the guts to headline it.

The denial is brought forcibly to the front by Moore’s visit to and conversation with the guru of guns, Charlton Heston. The picture of scruffy Michael with Heston on Heston’s patio and the interview that follows is worth twice the price of admission. If you couldn’t see Bowling for Columbine before it left Rockford,then take a drive to beautiful Madison, Wisc., where it will probably be screened for a few more weeks. Or in 6 months, rent it at your local video store.

Jim Spelman is a local attorney.

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