Taking a second look at Fahrenheit 9/11
“Fahrenheit 9/11” just came out on DVD. I watched it with my family, and I’m glad we stayed away from a theater. Theaters have annoying cell phones and overpriced candy. DVD players have “pause” buttons.
Images have tremendous power. That’s because we’re made to respond to them. A long time ago, fighting for survival on the plains of Africa, reacting to images was a matter of life and death. Primitive humans who experienced the right responses to a charging lion or a come-hither stare did better in the survival game.
Fast forward to today. Modern man can create images that look completely real. We know they’re fake, but our forebrain doesn’t care. It hasn’t been subject to evolutionary pressure for a long time, and still produces strong emotions based on what our eyes tell it. It still thinks we’re fighting on the savannah. It’s living in a world it wasn’t made for.
Watching the film like this completely changes the experience. It matches the power of Moore’s images with the power of your intellect. Under those circumstances, the film falls apart.
I won’t take up space listing everything wrong with it. The Kopel report is pragmatic, factual, and easily obtainable on line. (Mr. Kopel. by the way, is a longtime Democrat). You can read his charges and Moore’s evasive answers for yourself.
I want to make a different point: We need to learn to be more resistant to propaganda. Being truly human means fighting our primitive evolutionary legacy. A gut sense that a theater screen is reality is something to be fought. Not succumbed to.
The next day, I watched “Fahrenhype 9/11”, a conservative rebuttal to Moore. It shows people interviewed for “Fahrenheit”, furious with how their views were distorted. It shows soldiers of great courage, families of American casualties in Iraq who know their sacrifice was worthwhile, and politicians of both parties united against a common enemy. It even includes footage from Moore’s film, expanded with additional commentary so you can see what’s really going on. It’s truly eye-opening.
Great filmmakers know this. They count on it to create art. At its best, the art of film can provide a window into the human experience, to help us imagine what is possible, and to help us lead more authentic lives. At its worst, film can be used to deceive, to make the false appear true and manipulate our emotions to the artist’s ends.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is art at its worst.
Don’t ever see a Michael Moore film in a theater. You’re totally at his mercy. His images fill up your field of view. You have to see what he wants you to see, when he wants you to see it. Why give him that much power?
That’s why I waited for the DVD. I sat down with my family and a copy of “59 Deceits In Fahrenheit 9/11”, by my friend and colleague Dave Kopel. (It comes up as one of the top hits if you Google “Fahrenheit 9/11”). Kopel lists Moore’s lies in order, so you can pause the movie whenever you want and read out loud what fast ones Mr. Moore is trying to pull.
As I watched the film, I became more and more emotional, furious at the lengths Moore had stooped to, weeping at the patriotism and courage shown by soldiers and their families. But didn’t I just say that emotional responses to images were part of the problem? Wasn’t that what I was trying to avoid?
I don’t know if I can completely escape the charge of hypocrisy. I’ll just say when it comes to politics, we stand on the strongest ground when our emotions are in line with our intellect. When heart and head are one. By those standards, “Fahrenhype” wins and Moore loses. It’s that simple.
Moore comes from a long line of people who believe lying is allowed in the name of deeper truth. When an artist does that, we call it ‘fiction’. But in a work that aspires to help Americans make informed, factual decisions, it is poisonous to the body politic.
Just like Michael Moore.
© 2004, Barry Fagin