Social & Domestic Issues

Moore Clichés

Leave it to Michael Moore to turn an American triumph into an occasion for America-bashing. 

The filmmaker strangely tweeted that Osama bin Laden, shot dead just days earlier, had “won.” America’s most hated enemy, he claimed, was a “monster we created” because bin Laden and the U.S. shared a common enemy in the Soviet Union decades ago. For solving the bin Laden problem through a bullet and not litigation, Moore told CNN: “We’ve lost something of our soul here in this country.”

Infuriating? To some. Shocking? To who? 

Clichés are common sequences of words that extinguish rather than spark thought because of their predictability. Michael Moore (and anyone who subscribes to like ideas) is a cliché—at least when it comes to the United States. He doesn’t have anything interesting to say because his listeners easily anticipate his next utterance. Like “that’s the bottom —-” or “there’s no place like —-,” Michael Moore’s phrases can be finished for him.

It’s no coincidence that ideology drives the ball-capped documentarian’s clichés. The two things have much in common. Ideology and clichés are crutches for the mentally lazy. The former supplies speakers with ready-made reactions to events; the latter lulls listeners into boredom. Clichés go through the motions of language without actually communicating in the way that ideology goes through the motions of reason without actually contemplating.

Ideology, like a cliché, shuts down the mind. Thoughts aren’t impulses. Thinking requires paying attention to the way things are. Ideology is programming. And clichés are ready-made words worn-out of meaning. Clichés and ideology enable people to grab words and opinions off the shelf. Stock phrases numb the mind and stock ideas come from numb minds.

The reflexive anti-Americanism that we have come to expect from Michael Moore neither derives from, nor provokes, thinking. Part of the reason why Moore’s wet-blanket rant following bin Laden’s assassination rings so trite is that we have heard it all before.

“What has the United States done to make itself this kind of target?” “This is a case of the chickens coming home to roost.” “Take a look in the mirror, America, and ask why.”

These post-9/11 reactions came not from al Jazeera but from campus dailies in the United States. There is a déjà vu quality to bin Laden’s coda that evokes his first note heard the globe over. Like 9/11, bin Laden’s assassination shocked the world, unleashed spontaneous displays of patriotism, and witnessed an enemy within—booing any victory, cheering any defeat— conspicuously crawl out from under its hiding place. 

Michael Moore’s response to 9/11 was the celluloid conspiracy theory Fahrenheit 9/11. The film implies but rarely states. Moving pictures show George W. Bush shaking hands with a stream of unnamed Saudi Arabians. Does this mean the president had been in cahoots with the Saudi Arabian terrorists? The 9/11 attacks are depicted as an opportunity for America’s cynical leaders. Invading Afghanistan, Moore suggests, had more to do with building a lucrative oil pipeline than with bringing the masterminds of 9/11 to justice. A decade later, there is neither the pipeline nor the plans for it.

It’s as if Hollywood had bankrolled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the late-night-radio enthusiasts of the Roswell alien landing. Some film ideas are better off merely running as a loop inside disturbed minds. If only Fahrenheit 9/11 had been such a limited engagement! Instead, it became one of the most viewed documentaries in history. Ideas have consequences.

A decade after 9/11, Michael Moore still faults America. Then, he blamed the victim. Now, he blames the nation who saved the world from al Qaeda’s founder. Notice a pattern? 

We can’t predict when America’s next triumph or tragedy will occur. We can be fairly certain how Michael Moore will respond.


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