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"Fahrenheit" is heated




July 10, 2004








According to an April 21, 2003 posting on the website of a local peace group known as the Williamsburg Community of Faith for Peace, “Members of the Williamsburg community will come together to send a strong message to George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the world that America does not support an extended occupation of Iraq, where our troops are put needlessly into danger and corporations reap profits that should belong to the American people.” On that same day, a “Die-In” was held in the Sunken Garden of William & Mary to protest the war in Iraq.


While all of this was over a year before the arrival in Hampton of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the language of the posting constitutes a well nigh perfect description of what Moore’s film is all about.  


Understandably, Republicans have turned a livid shade of purple in their attempts to prevent the film from being shown. And in some areas they’ve been successful. The owner of one theater chain in Utah and Nebraska banned the film, claiming that it encourages terrorism. “I believe this film emboldens (terrorists) and divides our country even more, “ he said.  And in Williamsburg, for whatever reason, the film has yet to be shown on the screens of the Carmike cinema. 


Oddly enough, Moore has his critics on the left as well. Some, like columnist Richard Cohen, who normally refuse to ingest Bush’s pabulum, are pounding Moore for his obvious bias. In a recent column, Cohen claimed that the film is a “farrago of conspiracy theories, juvenile in its approach and an assault on the documentary form.”


As for the Bush administration, it has denounced the film as a bunch of “outrageous lies.”


Though many of our civil rights have been consciously compromised in the name of fighting terrorism, the idea that we now have been reduced to banning films because they might encourage terrorists is a ludicrously lunatic notion. Moore is no more guilty of emboldening terrorists than Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North or any of the other right wing hawks whose rants are hardly consoling to bin Laden and his ilk.


As for Moore’s other detractors, what they seem to have missed is that, while “Fahrenheit 9/11” falls into the category of documentary, it is, in the best sense of the word, a polemic. 


“Polemos,” the Greek word for “war,” is the  root of our English word. Hence a polemicist is one who controversially deals with his subject as though he were at war with it. 


Demosthenes, the famous Athenian orator of the late 4th century BC, was one of the earliest polemicists and constructed many of his speeches in response to the threats of Philip of Macedon against Greece. According to one historian, Demosthenes’first harangue against his own unprepared leaders is “emphatic and forcible in its appeal to the emotions and exposes with outrageous frankness not only the past mismanagement of Athenian rulers, but also the defective dispositions of the public themselves.” 


In other words, Demosthenes, like Moore, was on the warpath against what he conceived to be political chicanery and the mismanagement by those in power of a terrifying threat to his nation.


Is he biased? Of course he is. Does he balance his speech with positive remarks about the disjointed leadership he attacks? No way. Is he sophistically manipulative of his arguments?  Absolutely.  Does he tell outrageous lies?  Not on your life. 


Nor does Moore. 


What Moore has that Demosthenes did not is film. And with his film clips Moore pieces together just as uncharitable a portrait of Bush as Demosthenes oratorically does of those ruling Athens. Like Demosthenes, Moore appeals to the emotions of his audience.  And it is with outrageous frankness that he plumbs the oil-based relationship between the Bush family, the Saudi royals and the bin Ladens.


Using his broad celluloid brush he paints a picture of a troubled president infused with  braggadocio, Manichean machismo and facing a terrorist threat that will open the doors to war with Iraq. Pictures of corporate leaders guiltily gloating over the economic prizes to be won from a defeated Iraq and shots of Bush himself smilingly telling a group of CEOs that the “haves and have mores” constitute his “real base” only add to the troubling presidential persona Moore develops.


Nor do clips of Iraqi children bloodied and eviscerated by American bombs speak outrageous lies. Or of American servicemen at Walter Reed Hospital with only stumps for arms and legs. Or of American soldiers gone bestial as they sportively play with the death-induced erection of a slain Iraqi. 


Yet shots such as these are part and parcel of Moore’s mind-disturbing polemical eloquence. And with them he forces us to confront the troubling questions they raise not only about the president himself, but about the administrative ethos that has embroiled us in such deadly, if not animalistic, undertakings. 


But if you still have doubts about Moore, his methods and his message, read a speech or two of Demosthenes. Or just talk to the good people at the Williamsburg Community of Faith for Peace. They were asking the right questions about all this long before Moore came on the scene.  























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