Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bowling for Answers

I just saw Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. On the one hand I found it very powerful, on the other hand, I'm not sure I quite got where he was going. I thought he started out with some really important observations about the violence in American culture. He does a fair amount of investigation into our various perceptions of where the violence problem comes from. In doing this Moore takes on the idea that this is merely a "gun problem" and points out the high gun-ownership and low violence rates in Canada, among other countries. He examines out how we commonly point to ethnic diversity or national history as sources for our violence problem, but points out that many less-violent countries have a high amount of diversity and very violent histories as well. It's here that he lays his finger on what I think is the real issue: how we have created a culture of fear that is perpetuated in our news media. While Canadian news focuses on political issues, social issues, etc. American news focuses on crime--and specifically crime perpetrated by low-income members of minority groups. Yet, while we huddle behind locked doors in suburbia, one professor Moore interviews points out that while violence (in an unspecified period) had dropped by 20%, media reporting of violence had risen by 600%. A Canadian he interviews makes the observation that all the locked doors in America indicate that we're afraid of our neighbors. Meanwhile to our north, he couldn't find a locked door or a person who claimed to lock their doors.

But with all of this positive investigation going on, the last half-hour of the film sinks into an attack on Kmart and Charlton Heston. Now let me be careful here: Moore's accusations that corporate profits drive much of the wheels of the fear culture seem right on. And Heston's holding NRA rallies immediately following the Columbine tragedy and the Flint elementary school shooting was reprehensible and calls for an apology [see comment below--Moore does not appear to be a fan of context: apparently the insensitive-sounding stuff was spliced in from meetings prior to Columbine and the Colorado meeting was already scheduled to meet legal requirements of non-prof organizations]. But it seems that Moore's focus shifts here from trying to get at the roots of the problem, to getting some cheep shots in at unprepared targets. We move from looking for causes of the culture of violence to telling a Kmart rep, "your Kmart bullets are lodged in the bodies of these Columbine victims"? I think that this is exactly the thing at the root of the problem Moore is trying to tackle. Marilyn Manson makes an observation during an interview with Moore that seems to hit the root of the problem. When asked what he would have told the Columbine killers if he'd had the chance, he responded, "I wouldn't have told them anything, I'd have listened--that's what no one else did."

The problem is self-obsession. It's what drives the media to play fear-mongering games, it's what keeps communities from actually addressing the pain--whether is poverty or social isolation--that leads children to pick up a gun and try to fix their problems. It's what led Charlton Heston to schedule NRA rallies in the midst of hurting communities [see below], and it's what led Moore to carry a camera into the Kmart headquarters and Heston's mansion. It's not looking to understand people and find solutions, it's looking to make your own soap-box and say your piece.

So, now that I have stood on my soap-box and said this, having not sought out private audiences with all the people I called selfish in the above paragraph, I guess I need to repent of the part of me that feels good for "sticking it to" the problem causers. But I also want to acknowledge the good in each of their attempts. I actually applaud much of the work of the NRA that seeks to educate rather than pursue ineffective legal solutions. But sensitivity is called for at all times (1 Corinthians 6:12). I applaud much of Moore's effort with this film; but continuing down the paths he started with would have been far more constructive than picking a few easy targets to represent the problem and using cheep interview tactics to make them look bad.
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