By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
“It’s like we’re in the French resistance and the tanks are 20 miles outside the city!”
Activist filmmaker Michael Moore debuted his new editorial shock-documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9” this past Tuesday in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Moore, the skilled documentary maker and Academy Award winner, has wielded the new medium of small budget, current affairs film to emerge as a significant voice in American and international media.
To understand Michael Moore, and his latest release, “Fahrenheit 11/9”, it’s important to understand the evolution of news and editorial media in the last four decades. Since CNN went live and around the clock with news and commentary nearly 40 years ago, and the internet gave every person a voice of equal dimensions on your screen, media has been hurtled into a warp speed evolution. Media- and we- were never prepared for that.
The technology that gave every person a voice of equal physical dimensions has created a global shouting match that changes the way we (try to) form opinions and collect information. It is like trying to hear a rational conversation in an ever-increasing dissonance of rising screams. Today, in order to deliver any message effectively in modern media, you have shout. Really loud.
Michael Moore shouts in Fahrenheit 11/9, and he does so with the same, if not more, volume and punch than his previous films. But in the rising din of activist hyperbole, everyone else has gotten louder while Moore’s volume has stayed about the same. It isn’t that Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” is worse or better than his previous documentaries. It is actually about the same. But everyone is used to hearing this type of message now, so it loses its punch. In so many ways, that is a tragedy.
Moore is a polarized ranter attempting to balance the left side of American perspective on an ever-shrinking center fulcrum as his political reciprocal on the right has the podium in the White House. Michael Moore is the left-wing Donald Trump; extreme, unaccountable, ranting, not always factually accurate but great at whipping up an audience at the extreme left end of the political spectrum using the modern tools of new media.
You may not like Michael Moore, but we need him as long as we have Donald Trump. One polarized, old-aged, overweight white guy with lots of money, media access and a big mouth cancels out the other. Hopefully.
“Fahrenheit 11/9” is not one documentary, it is several story lines combined, each deserving of its own documentary series if we all had more than a Twitter post attention span. Moore knows this, so he hurls as much at us as he can in 120 minutes and hopes some of it sticks to the wall of American conscience. He does a fairly sloppy job of trying to stitch them all together. It doesn’t really work, but each storyline is interesting enough by itself that you stick with the film even through a few well-earned eye rolls.
Michael Moore’s attempts to defame former President Barack Obama and implicate him in the Flint water crisis and convince us that the U.S. Army invaded Flint, Michigan in a preemptive attempt to quell unrest from the water crisis are particular low points in “Fahrenheit 11/9”. He even sloppily conjures the time-honored superweapon of the Internet troll, the Hitler comparison. But don’t walk out. There are high points in “Fahrenheit 11/9”.
Moore showcases a rising tide of citizen activism through the political system and features several grass roots candidates and their ascendency into the almost-mainstream. He focuses on the plight of teachers and nearly manages to point out that if there is one thing responsible for the mounting problems in our country, it is our reprehensible devaluation of education. In these scenes, “Fahrenheit 11/9” captures the best of America at its worst.
Moore carries the topics of new political candidacy and our jaundiced school system well in “Fahrenheit 11/9”. But these valid storylines are weighed down by his constant adolescent pecking at the President. We already know the President likes young women, is poorly spoken and loose-lipped and largely unapologetic for reinforcing every ugly white male stereotype and even adding a few. That isn’t news. Americans are apparently pleased enough with the stock market, job numbers, real estate values and finally calming down the little guy in North Korea that they are willing to forgive the President his indiscretions while we shave off a few human rights, set gender equality back five decades and trash the environment at dizzying speed.
It was interesting to see the U.S. premiere of “Fahrenheit 11/9” in Flint, Michigan. This is the frontline of the rising environmental comeuppance that America is facing as we pollute ourselves to new, imagined “prosperity”. Michael Moore is a messiah in Flint, and his minions were out, not quite in force, but a couple hundred showed up hoping for an audience with him and a shoulder to cry on about their ordeal with the jagged edge of “Capitalism Gone Wild!”. Moore didn’t really provide that. He’s no Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai. He can show us the problems, but he offers few solutions. As a result, this film feels like wallowing. Instead of leaving with a feeling of inspiration or empowerment, you simply slump in your seat when the credits roll and realize, “we’re in deep trouble”.
One woman directly affected by the poisoned Flint water stood up in the Q&A with Moore and listed her litany of symptoms to him. Moore slumped in his seat on the stage, in apparent fatigue from the entire affair. The scene emphasized that while Moore has been effective at identifying the problems, he has proposed few viable solutions. And in the rising din of social media complainers, Moore’s relevance sags among the rising din of complainers, no matter how relevant and valid the complaints are.
The final punchline in “Fahrenheit 11/9” is that, while audiences will expect, and get, a healthy dose of blaming “The Man” for keeping the little person down, Moore also reinforces that this is, ultimately, our own fault America. We either voted, or didn’t vote. We didn’t go to the school board meetings, we didn’t show up to vote for governor. We didn’t register new voters or run for local office. We let ourselves get gerrymandered and marginalized into subservience in a bizarre “chicken and egg” descent into apathy from working too much to survive and acting too late to prevent it from happening. Now the mess is even bigger. If one good thing comes out of Michael Moore’s films, and particularly his new “Fahrenheit 11/9”, hopefully it is that we show up to the polls, go to a parent/teacher meeting and re-shoulder the burden of citizenship in America.
Tom Demerly is a writer from Dearborn, Michigan who has traveled around the world, sometimes by his own choice. His analysis, features and editorials have been featured in Business Insider, Outside, Daily Mail and many others.