Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Facts 1: Bombast and Hysteria: 0

Michael Moore is turning my wife into a gun nut.

Let me explain. My wife teaches an writing class for ESL students at a local community college. As part of her in-class activity for the unit on argumentative essays, she wanted to show videos illustrating two sides of a given issue.

She picked gun control, and I immediately put Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" (gun grabber) and Larry Elder's Michael and Me (pro-2nd Amendment) into our Netflix queue.

This turned out to be a terrible mistake.

At first, it didn't seem like such a bad idea. Larry Elder, if you've never seen him, has terrific on-camera presence, and in the first 30 minutes or so of his movie does as good a summary as I've seen of the gun rights position.

He hits all the high notes: personal responsibility, the Constitution, safety, self defense. You watch a parade of Constitutional scholars, legislators, men and women who survived attacks. All of which are backed up by statistics, facts and some very compelling quotes that serve to put the gun banners in their appropriate historical context:
"One man with a gun can control 100 without one."--Vladimir Lenin

"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."--Mao Tse-tung,

"We don't let them have ideas. Why would we let them have guns?"-- Joseph Stalin

"The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their fall by doing so." -- Adolf Hitler

Then it was Michael Moore's turn.

It started out pretty well. There was some very emotional testimony from survivors of the Columbine school shooting, but after a while, I noticed my wife not taking many notes, and then not taking any at all.

Finally she turned to me. "I can't use this," she said. "I don't know what he's talking about." I glanced at the screen -- Moore was talking about Killer Bees.

"Whats the problem, exactly?" I asked her.

"I want to show two sides of the issue," she said, very patiently "But this movie doesn't actually present a side. It jumps all over the place. Why is he talking about bees? What does Lockheed's missile factory have to do with guns?"

"Jump ahead," I told her. "There's a section where he goes to Canada and talks about the difference in crime between here and there. Maybe you can use that."

But it was no use. There just weren't enough facts in a coherent order to present any part of Moore's film as a rebuttal of Elder's argument.

"Its not a fair comparison," she told me. "It will look like I'm biased. I'm screwed. What am I supposed to show tomorrow?"

"I don't think I can help you," I said. "This is the best the left wing can do. Highly emotional arguments without a lot of factual backup is pretty much all they have."

That is not the only criticism that can be made of Bowling For Columbine, and far smarter folks than I have made long, compelling lists of what's wrong with that movie. Here's one of them.

If you haven't seen Larry Elder's movie, I strongly suggest you buy it now.


Jack Nutting said...

I think I see the problem here: You've got Michael Moore, and "Bowling for Columbine", all wrong.

Don't feel bad, most right-wingers have it wrong. Here's the deal: Michael Moore is not a "gun-grabber" (in fact he's a member of the NRA), and BfC does not have an anti-gun message. When you get right down to it, he even says straight up in the film that Canada, with higher gun ownership that the US, has gun-related crime stats that are WAY lower than they are in the US.

More than anything, BfC is a critique of a society where toxic fear pushes people over the edge; And, if you've fallen over the edge and there's a weapon handy, well... The movie isn't representative of a single "side" in any debate, so naturally it can't be used as a counterpoint to any explicit argument.

This film, like most of Moore's films, operates very much at an emotional level. He's got his view of the world, and he wants to put it across, and he makes no bones about it. The same could be said of, say, Rush Limbaugh. The fact is that sometimes people can be convinced of things through emotional appeals, and there are lots of people of all political stripes who are experts at tugging heart-strings.

Taken as an anti-gun piece, BfC doesn't work AT ALL. "The best the left wing can do"? If I didn't know you I might think that was disingenuous, but I'll chalk it up unawareness of other voices out there (just as I've never heard of Larry Elder before I read this post).

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