Michael Moore's censored America - Stupid White Men


Michael Moore is an American film-maker and political commentator. He's probably best known for his documentary Roger and Me, which charts the effects on his hometown Flint, Michigan when General Motors, the town's largest employer, decide to relocate their factories to Mexico. That breakthrough film was followed by TV series, such as TV Nation, and now another film, Bowling for Columbine, and book, Stupid White Men.

Stupid White Men (and other sorry excuses for the state of the nation) is divided into chapters dealing with different aspects of American life. As you'd guess from the title, George Bush comes in for a lot of criticism, as does the conduct of the presidential election which brought him to power. Bill Clinton and Al Gore are also criticized, and Moore spends a lot of time showing that the differences between Bush and his Democratic opposite numbers are largely cosmetic. But there are also chapters dealing with race relations in America, education and health care, and international issues like Ireland and Palestine.

Bowling for Columbine examines the issue of gun violence in America, asking why the US should be so much more violent than other countries with similar histories, cultures, or gun ownership laws. It includes visits to a bank that gives guns to people opening accounts, South Central LA, and Canadian towns just over the US border, as well as interviews with the brother of one of the other men convicted along with Tim McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber, Marilyn Manson, and Charlton Heston (President of the National Rifle Association).

The most harrowing sequence shows close-circuit camera footage from the Columbine school shootings, alongside interviews with witnesses and victims of this and similar shootings. Bowling for Columbine works much better than Stupid White Men. The book is often unfocussed and scattershot, while the film manages to move between subjects without losing sight of a central theme. Moore has a better feel for film, and knows what level of detail to include, and when to sit back and let things speak for themselves. Both are worth your time, but Bowling for Columbine will stay with you longer.

Almost as interesting as anything in either work is the story of how the book came to be released. Stupid White Men was written in 2001, and was due to be released that September. Thousands of copies of the book were sitting in a warehouse, ready for distribution, when the WTC was destroyed on September 11th. Moore agreed to a delay in the book's release, but as October and then November arrived he learned that the publishers had changed their mind completely. In the 'new America', they said, there was no room for books so critical of George Bush. It wasn't until the American librarians' association learned of the situation and threatened to boycott HarperCollins that the book was released.

NewsInternational (HarperCollins' parent company) has a history of this sort of censorship, so perhaps Moore shouldn't have been so surprised by their behaviour. But even after publication the book ran into problems. Although it was the top-selling non-fiction book in the US last year, 90% of newspapers haven't reviewed it (and many haven't reviewed Bowling for Columbine either). There are obviously large numbers of people interested in what Moore has to say, but the corporate media is continuing to ignore critical voices.

Even those outlets that do review Moore operate a subtle form of censorship. Stupid White Men is reviewed as an attack on Bush, while other chapters, that fall outside the simplistic Democrats vs Republicans model of politics, are ignored. Bowling for Columbine is often reviewed as a straightforward call for more gun control, because that's a familiar debate with obvious 'sides', even though Moore makes it clear that countries with similar gun laws don't have the same problems. Race is an important topic in both works, but most reviews ignore it. So Moore's dissenting voice is silenced in three ways - they try to prevent him from publishing, then ignore him when he does publish, and finally, if he can't be ignored, his arguments are misrepresented.

Ray Cunningham

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.

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This edition is No74 published in Feb 2003