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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Michael Moore and American Values

Last week the Guardian published an excerpt of Michael Moore's new book, Here Comes Trouble.

Full disclosure: I have not read this book.  I have not seen any of Michael Moore's movies.  I'm not boycotting them or purposely avoiding them; I simply haven't gotten around to it, and they're not high enough on my to-do list to put much effort into seeking them out.  If any of them happen to cross my path at a time that's convenient for me, I'll be happy to watch them.

I do know who Michael Moore is, I'm familiar with most of his projects of the last ten years, and I know he has a reputation for being somewhat one-sided.  Good for him.

All that said, I was absolutely appalled and sickened when I read the excerpt of his book in the Guardian, in which he detailed the threats and attempts on his life after his 2003 Oscar speech, and later the release of his movie Fahrenheit 9/11.

In case you didn't click on the link and read the account for yourself, here are some highlights:

  • Upon returning home from the Oscars, he found a waist-high pile of manure (about three truckloads worth) in his driveway blocking access to his house, as well as signs nailed to the trees on his property threatening his safety and well-being if he didn't move.
  • Not only did he receive mountains of hate-mail expressing people's desire for his death and/or poor health, but he also had people leaving threatening messages on his answering machine.
  • So many people came to his house to threaten him that he had to hire a private security company, because the local police were overwhelmed.
  • An assassination attempt with a knife was made when he was an invited speaker at an event (thwarted by his private security).
  • A cup of scalding coffee was thrown in his face by a random man walking past him on the street (thwarted by his private security--his private security agent took it in the face instead).
  • Another random person passing by lunged at him with a sharpened pencil, stabbing the hand of the private security agent.
I know a lot of people were angered by Moore's Oscar speech and disagreed with the opinions expressed in Fahrenheit 9/11, but I don't want to believe that my fellow Americans feel that the appropriate response to a citizen exercising his right to free speech is harassment, vandalism, threats, and murder.  Sadly, I have no reason to doubt Moore's story.

Is this who we are as a country?  Let's put aside for the moment that the charges he made against then-President George W. Bush in his Oscar speech were dead-on correct.  We did invade Iraq for fictitious reasons.  But that's not the point.  Let's pretend for a moment that Moore was wrong about everything.  Let's pretend there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Bush's presidency was achieved legitimately.  Let's pretend that Saddam Hussein masterminded the events of September 11, 2001 and had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction hiding in Iraq.  Let's pretend all that is true, and Moore still said what he said at the Oscars, and still made Fahrenheit 9/11.  As an American, he has that right.

I'm disgusted that people who claim to support our troops "fighting for freedom and democracy" in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan will so violently reject freedom and democracy when it's practiced in their own country.  Americans have the right to have their own opinions and express them publicly, even when those opinions question the motives, methods, and abilities of their leaders.  Americans do not have the right to vandalize someone else's private property, trespass on someone else's private property, or threaten the life, health or safety of another person.  If these are the democratic values we're trying to spread around the world, then the world is right to mock and reject us.  This is not how civilized people treat each other.

I like the ideals that my country is based on, but I don't like the reality we live in.  I don't like the tyranny of the majority, the groupthink ignorance of our history, or the increasing class wars between the "educated elite" and "real Americans" (as if education and a nuanced understanding of the shades of grey that make up the world are somehow antithetical to America).  I don't like that our government follows the version of the Golden Rule that reads, "He who has the gold makes the rules."  And I don't like that, in practice, we consider discipline and self-restraint as weaknesses, and emotionally-charged recklessness and instant gratification evidence of strength and commitment.

And based on reputation alone, I don't particularly like Michael Moore.  But I respect his right to his opinion, I respect his right to express it publicly, and I appreciate his attempts to make people think critically about what's going on.  If you don't want to hear what he has to say, don't watch his movies (you can suck it up and deal with it if he takes 30 seconds of a 3 hour and 30 minute awards show to spring his opinion on you).  And as an American citizen, I wish to apologize to him.  I can't speak on behalf of all Americans, but on my own behalf, I apologize.  I never sent you hate mail, I never threatened you in person or over the telephone, I never accosted you, and I certainly never threatened your life or safety, but I'm sorry you had to experience all those things.  You should never have had to go through that for the sin of expressing your opinion.  I'm sure if I ever get around to watching your movies, I'll find plenty I disagree with you about, but the most I would ever do would be to publish a blog post highlighting what I disagreed with and why.  I'm sure you won't begrudge me my right to publicly express my opinion, just as I don't begrudge you your right to publicly express yours.

As for the rest of America, please try to understand that freedom and democracy means accepting that people have a right to question their government's leaders and actions without risk of harm or retribution, and that doing so is not un-American, as many of you claim, but rather is a very important aspect of being an American.

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