Tomorrow, Michael Moore will be in Flint, MI to open his new move, “Bowling for Columbine“. I have to imagine that most of the biggest fans from his hometown who first catapaulted him to fame, however, will feel hurt and betrayed by his latest film.
Sterotyped caricatures of the “red zone” heartland citizens as pickup-driving, shotgun-toting, racist hicks are a common way for “blue zone“urban politicians to polarize and galvanize their bases. It’s an understandable side-effect of ignorance that the urban elitesterotype therural heartland (and the heartland people stereotype the blue zone). And it’s certainly understandable when Moore presents one-sided caricatures of “corporate pirates”, since it’s not as if he has ever had an opportunity to understand things from their perspective. But it is really puzzling to see theferocity with which he attacks his targetin “Bowling for Columbine”, since he knows better. These are his people that he’s misrepresenting; and it is his base who he is robbing of their right to be seen in a balanced light.
I know better, because I grew up just outside of Flint. Nearly everyone of my friends, neighbors, and classmated were sustained by Flint’s auto industry. My father didn’t work for the auto manufacturers, but we always had American cars.Infact, theonly people in the area who drove foreign cars were people from Ann Arbor who hadn’t yet had their windows smashed in. In other words, people took their job security very seriously.
During the five years following the Detroit Tigers’ 1984 World Series victory, General Motors laid off 30,000 workers from the Flint area alone. The ripple effect on the entire area’s economy was enormous. I was 15 when Michael Moore’s “Roger & Me” was released, right at the nadir of Flint’s most challenging days. The film is stark, but not an exaggeration – things were bad. In part because of Michael’s film, people were galvanized and things changed for the better. Michael Moore became an instant hero to the working class of Flint.
Since Moore’s film, the Michigan auto workers have increasingly taken charge of their own political destiny; and it’s probably fair to say that more politicians in Michiganowe their careers to the UAWthan in any other state in the union. But, althoughlabor politics are foremost in the minds of Flint area residents, the people who launched Michael to fame are not exactly stereotypical liberals. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the subject of gun control. If labor issues are first, second-ammendment “right to bear arms” is a close runner-up for top issue that the UAW members care about. While the UAW won contract provisions that ostensibly allow their members to have vacation time during the general elections (easier to vote), this vacation time coincides with hunting season when half of the UAW membership head out to the woods with their shotguns. The irony of a political body who take time off every year tobothshoot guns and elect liberal candidates is wryly mentioned in the local papers each November.
Of course, it’s not just the UAW workers who like their guns in Flint. When I was 15 I visited (with a team from my school) a school inside theFlint city limitsfor the first time. It was the first time I saw bullet holes in a school’s walls and windows. After that, I saw other schools in Flint with bullet holes, but I always remember the first one. In “Bowling for Columbine”, Moore berates aK-Mart worker for selling bullets, and the woman is surprisingly unrepentant. Moore should visit some of the Flint schools. There are plenty of places for kids here in Redmond to get bullets, but kids don’t shoot up the schools. It seems a little unfair to blame some poor worker at K-Mart for the bullet holes in Flint schools, even if it does give Moore a chance to look like a witty guy in front of the camera.
In fact, the whole concept seems like an excuse for Moore to show how clever he is by ripping on people in front of the camera. He takes extra care to castigate “Moses“, and plays lots and lots of video clips of the “Mayberry RFD are stupid white racist trigger-happy militia members” variety. But blaming Mayberry RFD or Charleston Heston for the bullet holes in the Flint schools is not going to go over well in Flint. The kids who put bullet holes in the schools and each other are sure as heck not Mayberry RFDand probably don’teven know who Moses was. Same in Detroit – the people doing the shooting are sure as heck not NRA, and they don’t buy their weapons at K-Mart (they smuggle them through Canada). Everyone there knows it.
In fact, the other half of Moore’s argument rests on the notion that Canada (and every other socialist country)experiences less murder because they have strict gun control laws. Besides the fact that Canada’s population is a tiny fraction of the U.S. population andserves as a great arms smuggling route, Moore’s argument fails to resonate with Flint on many other fronts. The issue of kids who flip out and go violent like in Columbine is completely separate from the issue of gun control, and Moore is dishonest to attempt so crassly to tie the two. Witness Japan, where anti-gun laws are very strong: how about the 14 year-old boy in Kobe who decapitated his classmate and left the severed head at the gate of his junior high? Or the mass stabbing murder of schoolkids in Osaka? Or the 17 year-old who went on a rampage with a baseball bat in Tokyo? I wonder if he bought his baseball bat at K-Mart?
Even in Moore’s backyard, there are areas of fairly strict gun control. Two of the most heavily crime-infested areas of Detroit are East Detroit and Highland Park. East Detroit was once a nice area; where both John Delorian and Lee Iacocca were born. But since General Motor moved out in the late 70s and cack cocaine moved in, it looks more like the holocaust. Highland Park is even worse. It was once the richest area of Detroit, being home to Henry Ford and the hub of the new auto industry. But after Ford moved out (do you see a pattern?) it became the murder capitol of the U.S. for a number of years running. Particularly in Highland Park, the existence of “Hard Time for Armed Crime” laws have led the gangsters and muggers to leave their guns at home. The preferred weapon of muggers (and people who want to protect themselves from muggers)in Highland Park is the Rottweiler. Dogs don’t testify, and they have a legitimate use besides weapon, so it’s hard to prove murderous intent in court now that the number of dog mauling cases has gone up. I’ve known people who participated in what has become a thriving industry in Detroit city: weaponizing dogs. (The best advice when approached by a man walking his dog in Highland Park is to just give him your money and don’t make sudden moves.)
Now, the point of my piece here isn’t to discredit Moore’s flawed facts and arguments, but rather to point out what I think is a surprisingly heartlessand disrespectful tack for him to take. No doubt Moore comes from an area that has its share of violence and gun-nuts. But this movie is a 180-degree reversal from the “old” Michael Moore who used to stand up for those hard-working men who enjoyed their hunting and supported the NRA. He comes across as snarky and vindictive, and leaves no room for his former base to agree with him without accepting his lopsided caricature of them. Since he started hanging out with the Hollywood and D.C. celebrity scene in the past five years, its been clear that Moore has lost touch with the common man. But the fact that he can sell out his base in such a snide, self-serving and imbalanced way; yet expect a good reception by opening it in Flint is making me think that he’s lost touch with his senses, too (at least his sense of propriety).