The Magazine

Un-Moored from Reality

From the July 5 / July 12, 2004 issue: Fahrenheit 9/11 connects dots that aren't there.

Jul 5, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 41 • By MATT LABASH
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CONSIDERING THAT I'm writing this from inside the bunker of what many regard as the Alliance of Neocon Warmongers, it bears mentioning that Michael Moore and I have one surprising trait in common: We both believe that the war in Iraq was ill-advised, ill-planned, and ill-executed, an apparent failure bordering on unmitigated disaster, that was never in our best national interest. Around our office over the last two years, I've made these arguments to colleagues, open-minded types who, after they put me through my water-boarding/naked pyramid sessions, say they'll take it under advisement. And I make the disclosure now so that readers will not be confused. I do not trash Fahrenheit 9/11 because it's a piece of antiwar propaganda. I trash Fahrenheit 9/11 because it's an offal-laden piece of junk.

It is proof, as if we need more, that Moore doesn't make art, he makes fudge. Since fact-checking his work has become a near full-time cottage industry, it is worth remembering that in his debut film Roger & Me, his indictment of heartless General Motors, he was caught fudging evictions, showing people getting bounced onto the street who'd never been GM workers. In 2002's antigun screed, Bowling for Columbine, he fudged his tear-jerking closer. While hectoring Alzheimer's-ravaged NRA mascot Charlton Heston, he related the heart-tugging tale of a mother whose 6-year-old son, largely unsupervised because of oppressive welfare-to-work laws, found a gun in her house and killed one of his classmates. Moore failed to mention that the family member Mom entrusted him to was running a crackhouse out of her home, that the gun had been left on a mattress, and that she'd admitted beating another son while sitting on him after duct-taping his hands, feet, and mouth. Not exactly a model of responsible parenting, gun ownership, or filmmaking.

As has become my custom at Moore screenings, I began by scratching hash marks in my notebook, counting his conspiracy theories. Not only does this train the mind, but it distracts me from laughing inappropriately and disturbing fellow filmgoers. But in Fahrenheit 9/11, I quickly abandoned counting for cackling. By the time the opening credits rolled, Moore had already explained how George W. Bush rigged the 2000 election by stealing votes from black people, as well as fallen back on his shopworn class-war claptrap to imply that Bush was out of touch with the common folk, since on September 10, 2001, he "went to sleep that night in a bed made with fine French linens." (The next day's terror victims doubtless slept on burlap.)

The intro credits are accompanied by creepy acoustic guitar runs--third-world atrocity music--which play under a montage of our leaders/war criminals sinisterly readying themselves for television appearances. There's Dick Cheney getting his rake-over fluffed. There's Tom Ridge diabolically laughing. There's Paul Wolfowitz smoothing a cowlick with spittle. They smile. They have make-up applied before going on TV. Bastards!

From there, Moore offers a full hour's worth of Bush-centric conspiracies so seemingly random, disjointed, and pointless that one's ticket stub should come with a flow-chart and a decoder ring. In my line of work, when you hear this strain of rhetoric, it's usually from a man in a sandwich board touting the apocalypse or Mumia's innocence, pushing stacks of literature at you while standing on the wrong side of a police cordon. It doesn't typically come from someone whose premiere is attended by half of respectable Democratic Washington, and whose film won the coveted Palme d'Or prize at Cannes.

Moore never passes up a chance to make Bush look like a lightweight, smirking chimp. In fairness, Bush provides more than enough source material. There's Bush, to the strains of the Go-Go's "Vacation," casting fishing lines and speeding away in golf carts, with Moore informing us that the president spent 42 percent of his first eight months in office on vacation. There's Bush in a grade school classroom photo op, sitting shifty-eyed and paralyzed for a full seven minutes after being told the second plane smacked into the World Trade Center, while a teacher reads My Pet Goat. (As a friend of mine says, "Maybe he just wanted to see how it ended.")