Jan/Feb 2004 Miscellaneous

A Bone to Pick with Bowling for Columbine

by Will Manuel

Guns are bad. According to Michael Moore, bullets are even worse. The main premise of Bowling for Columbine is that if we could take all the bullets and turn them into little chocolates and give them to Michael Moore, then he would be happy. But we don't, because we're a bunch of assholes who want to horde all the chocolate for ourselves. There are about 11,000 gun deaths annually in the United States, five from chocolate. This compares to about a hundred gun and two chocolate-related deaths in each of the other major countries (not counting Belgium). It doesn't take a string theorist to realize these numbers are astonishing. So, gun violence is a huge problem in this country, second only to Michael Moore and his brand of manipulative polemic. Bowling uses the power of documentary to make you sympathize with the characters it wants you to and despise those whom Moore thinks stole his Godiva four-pack. Somebody stole it. They had to have. It's gone isn't it?

From a stylistic point of view, Moore's attacks often seem mean-spirited and out of touch. When he goes after the poor Kmart employees, it's like he's attacking Peggy from King of the Hill. I mean come on, these people just work there. You end up feeling as sorry for them as anyone else. The film goes to some trouble to prove once and for all that Charlton Heston is a gun-toting racist. Thank God we finally cleared that one up. But Moore cheapens his victory by running up the score on an opponent obviously suffering from Alzheimer's. The greatest threat Charlton Heston currently poses is to the world of interior design. That awful ranch house with those sliding glass doors and faux rock walls! I wonder where he keeps all his guns. I didn't see any. Did you see any? Doesn't Moore know a good case will make itself without having to resort to cheap tricks like those subliminal images of nuns being spanked by men that look just like Rush... wait a minute, is there anything Limbaugh won't try?

As a persuasion film, Bowling suffers from very shaky analysis. The film seems bewildered at how Canadians could have as many guns as we do, but no murder. Hello, they have no crime? They have no people! If we had two acres per person, I seriously doubt we would have any crime either. If you're a Canadian wanting to kill someone, you first have to find someone. You have to take a two-day dog sled ride, and by the time you get there, you're too damned cold to remember what you were doing in the first place. Your intended victim offers you a shot of warm whiskey and a nice slab of elk meat. Then you agree to do it again next year. Murder rate zero. Temperature zero. Michael Moore overrated. The film should have given us the statistics for violent crimes in general, and we would probably see that Americans have killed more Canadians than the current total living there today.

Bowling is also meandering and incoherent. It opens one conspiracist thread after another without following any of them to their semi logical conclusions. Moore is like a small child trying to get what he wants. If one approach isn't working, try another, then another. Just keep trying. It's the NRA's fault. Well then, it's the government's fault. Okay, it's Kmart's fault. Fine. Dick Clark is obviously behind everything.

But Moore does offer many great insights of the kind only film can provide. For example, I now know our government always supports the wrong side in "those war-torn countries," as conclusively proven by video montage. While I have no trouble trusting politicians to screw up even the simplest of tasks—bombing pharmaceutical plants, installing the wrong dictators, that sort of thing—I seriously doubt all of that is the reason why Dylan Harris and James Klebold shot a bunch of their classmates. Harris and Klebold were simply two very disturbed people. That is not new. How they were able to get the guns so easily is indeed a good question. But everyone already hates the NRA. Criticising it is about as revealing as a speech on the evils of terrorism. While it was encouraging to see that Kmart could be bullied into not selling ammunition to nine year-olds by 2027, the real target should have been Capital Hill. Obviously, any legislator who votes in favor of assault weapons is a complete assrack. Clark and Heston are simply playing by the rules which weaker men have created. Moore should have found those men and questioned them individually—each and every one.

In the final segment, Moore does well to point out that the reason a six year-old was able to get a gun and bring it to school and shoot another six year-old is because his home life was screwed up. His mother had been evicted, and the two of them were staying with the boy's uncle. The uncle was irresponsible to leave a gun lying around the house. The gun lying around the house was not an AK-47. The uncle was not a drug dealer. Canadians may leave their doors unlocked, but the last time the uncle left his door unlocked, his TV and $400 were stolen. Four-hundred dollars is how much the uncle makes in a week. He doesn't give a damn about the NRA. He just doesn't want his TV stolen again. He was stupid to leave the gun unlocked with the child at home. But sending the boy's mother or even the uncle to jail will solve nothing and make things worse for the boy, who is already off to a troubled start. The film seems to want to blame the child's problems on the fact that his mother was enrolled in Welfare to Work programs. And then Moore tries to blame Dick Clark, because Clark's business associate happened to be involved with Welfare to Work. Now, I enjoy seeing Dick Clark being made uncomfortable as much as the next guy, but welfare policies are no more to blame than Hollywood or my loose-fitting underwear for the tragic number of single-parent families living in poverty. Perhaps the next time the mother is evicted, she can stay at Michael Moore's house, where the fridge is well stocked, laughs come by the barrel, and the guns are safely in the hands of Moore's bodyguards.

I do not have a problem with Michael Moore holding strong political views and expressing them through film. I do have a problem with Moore hijacking the documentary film style to gain instant trust, and then steering it to a place where logic and fair play are nowhere to be found. At least Oliver Stone bothers to craft his fantasies into a narrative.


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