Thoughts on contributing to controversial discussions
February 23, 2008
I am preparing to host about 10 people in my apartment tonight for a showing of Michael Moore's health care documentary, SiCKO. As someone who shares his views and encourages as many people as possible to see his movies, I often run into this sort of attitude:
Oh, Michael Moore's just a crazy sensationalist. Maybe he's got some good points, but he's so overdramatic that you just can't trust anything he says.
I hear this most often from people who care about the issues but don't want to be duped. They know things like this are never simple, and they're so afraid of being mislead that they don't want to listen to anyone anymore. Most of all, they want to be sure that they are thinking for themselves.
That last stance is to be commended, and that's the point I most want to address.
I am not afraid to admit that I am a huge fan of Michael Moore. Some might have noticed that the points he makes in his movie Bowling for Columbine are very similar to comments they have heard from me regarding guns, school shootings, and the American culture of fear. I did not pluck my views from Mr. Moore's movie; I already held those views back in 2002, and that's why someone suggested to me that I should go see a movie made by a director who was not yet a household name and whose movie was only playing in artsy theaters in my area. "Wow," I said at the time. "I like this guy. He's not afraid to ask tough questions, and he asks them intelligently, and yet in a way that ordinary Americans can understand." It also is obvious to me that he makes his movies because he really cares about the issues and the lives that are affected by them.
Reading this far, some people will write me off as an unthinking liberal, willingly brainwashed at the hands of a left-wing sensationalist. This is a sweeping generalization, one that is just as intellectually flawed as accepting without question anything any documentary says.
Even though I knew from the start that Mr. Moore thinks along the same lines I do, I am aware that I would be the one to lose out if I simply accepted everything he said without questioning it, without thinking critically about it, and without asking people who disagree why they do so. So I do these things. I revise my opinions when I hear new information. I don't necessarily agree with every single thing Michael Moore or any other prominent liberal says. Ultimately, though, he makes some darn good points, and they're worth discussing whether you agree with him or not.
Yes, he riles people up. Yes, he even ticks some of them off. But his chosen topics get talked about.
It's ridiculous to say that you won't watch a Michael Moore film because he's "biased" or because he "doesn't show every side." He has two hours to make his case. Plenty of other people will step in on the other side of the discussion. And of course he makes the movies dramatic: these issues are dramatic. School shootings are a dramatic problem. The fact that an American citizen with health insurance died because the insurance company denied payment on a treatment that probably would have saved his life should make you angry. That doesn't mean you base your final argument on pure emotion, but it's equally bad (if not worse) to repress natural negative emotions that every person should have when they witness a grave injustice. Moreover, if he tried to present a "balanced" argument without any emotional impact, hardly anyone would go to see his movies. Then no one would hear his message; no one would be inspired to take action; no one would think to educate herself further.
Yes, I am aware that, say, universal health care will cost a lot and be imperfect. I still think it's the best plan. Why don't we discuss it further rather than picking apart a director?
While I can't speak for Michael Moore, I bet he'd be thrilled if his movie inspired you to go out there and read about the issue. Of course you should ask if his examples represent the situation well. Of course you should ask if he's leaving anything out. Unthinking drones are unthinking drones no matter where on the political spectrum they fall, and we don't need any more of those. These people are problems in and of themselves, and it doesn't make Mr. Moore wrong for attracting his share of them.
But he probably also thinks that if you do research and think critically, you'll find even more evidence to support what he says. I know that's what I think, and that's why I encourage people to watch his movies: as a starting point, to search for a solution to the undeniably real problems his movies place in the spotlight.
But if you won't even consider what he says, who's the one left in the dark?