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Why Michael Moore is no longer an earth-rattling political force to be reckoned with

The veteran rabble-rouser Michael Moore’s latest film Fahrenheit 11/9, which opened in Australian cinemas last week, begins by invoking déjà vu. The shock-doc-jock presents images of political rallies on the evening prior to the 2016 US presidential election, as people prepare for the supposedly inevitable: the election of Hillary Clinton as President of the United States. He then questions the very nature of reality. “Was it all a dream?” the documentarian asks, before moving on to contemplate the nightmare of Donald Trump. This is a sequel of sorts to his smash-hit 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which begins the same way.

Maybe it was Moore who was dreaming: that he could make a follow-up film with as much impact as its predecessor; that he was still a political trailblazer with the power to shape national conversation.

He couldn’t and he isn’t. In its opening weekend Moore’s new film collected $US3.4 million at the North American box office, compared to $US19 million taken in the same period by its predecessor. This is part of a pattern that has seen Moore’s films steadily declining in box office revenue. Following Fahrenheit 9/11’s total US$222 million international haul in 2004, Sicko took US$36 million in 2007, Capitalism: A Love Story took US$17.4 million in 2009 and Where to Invade Next took US$3.8 million in 2016.

Love him or hate him, Moore’s influence and cachet is not what it used to be. The $64,000 question isn’t ‘in these noisy times, is Michael Moore more or less relevant than ever?’because the answer is obviously less. A better question is to ask why Moore is no longer an earth-rattling political force to be reckoned with; no longer a superstar and demigod of the left.

Now Moore is just one loud voice among countless others. One bit player attempting to stay in the spotlight, drowned out by a cacophony of talking heads.

To put it simply, the world changed and he did not. For a long time Moore seemed like a rare beast: a funny, media-savvy, raising Cain social justice warrior and braggart who fought fire with fire, refusing to accept that his ideological components were the only parties ‘allowed’ to play hard and fast with the truth (again, love him or hate him, there is no question that Moore’s work has fudged and embellished facts to serve his own – usually admirable – agenda).

Now he is just one loud voice among countless others desperate for attention. One bit player attempting to stay in the spotlight, drowned out by a cacophony of talking (or screaming) heads. On the teev. On the radio. On social media. Online. Everywhere. So many of them, like him, attempting to invigorate the base, rally the troops, decry the innumerable political failures of our times. It all feels like white noise now.

Michael Moore is no longer setting the discussion but, like almost everybody else, reacting to it. These reactions are complicated nowadays by different interpretations of reality and the sensation that nothing feels real anymore. Donald Trump is the President. Brexit happened. Fascism is on the rise. The premise of The Matrix is now a popular if not credible theory. A multinational company is manipulating our moods. The robots are creating their own language.

We see the carnage but are powerless to stop it. We are shocked. Scared. Angry. Distressed. And science tells us we have good reason to be. We feel the ship sinking beneath us and our voices grow shriller. Moore’s core strategy has always been to be the loudest, shoutiest, most indignant person in the room. The problem is that somebody else can always come along, shouting louder and playing dirtier. A person in the White House (Donald someone-or-other) reminds us of this almost every day.

Moore’s core motivation has always been to win the argument, not to enlighten the world. If he told a few white lies in service of a noble cause, well, who cares? Even poorly educated people however could see that he was mingling truth with fiction; could sense the difference between arguing and intellect. They also saw Moore hailed as a hero. Draw huge adoring crowds. Win an Academy Award. Then somebody with a bigger platform and a more powerful microphone (Trump) came along to tell them that not only was Michael wrong, but the whole system was wrong – at least, all those people on the other side of politics.

The cringe-worthy term “fake news” – of which Trump is such a fan – is a way of sticking one’s fingers in their ears and screaming ‘I don’t like what you’re saying, therefore it isn’t true.’ Would you be surprised if an old video surfaced, revealing that Michael Moore first used this term and Trump nicked it from him? You know you wouldn’t. In the way they treat the construction of media narratives, elements of Moore and Trump could be considered two sides of the same coin.

Can the superstar documentarian bounce back? It seems unlikely. But – as that now slippery term ‘reality’ continues to remind us – stranger things have happened.

Some parts of Fahrenheit 11/9 feel less problematic than childish, such as Moore spraying Flint water over a governor’s lawn and a segment devoted to Trump fondling his daughter, which stops just (just) shy of suggesting incest. The film also contains a terrifying stretch in which Moore suggests that America may be “one 9/11 away from losing our democracy.” It is convincingly argued by a man who is nothing if not a talented communicator. How sad, then – and yet, with the benefit of hindsight, how inevitable, given the way the world changed and the way he didn’t – that audiences appear to have stopped listening.

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6 responses to “Why Michael Moore is no longer an earth-rattling political force to be reckoned with

  1. Moore has made some highly informative and thought provoking movies. They make people THINK about society, polit, injustice, corruption etc. That is invaluable in a world rife with greed and lack of responsible action. I’m wondering why Buckmeister wants to neutralise him?

  2. Telling a few porkies in aid of a good cause seems a standard MO of the Left….climate change for example. Al Gore liked to ‘torque’ it up a bit he recently admitted.

  3. « …love him or hate him, there is no question that Moore’s work has fudged and embellished facts to serve his own – usually admirable – agenda… » This is precisely why Moore is so old hat. Leftist mouthpieces like Moore have no integrity . Combined with your tacit admission that for the left, the ‘end justifies the means’ (…usually admirable agenda…?? In other words , it’s ok for him to tell porkies because it serves our cause.), is it any wonder that people will no longer put their hard earned on the line to be fed shit? The term ‘fake news’ was made precisely to describe people like Moore and his ilk.

    With another 8 governorships and an increased senate majority (and despite the dump-o-cramps taking the house back with he slimmest of margins), one can only conclude that electorate agrees with Trump – and that people like Moore should consider hanging il their boots and flippin budgets for a living.

    Trump 2020. Hoo-ah!!!

    1. Dean’s comment is a perfect example of the way Trump and his supporters have completely disengaged from reality.
      The Republicans lost the popular vote by over 7%, lost a net 7 governorships (not won 8 as Dean claims) and lost control of the House of Representatives, yet claim this is a vindication of Trump. If the state wide votes from the mid-terms are repeated in 2020 Trump loses the election soundly. Some vindication!

  4. In the last paragraph, Luke Buckmaster states that Michael Moore “convincingly argued” the thesis of his new film/documentary. This is why Moore has become the force that he has – despite the supposed fudging of the facts mentioned by Buckmaster and the consideration that world affairs have moved (really – has injustice, inequality, “fake news”, misuse of political power, etc., moved on?). Surely the world of Donald Trump and others who think and act like him is a worthwhile cause for which to rattle the sabres.
    Moore’s voice may be only one of a number “desperate for attention” (though how many are genuinely striving to be heard in an increasingly self-satisfied and self-centred western world?), but there are not too many coming from the left-wing of politics, especially in the USA. That is why Michael Moore will continue to attract a considerable audience, certainly in the upside half of the world, even if it is a requirement that he react to affairs rather than setting their agenda.
    It is a bit blinkered for the generally objective Buckmaster to refer to Moore as a “bit player”and that his only concern is to “win the argument”. The fact that the strident voice of the right-wing, growing authoritarianism, even fascism, seems to be getting louder, is all the more reason why a voice such as Moore’s should be listened to – even if he has to shout a little louder than most to be heard!

  5. He was one of the few people that thought Trump would be elected, it’s a pity more people didn’t take notice of him then.

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