Fahrenheit 11/9

Published at 18:02 on 26 September 2018

Because I’ve seen most of Moore’s movies, going back to Roger & Me, I made a point to see Fahrenheit 11/9 while it was still playing in the theatres.

Compared to his other movies, it’s more rambling and unfocused. Although its stated focus is Trump, it spends a significant fraction of its footage exploring the Flint water crisis. That’s not to say I don’t recommend it; its documenting of the various aspects of the Flint water crisis is alone enough reason to see the film. I had no idea the crisis was so bad, or the state government led by Rick Snyder was so complicit in the poisoning of an entire city.

The amount of time the film spends on Flint makes me suspect that Moore had initially been filming footage for a followup to Roger & Me and decided to shift gears after Trump’s unexpected victory. (Although Moore had been one of the few voices warning of such a possibility, it seems clear to me that he was still taken aback when it actually happened.)

One of the film’s weak points is its inconsistent portrayal of Donald Trump. It starts out with what I believe to be an accurate one: as a buffoon who basically stumbled his way into the presidency, aided by a monstrously incompetent opponent. But after the introduction, it tries to paint Trump in a more sinister and calculating light, focusing on the parallels between Trump and the Nazis. While I’ve done that myself (for good reason: there are parallels), it’s important not to lose sight of Trump’s incompetence.

Another inconsistency comes up when it comes to civil rights, a panicked public, and the all-too-often willingness to sacrifice essential liberty in the name of temporary safety. It mentions 9/11 and the Reichstag Fire. But the film also approvingly cites the movement to increase the governments’ power to disarm the public in response to well-publicized tragedies like the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School. The contradiction is particularly jarring right at the end of the film, which is accomplished via a series of vignettes recapitulating the main points the film made. The juxtaposition came off as more than a little ironic to me.

The film vaguely hints at more revolutionary politics a few times, talking about how “the whole damn system” is the problem. I wish it had gone into a bit more detail of that aspect, particularly how capitalist propaganda paves the way for fascist propaganda and sometimes a fascist state. (There’s just not that big a difference between the level of disregard for basic facts that it takes to convince the masses that the class hierarchy of bourgeois “democracy” is in their best interest, and what it takes to convince them that a fascist dictatorship is.)

It is important to realize that despite his left-of-center politics and his filmmaking skills, Michael Moore is still not in any real sense a revolutionary. As such, there are limits to the depth of any analysis and insight he has to offer. It’s questionable whether the capitalist system would allow a film with an eloquent revolutionary voice to be widely distributed. (It is, alas, even more questionable whether the present-day ghetto of inward-looking radical politics could even produce such a film.)

But I digress; so much for film’s weak points. In its favor, the film really does pull few punches when naming the guilty parties. The Democratic Party establishment gets a well-deserved roasting for its abandonment of the working class and its pandering to corporate interests. Hillary Clinton gets portrayed as the out-of-touch Establishment figure with shockingly poor judgment that the actually is. And, to reiterate, the film’s exposé about Flint is worth the price of admission alone.

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