Michael Moore, Polemics and the Documentary

I spare not the rod in these pages for America’s love of interventionism or for our poorly-run Department of Defense. That said, I have little time for Michael Moore’s most recent cinematic screed. He and I come from different political biases, but I recognize that Moore started out making worthwhile documentaries.

Sadly, he has now gone from clever gadfly to raging elephant polemicist becoming for documentary filmmaking what The Daily Worker is to journalism. With the possible exceptions of Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, there is nothing in his films that is not better and more intelligently expressed in Mother Jones or Harper’s. You may think differently, but Moore has produced little if anything of value in at least a decade.

Far more troubling, we are losing – or have lost – the ability to distinguish between expository filmmaking and advocacy disguised as long-form journalism. There is nothing wrong with film as advocacy, but to classify a political polemic in the same category as educational fare or direct reportage is to whitewash the former.

This is not a left vs. right issue. The right benefits as much from this obfuscation as the left, with films like Sick and Sicker, Fire from the Heartland, Free to Choose, and Waiting for Superman. Advocacy films need to come with a warning label, lest we allow the entire genre to go the way of balanced journalism in America.

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