Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Clown has No Clothes

[posted by Callimachus]

Check out this extensive review of Jesse Larner's "Forgive Us Our Spins: Michael Moore and the Future of the Left," which is that rarest of beasts, an attempt to distance the American Left from its Clown Prince.

Melding biography with political history and cultural critique, Larner sets out to determine the significance of Michael Moore 'in a reactionary age' (p. 7), when 'the American news media have been increasingly dominated … by the views of the extreme right' (p. 5). Invoking 'the democratic left's glory days of Partisan Review and Dissent' (p. 6) and brandishing book-jacket endorsements from Mattson and George Monbiot, Larner contends that 'Moore is a disturbing public leader for many liberals'. He admits from the outset that Moore 'has brought important issues of social justice to the attention of people who would otherwise not know of them' (p. 7). But in Larner's view, the Moore franchise – the instant, universal association of Moore with progressive causes – does the left more harm than good.

People I know online who want to talk seriously about their anti-Bush stances often urge me to ignore Moore, to pretend he doesn't exist, to see him as a less-than-marginal figure in their camp. That doesn't jibe with reality. I know an awful lot of people who don't blog, but who have seen Moore's movies, read his books, and been deeply swayed by them. And they vote his way and mouth his anecdotes in justification of it. I work with such people. I'm related by blood to such people. In the liberal world around me he's the galvanizing force.

Furthermore, he represents something bigger than left and right; he's figured out how to jam a deeply biased political razor blade into the Halloween candy of pop culture media. Larner's trenchant summation: Moore "exhibits both a solid show-business instinct and a cold, hard core of relentless ideology, an attitude that, as with Leninists of yore, will always put the cause of increasing human well-being before the well-being of any particular human, and will put the meta-truth before the actual, immediate truth of any situation."

So here's hoping this book will reach enough of the right readers. It seems, based on the review, Larner does a fine job of applying pinpricks to the bloated egoism and hypocrisy of its subject. For instance, even a veteran Moore-basher like me didn't know this story; that is, I knew the two parts of it (I believe I was one of the first bloggers to link to the Hentoff piece), but I didn't realize it was the same librarian:

Moore is the first to decry censorship when it happens to him. In the introduction to "Dude, Where's My Country?" he recalls how Regan Books withheld his previous title, "Stupid White Men," in the aftermath of 9/11, and even insisted on a substantial rewrite. Moore takes pains to laud one lone librarian, Ann Sparanese, who created a firestorm of bad publicity for Regan, pressuring them to release the book as is. This is the same Ann Sparanese who received a drubbing from Nat Hentoff in the pages of The Village Voice in January 2004. The topic was Cuba – specifically, a wave of repression that swept the island in the spring of 2003. Even Chomsky and Zinn denounced these abuses, but not Sparanese. She went to bat for the Castro regime, stooping so low as to put the word 'crackdown' in quotes. Moore, of course, isn't responsible for Sparanese's conduct, which occurred after his book was written. But clearly the indulgence of left authoritarianism typified by the Mother Jones affair persists in some quarters. Moore's flyleaf dedication to Sparanese – which reads, 'one simple act, a voice was saved/are there a million more of her/to save us all' – is simply embarrassing.

Or this one:

Moore's worst infraction, however, was also the most intimate. There's a scene that depicts a "Great Gatsby" party, ostensibly an arrogant display of wealth in the face of Flint's misery. It was actually an annual fundraiser for a battered women's shelter, something Moore had supported in his "Flint Voice" editorials. One guest, a middle-aged man, speaks about Flint's many virtues and comes across as a heartless, privileged ass. Moore does not disclose that this man, Larry Stecco, is an acquaintance of his, a lawyer who had given money to the "Flint Voice" and performed pro bono civil rights work in the area. Stecco is now a judge, and Larner met with him. We learn that Moore asked Stecco a misleading question to elicit the desired quote. Stecco sued Moore and won; he tells Larner that the black actors paid to pose as "human statues" at the Gatsby event sued as well (Moore chose not to film the white actors). In a commentary for the "Roger & Me" DVD recorded in 2003, Moore not only fails to mention any of this – he continues to badmouth Stecco as part of "the other side." If Moore is this dishonest toward a friend at a tiny local event, he can scarcely be trusted on matters of world-historical scope.

Emphasis added.

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