[Marxism] The phenomenon of Fahrenheit 9/11
gary at wwpublish.com
Mon Aug 2 14:57:20 MDT 2004
The phenomenon of Fahrenheit 9/11
After countless imperialist wars, is a sea-change coming?
By Deirdre Griswold
Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" has made it out of the art theaters
and become a huge box office hit, even though the Disney Corp. did
everything it could to torpedo the documentary. This alone makes it
important to evaluate the film and try to understand why it has
penetrated what is commonly called "popular culture"--which 99 percent
of the time is in a politically conservative mold shaped by giant
Across the country--and, indeed, in much of the world--this film seems
to have fallen like rain on a cultural landscape thirsting for the
unvarnished truth. People are clamoring to see it--from Joplin, Mo., to
Crawford, Texas, to cities in Australia and U.S. Army bases in South Korea.
Go to Google News and type in "Fah ren heit 9/11" and you will read
reviews from hundreds of small-town newspapers across the U.S. Most
report a standing ovation and cheers when the film ends. Audiences laugh
and cry, and few are unmoved.
In Joplin, Mo., 60 people signed a petition to their local theater
demanding it be shown. In Crawford, Texas--where Bush has his
"ranch"--nearby movie houses are afraid to offend the don, but local
peace activists intend to show it outdoors, on the side of a barn. They
don't have a building large enough for the expected crowd.
Audiences go far beyond those already opposed to Bush and the war. Dale
Earn hardt Jr., the NASCAR racing-car icon, took his crew to see the
movie. It is especially popular in towns near military bases.
Republicans are being offered free admission in some areas to test their
faith in Bush.
The last time a cultural work evoked this much interest and passion from
the "silent majority" in the U.S. was the 1850s, when Harriet Beecher
Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published and soon began outselling the
Bible. In 1856, 2 million copies of this anti-slavery novel were sold.
Families gathered at the end of the day on farms and in cities in the
U.S. North, reading it aloud and weeping. The book was banned in the
South--just to have a copy was illegal. It was soon translated into 13
languages. Its impact on the people of Britain is said to have helped
deter London from entering the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.
As with Moore's film, one can be highly critical of "Uncle Tom's
Cabin"--especially today, when its stereotypes of African Americans and
women, as well as its religiosity and sentimentality, are so jarring.
But africaonline.com makes this very thoughtful and objective summary of
the book: "The cry that Stowe had hoped to sound about African Americans
was indeed heard, and while Uncle Tom's Cabin did perpetuate cultural
stereotypes of African Americans, it also turned the tide of public
opinion against slavery in the United States."
When he finally met her in 1862, Pre sident Abraham Lincoln is reported
to have called Stowe "the little woman who wrote the book that started
this great war." Of course, the freedom struggle of Black people over
generations is completely ignored in Lincoln's patronizing phrase.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is also stamped with many of the prejudices and
misconceptions of the present day. Like Stowe's book, it too seems to
address itself primarily to whites and be most interested in their
consciousness. We can safely assume that Michael Moore, also author of
the highly successful book "Stupid White Men," knowingly panders to
prejudices to get his message across to this audience. He recently wrote
an opinion piece urging the anti-war movement to wrap itself in the U.S.
flag: "For too long now we have abandoned our flag to those who see it
as a symbol of war and dominance, as a way to crush dissent at home."
("The Patriot's Act," Los Angeles Times, July 4)
But the flag IS the symbol of the U.S. state. And the U.S. IS an
imperialist country that has run roughshod over much of the world.
That's why burning the U.S. flag has become commonplace. Nothing short
of a revolution to overturn capitalist exploitation and oppression will
change this--and the revolution will have its own flag.
Perhaps the film's biggest flaw is in how it treats the relationship
between the Bushes and the Saudi rulers. It presents a real "wag the
dog" interpretation of history. The implication is that the Saudis, with
their oil wealth, run U.S. foreign policy--especially through the Bush
family. Of course, this is very popular among millions of people who are
hearing of the Bush-Saudi connection for the first time. They have been
manipulated to see Iraqis as the "evil ones" responsible for 9/11, the
Iraq war and lots more. Now, absolutely shocked to hear that Iraqis
weren't responsible for all the deaths and suffering, they can angrily
blame other Arabs, the Saudis--as manipulators of the Bush political
This explanation may help John Kerry get elected in November, but it
doesn't enlighten people about the wiles of the imperialists. The U.S.
population has much to learn about how the super-rich right here--not in
Saudi Arabia--are adept at creat ing governments and then pretending not
to control them. Which, of course, is going on in Iraq right now. It's
the immen sely powerful and wealthy U.S. ruling class, with some help
from its British allies, that runs Saudi Arabia, and not vice versa.
But, these and other flaws aside, Moore's film has touched a nerve that
had seemed to be dead. For, underneath all the details, isn't the real
issue the fact that ordinary working people here and in other
imperialist countries, who have for the most part gone along with
imperialism's conquests, are growing ever more sick and horrified at its
Back in Stowe's time, Northern whites were finding they couldn't escape
the horrors of chattel slavery. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,
African Americans who had managed to escape from the South, some helped
by the Underground Rail way, were pursued and dragged back to a ghastly
fate. Battles erupted in Northern cities as the Abolitionists, some
former slaves themselves, fought the bounty hunters in the streets.
At the same time, slavery was a potent threat to free workers trying to
earn a living wage. In his famous trilogy "Capital," Karl Marx addressed
these workers with the warning: "Labor with a white skin cannot
emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded." The
workers' organizations in Europe that he helped found strongly supported
the anti-slavery struggle in the United States, and some of his
followers even came here to fight for the Union in the Civil War.
Today, workers in the developed imperialist countries find that, in this
now thoroughly global economy, they have to compete with the starvation
wages prevalent in countries caught in the coils of modern-day slavery:
capitalist imperialism, the global rule of the huge banks and corporations.
At the same time, those here fighting hardest against sweatshops and
poverty wages often come from countries where intol erable conditions
created by these same corporations are forcing millions to emigrate.
They are today's fugitive slaves, and they are now living all over this
All this is going on while imperialist wars are raging in Iraq and
Afghanistan and young workers here have to choose bet ween dead-end
jobs, prison or the military.
At some point, there must be a sea-change in the attitude of the more
conservatized workers here, a realization that their enemies are not
abroad but are in the boardrooms and mansions at home. Moore's film may
not draw out all the right lessons, but its immense popularity shows
that anger and distrust of the rich and powerful, personified by the
Bush-Cheney gang, are reaching the boiling point.
The millionaires are starting to realize this, too, and are now throwing
their money at Kerry. But since he'd be the richest president ever, and
one pledged to continuing and even escalating the occupation of Iraq,
his election would be unlikely to do more than delay the inevitable: an
all-out revolt against the modern-day slavemasters.
Reprinted from the July 29, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper
(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011; via email: ww at wwpublish.com. Subscribe
wwnews-on at wwpublish.com. Unsubscribe wwnews-off at wwpublish.com. Support
independent news http://www.workers.org/orders/donate.php)
More information about the Marxism