[Marxism] The phenomenon of Fahrenheit 9/11

Gary 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 
corporate institutions.

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 
dynasty.

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 
effects?

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 
country.

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

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