[Marxism] New Yorker Magazine profiles Michael Moore

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 16 09:53:03 MDT 2004


New Yorker Magazine, Issue of 2004-02-16 and 23
THE POPULIST
by LARISSA MACFARQUHAR
Michael Moore can make you cry.

Michael Moore is a comedian and a populist, and he is well suited to 
both missions. What sort of comedian would he be, after all, without the 
Big Mac belly, without the famous duck waddle? A clever one, perhaps, a 
witty one who keeps his cool, but not an icon. Not Michael Moore. His 
bulk is essential, as he knows—he’s always referring to it. “You don’t 
want this rolling around in the White House,” he says, opening his arms 
and exposing his stomach, when someone suggests—as people frequently 
do—that he run for president. Al Franken and Jon Stewart say funny 
things, but Moore is funny, in quite a different way. Michael Moore, the 
fat man, is the big guy in his baseball cap, the way Charlie Chaplin was 
the little tramp in his bowler (although in Chaplin’s day the plutocrat 
was fat and the poor man was tiny). Likewise, what sort of populist 
would Moore be without the sloppy clothes? He understands his costume is 
crucial. He wore a tuxedo to receive an Emmy for his show “TV Nation,” 
but he kept on his baseball cap.

Comedy and populism combine in Moore to produce a political force of 
especial potency, ridicule knocking down what anger leaves upright. They 
work together beautifully because they follow the same laws. The 
populist champions the man who works with his hands, with real stuff, 
against the one who works with his head. Populists are not 
revolutionaries—even left-wing ones are conservative, in the literal 
sense of the word. Revolution is an abstraction, an intellectual idea; 
populists want to return to roots, to basic values, to solid things—to 
the way things were before intellectuals and financiers corrupted them. 
Comedy, too, is on the side of the body and against the soul. It mocks 
hubris, affectation, and hypocrisy, but it also mocks originality, 
utopianism, and earnestness. It takes the point of view that, in the 
end, we are just bodies, eating, defecating, and copulating, and 
everything else is pretentious rubbish.

Moore has been a hero to comedians for fifteen years, ever since “Roger 
& Me”—his brilliant comic documentary about the decline of Flint, 
Michigan, the auto town where he grew up—came out, in 1989. Who could 
forget the bunny lady, fallen on hard times and selling rabbits for 
“pets or meat”? Or all the dumb, cheerful people—Miss Michigan; Anita 
Bryant—saying dumb, cheerful things in the face of Flint’s disaster? 
Most affecting of all was Moore himself, shot often from the back, 
shuffling, feet splayed, to knock on doors, or from the side, trying not 
to laugh when somebody said something amazing, and talking through the 
film with his Michigan accent and his voice too affectionate to be 
sarcastic, too forceful to be merely funny. But in the past three years 
Moore has become a political hero as well. People revere him. After he 
gave a speech at last year’s Oscars denouncing President Bush and the 
Iraq war, he received many letters from soldiers thanking him for 
opening their eyes to the lies of the government and for confirming 
their view that they are fighting for a country where dissent is 
embraced. “Mr. Moore, you are America,” one wrote. One fan said that she 
had a spare ticket to a recent sold-out Moore talk in California, which 
she could have hawked for a fortune, but she didn’t, because making a 
profit from a Michael Moore event just wouldn’t be right. “Michael’s not 
only funny—he can make you cry,” Danny Goldberg, the chairman of Artemis 
Records and a friend of Moore’s, says. “He’s very cognizant of the 
broadest possible audience, and emotion is vital if you’re going to have 
a politics that speaks to most people. Al Franken’s so clever, and Jon 
Stewart’s so good at what he does, but Michael has an ability to touch 
people’s hearts that neither of them has. He’s like a great blues singer.”

Moore is of the left, but it is also important to him that he is 
mainstream. He wants to change things, and he knows that to do so he 
must prove to his followers that they are the majority. He always 
emphasizes that most Americans agree with him on matters like gay 
rights, abortion rights, the environment, and the war in Iraq, whether 
or not they call themselves liberals. He tells people to vote. He tells 
them to take over their local Democratic party—so few people go to the 
meetings, he says, that if you show up with fifteen friends you can 
institute a Green agenda without much opposition. He asks people to 
spend a weekend next October in one of the congressional districts where 
the race promises to be close, handing out flyers. Last month, he 
endorsed Wesley Clark, ignoring howls of protest from pacifist fans, and 
despite having compared the bombing of Kosovo, which Clark commanded, to 
the shootings at Columbine High School, in Colorado. It was a pragmatic 
decision—a reaction, perhaps, to the consequences of his support for 
Ralph Nader in 2000. “We’ll get more people with that attitude than the 
attitude of ‘Oh, Clark voted for Reagan,’” Moore says, sitting in his 
office in midtown Manhattan. “Aarrgggh! It’s like, yeah? What’s your 
point? So did the majority of Americans. What are you saying to 
them—‘Don’t come in our tent’?”

full: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/content/?040628fr_archive01

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