January 4, 2003 -- Why are there so many more murders in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries? A lot of people have a lot of answers to that question. Michael Moore, director of "Roger and Me," takes his shot at the question in his film, "Bowling for Columbine." Moore's argument is, surprisingly, that it isn't guns, it isn't violence in the movies, it isn't violent video games or violent lyrics in songs. None of these favorite whipping boys is to blame, Moore argues in his film. He says you might as well blame bowling, which is what the two gunmen were reportedly doing on the morning of the massacre.
Moore takes his cameras to Canada to address an interesting puzzle. Canada is a country, like the U.S. where gun ownership is common. There are 30 million people with seven million guns in the country, Moore says. The kids there listen to the same violent songs, play the same violent video games and watch the same violent movies as their counterparts in the states. The difference is, that there are very few murders in Canada, just a tiny fraction of the thousands of killings in the states. Moore makes similar arguments for Japan, England and Germany. If it isn't guns, movies, songs, etc., what is it?
Moore argues the reason we are so violent in this country is that we live in a climate of fear generated by an overemphasis of news coverage of murders and other violent crimes. The white population's fear of blacks and other minorities is fueled by news and by television shows like "Cops" which show lots of blacks and hispanics being arrested for crimes. News coverage is slanted toward generating fear, Moore argues, not just fear of violent crimes, but fear of lots of other supposed hazards, like razor blades in apples given as Halloween treats (a myth, Moore says) and killer bees that never showed up. In a very funny cartoon sequence, Moore argues that fear of blacks dates back to slavery when slave owners feared a rebellion by slaves. He suggests it is no coincidence that the National Rifle Association was founded the same year as the Ku Klux Klan. To prove his point about people in the U.S. being a bunch of chickens, Moore goes around trying doors in homes in Toronto. It turns out most people don't bother to lock their doors in Canada. They are not afraid like people in the U.S. are, even though there is crime there. The television news in Canada, unlike the U.S. is not focused as much on crime, he says.
Of course the media has long been a whipping boy for many societal ills, so it is no surprise that Moore is advancing this theory. What is surprising is that he doesn't blame guns. Moore, a lifetime NRA member, does have some tough questions for NRA president Charlton Heston, who ducks out of Moore's ambush interview when questioned about his sensitivity to the feelings of grieving communities when Heston led pro-gun rallies in the Denver area after the massacre at nearby Columbine High School, and another rally in Michigan soon after one six-year-old shot another six-year-old child to death in school. Another interesting on-the-spot segment shows Moore getting a gun at a bank which gives away guns to people who open accounts. "Do you really think it is a good idea to give away guns at a bank?" he asks. Another publicity stunt results in a company policy change when Moore leads two Columbine shooting victims, and a camera crew, to K-Mart headquarters to "return" the K-Mart bullets still lodged in their bodies.
While the movie is more propaganda than it is a documentary, and Moore does like to grandstand, it is an entertaining and thought-provoking film. There is nobody else out there like Moore, projecting this kind of message. Moore is an old-fashioned, pro-union liberal. He does not worship at the altar of capitalism, as do most conservatives. He is very suspicious of the motives of multinational corporations (which own Hollywood and the news media) and he shows this by repeatedly trying to link the Columbine shootings to the military industrial complex and the proposed war on Iraq.
Moore argues that America's love affair with violence includes all the overthrown governments engineered by the CIA, including the overthrow of the Iranian and Chilean governments, to name two. Moore also makes a link between the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and that city's biggest employer, Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the country. His argument seems to be that if the nation solves its problems with violence, can you blame its citizens for doing the same? We are a nation which not only loves guns, but we embrace both the death penalty and abortion, as well as war, and we are well on the way to embracing euthanasia. You can't get much more violent than that. But is all this violence really because of fear, or is it hatred or simple greed? It seems to me a good deal of murders occur not because of fear, but because the shooter thinks it is the quickest way to rob a convenience store, or the best way to wipe out a rival gang or drug dealer, or to kill someone the shooter doesn't like. That's not exactly fear.
One of the more fascinating interviews in the film is with James Nichols, brother Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols. James Nichols not only sleeps with a gun under his pillow, but he clowns around by pointing the pistol at his head. This is one scary dude. Moore also interviews Michigan Militia members and many other people in the film. While the film, like "American Beauty" tells liberals exactly what they want to hear, its various theses are full of holes. The theory about the cause of violence in the U.S. remains not only unproven, but probably unprovable in this kind of superficial treatment. The film, like "JFK," may not be very believable on close examination, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking. Moore is no journalist, but he knows how to stage an entertaining confrontation. Nobody is better at this kind of entertainment as well as Michael Moore (except maybe Oliver Stone). This film rates a B.
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