Want a good laugh? Try Michael Moore’s autobiography, the book with a cover photo of him on a tricycle, Here Comes Trouble subtitled stories from my life. I kept laughing out loud in the Tim Hortons donut shop. People are queer: you can look depressed or keep silently crying in a cafe, and people will simply turn their chairs to face away from you. But if you keep laughing out loud? Permit me to exaggerate: Then as you laugh they look right at you, looking positively homicidal. Don’t know why; just know I’ll never get a job as a psychologist, because I “just don’t get it.”
Up here in Canada, not as many people as in the U.S. have heard of filmmaker Michael Moore. Down in the States though, he’s as well known as the Dixie Chicks: At first people hated him, now people—especially in the armed forces—say he was right about the public being lied to by their own president, (Can you say, “weapons of mass destruction?”) and some people love him. In fact, Moore has a book out of letters that servicemen, living and dead, and their surviving families have sent him. Very touching. Other people still hate him, and so Moore is guarded by a team of ex-Navy SEALS. His problem? He was the first to speak out—and he did so on stage as he received an Oscar. (Bowling for Columbine)
But Moore has learned something about types of people. As I understand it, he found that liberal types would use their freedom of speech to offer a different point of view, or help you change your mind. The right wing? They don’t want their freedom of speech—they just want to shut you up. Through violence. I confess Moore’s book leads me to feel anger towards certain people; more on that later.
Moore is the only one I know who can make SEALs throwing themselves in the way of an attack sound funny—because even a wounded SEAL, on his way to the hospital, can first make a stupid hater wish he hadn’t indulged in his silly hatred that day. But the post-Oscar “hate stuff” is only in the first 30 pages, that’s all, and then it’s flashback to boyhood years, and hundreds of pages of the blessed days when Moore wasn’t important enough to be hated. But he sure had a hilarious life. Moore’s the sort of citizen Thomas Jefferson would have liked, for he gets involved in his school and community and nation. And he tells stories. Now he’s known for his films, including…
Roger and Me
(In case you’re a U.S. lawyer reading this, you do know “including” does not mean, “limited to,” right? I only ask because some of your fellow-lawyers ain’t too bright—they have to have it spelled out for them)
Moore was previously a starving capitalist newspaper editor and journalist. Now Moore has successful movies out there, and, as he puts it, at last he no longer has to worry about having a roof over his head. How nice. But even before his success, I’m sure Moore never had to worry about where his next beer was coming from—I’d buy him drinks all night just to hear his funny stories.
So funny. I’ve heard of a clown being sad inside, but not Moore: he’s angry inside. He grew up in the very heartland of General Motors, in Flint Michigan—the place that’s in the news just now for having all that lead in their drinking water. As for GM: The corporation couldn’t give two cares about it’s own hometown. No wonder Moore’s angry. The other media merely repeated the big motor company line; the media toed the line, afraid to step on any toes. If Moore wanted to hear the truth, in his own hometown, then he would need to start up his own newspaper. And he did. And he got singer-songwriter Harry Chapin (Cat’s in the cradle, I’m at WOLD, Sing me a song, you’re the piano man) to do yearly benefit concerts, because it’s so hard, in a company town, to get anyone to place any advertisements in a newspaper willing to tell the truth.
Do you know what a Nazi death camp guard once said? He said—no, I’ll get to him later; I don’t want to get heated up just now… …I’d rather think about Moore getting hands-on experience in filmmaking from a gifted man who was related to President Bush—but didn’t tell Moore. Michael Moore only found out by noticing him on TV, at the Bush presidential inauguration, standing with the Bush family wearing a business suit. I had to laugh, you can’t make this stuff up!
So there was Moore, editing his newspaper, The Flint Voice. Quote:
“We did not do cover stories on the “Ten Best Ice Cream Places in Town” or “Twenty Day Trips You’ll Want to take.” Our journalism was hard-hitting and relentless…. We chronicled how General Motors was taking tax abatement money and using it to build factories in Mexico. One night, we caught them literally dismantling an entire GM assembly line, loading on a train, and sending it off to be shipped to a place called China.” (Page 308)
But many in Flint could not believe this. Nice popular GM wouldn’t kill jobs in GM’s own town, would they?
“ “Michael Moore is nuts!” I suffered much derision for exposing such goings-on.”
I suppose the people who had already lost their innocence about the armed forces (Vietnam) and politicians (Watergate) and the military-industrial complex (Vietnam again) weren’t ready yet to lose their innocence about the One Per Cent. (Not back in those days)
I remember being in the military community back during the days of long hair and Vietnam. We knew about communist atrocities, and we knew about society paying a heavy price for being invested in paperwork—as officers put paperwork above winning in Vietnam—and then we watched as young civilians weren’t ready to hear anything bad about North Vietnamese communists, not until years after the war when it was time for shows like Apocalypse Now. Too goddam late.
Back when I had short hair I was briefly with the Canadian Airborne regiment, and maybe if I had been with the US Navy I would have been with the SEALs, and later guarding Michael Moore, mainly because, although I’m not always a man of bravery or initiative myself, I get a kick out of being around those who are. And I’m fairly sure if I had been in Flint I would have found my way to be on Moore’s idealistic newspaper staff. Just to be around those guys.
To me Moore’s comic life represents the average man, something readers can identify with. My own life is instructive, from my years hanging around the campus newspaper.
The closest I ever got to “pulling a Moore” was during my volunteer journalist years. My campus had a big rock sticking up out of the ground from the glacier age, a rock big like an iceberg, nine-tenths underground, way too big to move. So the powers that be, back when the campus was still fresh foundations and mud, had left it there—This probably saved some outside wall from some day being a fire hazard, having years and years of coats of paint from student announcements. “The rock” was a well-regarded landmark—and no one ever set fire to the layers of paint. And then early one morning, as the birds twittered, I walked onto campus and found somebody must have driven up a cement truck during the night. I rushed into the student newspaper, outraged, “They’ve blocked the rock!”
Of course no one would admit “who dunnit.” Later that day I waltzed on over to the engineering building, put on my best engineer smile, and was gleefully led into the darkroom to see reels of photographic evidence. This took no bravery, naturally, as I was never in any danger. This was in Canada: here neither engineers nor hulking varsity athletes pose any danger. It’s different, I know, in the U.S. movies.
Back at the newspaper office, week in and week out, as we hung out, we activists and scholars would never talk of literary classics, but of popular culture and Star Trek. Do you remember Starfleet’s Prime Directive? The Prime Directive (in capital letters like that) states no alien culture is to be tampered with by being given information about, say, a democratic constitution—in fact, you couldn’t even legally tell unknowing aliens that up among the stars was a confederation of peace, with starships.
A few years before Star Trek first aired, a Canadian wrote a novel where some adolescents are put to a test: A superior alien places them, suitably disguised, like spies, on an unsuspecting planet. Will they unwittingly break that directive? A directive the teenagers haven’t even been told about? The young adults pass the test. The superior alien congratulates them, and then explains the Prime Directive. The teens ask, “But what if we had blabbed?” The wise alien was never worried. He explains that if a culture gets blindingly bright revolutionary information it isn’t ready for … then it forgets quickly. Like me forgetting Michael Moore’s discovery.
I first read Michael Moore, laughing out loud, in a donut shop, near the thrift store where I had just I bought his book, in North East Calgary in the summer of 2015. After Christmas I started to de-clutter. Finding Moore’s book, I read it once more, laughing out loud again, this time in a South East Calgary donut shop in February of 2016. But then—specter of the Prime Directive! I had forgotten the most horrible part of all … —I stopped laughing— For the first time in decades I heard again a Nazi camp guard’s voice: “You’ll never get out of here. And even if you do, nobody will believe you.”
I could scarcely believe what I was reading, I could scarcely believe I had forgotten it. All I can say in my own defense is nobody else is ready to remember it either: Moore’s book has been out since 2011.
I am sorry.
I only had to go across campus to investigate the rock, but Moore, after getting some of Ralph Nader’s boys to pay his way, had to go across the border to Mexico, for a conspiracy meeting, in a place where U.S. laws don’t apply. That was brave. If he had been caught making his discovery, then don’t you think the Mexicans would have, just like John Kerry, helped American imperialism, helped by “suppressing” Moore? A colleague of mine, with two passports, always uses his Canadian one, not his Mexican one, when passing through Mexican customs. It’s safer.
First Moore spent a whole week’s worth of his unemployment check, with his wife’s help, buying business holiday clothes. His “cover” was that he was the owner of a small auto parts company—as a Flint boy, he could pull it off. All around him were big industry executives. And the Commerce Department— no, wait. Excuse me, dear reader, I have to say this to you first: A week after you read this horror, you will have forgotten it. I just want tell you, right now, that I understand and I forgive you. Quote:
“I signed up as the head of my small manufacturing company (“less than 50 employees”) and headed off to Mexico to learn how I could throw them all out of work.” (Page 387)
“I walked onto the penthouse floor of the Excelaris Resort, high above the beautiful golden beaches of Acapulco. The sign over the door read: WORK MAKES EVERYTHING POSSIBLE (for you German speakers, that’s Albrecht Acht Alles Moglich!).
“I overheard two men talking about how the Commerce Department had to be “not so public” in its support of this weekend as apparently some democratic union-sympathizers in Congress found a clause in some “ridiculous law” stating that it was illegal—illegal!—for U.S. tax dollars to go toward anything that promotes jobs being moved overseas. So Commerce was here, just not officially, leaving it to the Chamber of Commerce and the Mexican firm of Montenegro, Saatchi and Saatchi to be in charge of running the show.
“The room was filled with bankers, executives, entrepreneurs, and consultants—all of whom were primed to help those of us who had come to Acapulco to learn how to close up shop in the U.S. and move our operations south of the border….” (Page 388)
As Moore points out, the government forgot we are all connected: That is, if you delete the automotive-making middle class in Flint then there’s a gap, and they can’t buy non-automotive goods being made by other middle class workers from surrounding parts of America: And the dominoes fall into the gap, and keep right on falling. Maybe the One Per Cent would still keep their money here on this continent, but America is becoming like a walled city protected not by brick but by a surrounding wooden wall, a wall filled with termites inside, going unreported, as the middle class is being hollowed out. One day the walls fall down, a cold wind blows… and we are exposed to discovering we have now become a service economy, coast to coast. Such a cold wind as our grandchildren try to use the meager proceeds of a service economy for paying off the deficit we left to them.
Well dear reader, maybe Americans don’t deserve this cold fate. But then again, as my uncle said grimly as we bombed Berlin, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” One good thing— Every cloud has a silver lining: In these darkening times, Michael Moore can make me laugh and laugh.
~For last week’s essay I mentioned how President Obama employs John Kerry for imperialism. This week I must add that he also employs the man who was the keynote speaker for the secret weekend in Acapulco: Obama has put Jim Kolbe on his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. Suddenly I remember what many men and women were saying in Berlin just before my dad’s generation started bombing and strafing them, “Der Leader is a good man, and it’s only the people around him who are bad.”
~Sometimes my sense of ha-ha deserts me. Totally. I feel like giving up, retreating from the honorific “citizen,” and just going off to Mexico where I can just spend my time in Margaretville, looking for my lost shaker of salt. But if I did… then I wouldn’t have guys like Michael Moore and his wife as my peers.