Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Here's The Hole in the Heart of American Politics

Right at the moment in American history when the power of the big media corporations was being seriously undermined by new forms of media -- everything from political-commentary blogs to easily-produced film documentaries -- the American left had no compelling narrative to offer.

It was crippled by its retreat into identity politics and the postmodernist acceptance of a world where there is no universal truth, where facts don't matter, everything is relative, and all reality is contingent and constructed. Just like a Michael Moore documentary.

In a world like that, there's little use for proper journalism. In a world like that, documentaries have little value except to entrench pre-ordained narratives and affirm political identities. Advocacy journalism becomes the work of telling your side what it wants to hear instead of what it might actually need to know.

It's all perfectly democratic, of course, and tailor-made for the marketplace. You get to pick the propaganda you want. You'll find demagogues like Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly down one aisle, and the equally fatuous and shrill Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore and Rosie O'Donnell down the other aisle. Take your pick.

That's from my Tyee column today. Michael Moore fans won't like it.

Further reading for you:

Jesse Larner's Forgive Us Our Spins: Michael Moore and the Future of the Left. Also The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't be Jammed, by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter.

And make sure you take in a real documentary: Manufacturing Dissent, byDebbie Melnyk and Rick Caine.

20 Comments:

Blogger thebookmistress said...

I could also suggest Deborah Tannen's "The Argument Culture".

6:39 AM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Terry: "Michael Moore deconstructed":
http://www.damianpenny.com/archived/009278.html

Good on you. Amazing what using the mind will do. Pity more don't in Canada, whatever their Weltanschauung.

Not directly relevant (except in terms of the approach of the subject)--you might look at this post by Damian Brooks at "The Torch":

"Ideology and ignorance, a toxic mix"
http://toyoufromfailinghands.blogspot.com/2007/04/ideology-and-ignorance-toxic-mix.html

Mark
Ottawa

2:41 PM  
Blogger richard said...

I recently read -- and greatly enjoyed -- The Rebel Sell, so I'll look up your other reference.

I also greatly enjoyed Waiting for the Macaws, which I picked up on the ferry to Vancouver and am recommending to everyone I know.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Thanks, folks. And thanks for your kind review Richard - I read it on your book blog (we should swap notes on teaching sometime).

One thing I'll never figure out is why the comments to my pieces on Tyee tend to run on for several thousands of words and rarely does a sensible criticism emerge. Sometimes I get an email or a call with an intelligent objection, or exception, or criticism, but the Tyee comments box, with some noteable exceptions of course, is an utter wasteland.

These two paragraphs really got them going:

"You can present Canada as a kind of peaceable socialist kingdom, for instance, where people have a great health care system and leave their doors unlocked and hardly ever shoot each other, despite owning more guns than Americans do. Self-loathing leftish Americans eat this stuff up. So do self-righteous Canadians.

"But to maintain this fiction, you have to carefully ignore the fact that Canadians tend to own long-gun hunting rifles, not handguns, which are banned in Canada but are ubiquitous in America. . ."

More than one genius rushed to Moore's defence by taking me on for inaccurately claiming that Canadians own more guns than Americans - when that wasn't my claim. That was Moore's.

And I see I'm a "retard" for saying handguns in Canada are banned. Well, they are (except the old ones with long barrels).
Conventional short-barrel handguns as well as .25 and .32 calibre handguns are prohibited in this country.

I also see that I'm a racist, I'm bigoted against Muslims, non-Christians and non-white people (!), and I'm "right-wing." That's what happens on Tyee if you harbour fairly conventional left-wing aversions to lying demagogues, loud-mouthed political illiterates, suicide bombers and millionaire-celebrity windbags. They'll call you a right-wing bigot.

Brilliant.

But I'm jet-lagged, and too tired to post, so I thought I'd just say thanks to you here and the few reasonable people on Tyee (that means you, too, Dirk) who had something coherent to say.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

It is a good piece Terry, sad to see that so many on the Tyee still defend Moore, but not surprising. There is a void that needs to be filled, some call it a God shaped hole. Call it what you will, but for some, your article on Moore et al represents a form of sacrilege and is I suspect seen as a direct threat to their identity.

4:28 AM  
Blogger peter said...

hello Terry? its 2002--your ideas are calling...going after Micheal Moore at this VERY late date is just another excuse to pointlessly ratchet up neocon bonafides or does he have a new movie out I don't know about? Has he been mentioned in the American mass media at all in the past couple of years? Perhaps you're auditioning for The Post? (you clearly have nothing but contempt for the Tyee's audience)...but petulant selective anger at the sins of "the left" is no substitute for original thought. Nothing you said about Moore hasn't been said better from the left many many times, and if your view of the left is confined to people who take (or ever took) Moore seriously, you should get out more. Maybe Hitch & Wolfowitz will let you ride on their yacht...

10:18 AM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Peter the respondents to this article on the Tyee who slag Terry with petulant ad hominem attacks are deserving of contempt. As you have pointed out some on the left have been critical of Moore, however, it is painfully evident that all too many have chosen to ignore these criticisms in order to elevate Moore as yet another in a long line of fraudulent standard bearers. While the right has its share of shills the left seems to need this type more and goes out of its way to protect them. For instance far more criticism of Ann Coulter came from the right during her recent dust up than I have ever seen levelled at Moore by the left. Few regard Coulter as more than a carnival barker but she does make for good television.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Bob Broughton said...

Uh, "Roger and Me" DOES show Moore interviewing Roger Smith.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Uh, Bob: The closest you see Moore interviewing Smith in Roger and Me is at Smith's annual Christmas meeting, where Moore pitches a couple of questions from the floor, Smith evades them and gives Moore the brush-off.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Peter: Harbouring a healthy contempt for bullshit does not make one a "neocon", and if you had taken the trouble to read my column you wouldn't be asking why I'm "going after Micheal Moore at this VERY late date" or asking "does he have a new movie out I don't know about."

There is a new movie out. There is a new book out.

The movie (by Melnyk and Caine) takes a left-progressive perspective on Moore and they conclude that he is a dangerous bullshit artist. Since my Tyee column appeared, their documentary has had a run at a major Toronto festival and there have been dozens of articles and reviews about it in a variety of English-language newspapers and magazines.

The new book (by Jesse Larner) is also written from a left-progressive perspective and explores the Moore phenomenon in greater detail, demonstrating the damage he has done to American politics.

I happen to share Larner's politics, and Melnyk's, and Caine's. We are not "neocons."

9:24 AM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Good smackdown Terry, can't wait for the evisceration of "Sicko". Oh and by the way - Funny you don't look Neocon.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Hey, Cat: Indeed. I forgot what these people often mean when they say "neocon."

TG

4:20 PM  
Blogger peter said...

The Canwest report on the new film ABOUT rather than BY Moore (IE it will not play outside of festivals
and neocon fundraisers)
was basically an abreviated
rewrite of the Tyee column, IE a National Post column.I guess necon must mean something other than a formerly left wing person who now supports right wing causes with the ardour of a convert.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Peter: First, you don't take the trouble to read my essay before commenting here, and as a result you get it completely wrong, then, when I politely correct you, you get that wrong, too. So, one last try. Read this again, very, slowly and carefully: I happen to share Larner's politics, and Melnyk's, and Caine's. We are not "neocons."

3:25 PM  
Blogger thebookmistress said...

Terry, you don't think Israel is the source of all evil on this planet and that Bush is worse than Hitler. You are a neocon to these people -- you may as well give it up.

11:37 AM  
Blogger richard said...

Glad to hear you saw the review, Terry, and I'd be delighted to talk teaching with you one day.

I've always liked Michael Moore, but that's not the same as trusting him, and he's made me nervous ever since the Nader/Gore/Bush election. After putting a lot of thought into it, I think this is my problem: I'm envious enough of Moore's energy, the plain fact of an atypical voice raised loudly, that I find myself slipping into admiration before I start the critique.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Wet Coaster said...

Great article Terry! I have always been torn about Moore. The message is usually right but eh method is not. I think it's important to make this distinction and play by the book. The ends do not justify the means. Otherwise one side of the. argument is just as bad as th other . The Basi/Virk trial is a great illustration of how the means can be scrutinized although Sadly, I do not think Campbell will suffer much as a result.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Hey Wet one: Sad that it has to come to a criminal trial for some light to be shone on the sordid dealings of lobbyists and their pals inside. Not to slag the legislative bureaus, mind. I can remember when the press gallery was about triple the size it is now.

1:42 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

Terry, I read both the post and the article. Superb. Now, please believe me that a) I just have to say what I am going to say next and b) what I am going to say is definitely not intended in your defense.

Now, Peter: with all due respect and admiration I feel for you, not even knowing anything about you before your comments to this post and not thinking about you for a second before (and after, I hope); so, Peter, with deep respect and greatest sorrow I must say that you are a definite, absolute and hopeless asshole.

And your photography sucks too.

2:06 PM  

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