The USA is a country riddled with problems. At the risk of echoing the hyperbole of that Fox News segment, it is a country of over 300 million people where inequality, unfairness, and corruption are rife. The little people are constantly being fucked over by big, faceless corporations and, of course, by the government.
Guns, inaccessible healthcare, racism, sexism, wealth inequality – all are prevalent problems facing modern-day America. And one man has arguably done more than anyone else to draw attention to them.
Michael Moore began making documentaries in 1989 with Roger & Me, which examined the emotional and economic repercussions of General Motors transferring its factories from Flint, Michigan, to Mexico in search of cheaper labour.
Already, the characteristics of Moore’s idiosyncratic film-making are visible. He works from a populist perspective, revealing the devastating effect of moral bankruptcy on the lives of everyday people through harrowing interviews, and adopting a faux-naivety when narrating and interviewing that emphasises the lack of humanity of the individuals and organisations he attacks. It is evocative stuff.
Over the subsequent decade, Moore produced films, TV programmes and books satirising and criticising various aspects of ‘the man’. It was in 2002, however, with the award-winning Bowling For Columbine, that he first approached the issue of gun violence.
Focussing his argument on the Columbine massacre of April 1999, in which two seniors shot dead 12 other students and a teacher before committing suicide, Moore examines with arresting clarity the problematic nature of America’s relationship with guns.
With Bowling For Columbine, Moore is at his righteous, yet eternally placid, best. He never betrays his anger, but simply maintains his recognisable brand of false ignorance, either when childishly asking a suit from an arms manufacturer about weapons of mass destruction, or when questioning Marilyn Manson on why people found it easier to blame him for the Columbine massacre instead of America’s culture of “fear and consumption”.
There are some truly sickening moments, particularly for us liberal Brits. One scene, in which Moore receives a free rifle simply for opening a bank account is particularly memorable, as is a moment when Moore resorts to flatly stating worldwide gun crime statistics.
“How many people are killed by guns each year? In Germany, 381. In France, 255. In Canada, 165. In the UK, 68. In Australia, 65. In Japan, 39. In the US, 11,127.”
Moore asks the question with his characteristically innocent style, then answers it in the most devastatingly effective way possible. Bowling For Columbine is a compelling, thought-provoking, and arguably world-changing documentary, and its success reflected this. It became the highest-grossing mainstream documentary of all time, only to be relieved of that accolade by Moore’s 2004 film, Fahrenheit 911, which examined the 2003 invasion of Iraq.