Editor-At-Large: Subtle, he ain't. Fat, he may be. But stupid?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Michael Moore - stupid white man or brilliant polemicist? Rabid anti-Bush manipulator of the truth or concerned citizen who deeply loves his country? Man of the people or smug tantrum-throwing prima donna? Rumours about the Mr Blobby of the cinema abound. He's allegedly rich, snobby, bad-tempered and grand. He's said to make ludicrous demands and to splice disparate events and soundtracks together to create falsehoods in his films. Who knows the truth? Who cares, apart from die-hard Republicans? Certainly not the average cinema-goer, the young, students, the working class. Audiences have bought into the Moore phenomenon big time and, with takings of $21m on its first weekend, his latest opus, the anti-Bush Fahrenheit 9/11, has become the most successful documentary ever in the United States. It's also the first time a factual film has topped the US box office, so Mr Moore has really made history. It opens here this week. While the right begins to marshal all its might to rebut the film's claims that George Bush has links with the Saudi royal family and arranged for the Bin Laden family to leave the US immediately after the events of 11 September 2001, Moore is said to have hired extra security and taken to watching his back.

The backlash continues with a book, unoriginally entitled Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man published by HarperCollins here this week, written by two men who set up the websites www.moorelies.com and www.mooreexposed.com in order to rebut Moore's more ludicrous distortions and factual inaccuracies. This seems to miss the point. If every major politician from George Bush to Tony Blair to Jacques Chirac were judged on how often they got their facts right, they'd have been impeached and removed from office months ago. Moore is a one-off, a charismatic character whom people are drawn to, regardless of how he's arrived at his version of events. He's got more in common with Billy Graham than he'd like to admit. He makes politics seem as exciting as a ball game, as partisan and one-dimensional as a comic. His great achievement is to draw people who would never vote or read a newspaper to sit through a film about politics. He aims so low it's extraordinary.

Watching him introduce Bowling for Columbine at least year's London film festival was grisly. Moore inspires the same craven devotion as Ken Livingstone; both have that unfailing ability to irritate me because I just don't want to be in their fan clubs. From the moment Moore walked on the stage to rapturous applause he had the London film trendies eating out of his hand. The Q and A session at the end was so grovelling I had to leave. Everything Moore puts his name to these days is deeply flawed. You get more facts in any edition of the Daily Star than one of his books. But Moore's work sells to people who never normally read beyond the instructions on a microwave meal. For that alone he should be thanked. Stupid White Men starts as an unputdownable diatribe and degenerates into a racist, ill-informed rant. Having said that, Moore does great foreplay, and one cannot deny the passion and sheer chutzpah that pushes through his opening essays on men and power. It's the same story with Bowling for Columbine, an anti-gun treatise that loses direction and ends up meandering all over the place. Moore can't stop over-egging his arguments by confronting a frail Charlton Heston at his Beverly Hills home in an inconclusive and one-sided stand-off. Moore goes to inordinate lengths to present a carefully contrived picture of a common man driven only by the need to act on our behalf in his search for "truth".

Last week I went to a screening of Fahrenheit 9/11, introduced by Harvey Weinstein, the Miramax boss who had to go out and find new distributors when Disney refused to have anything to do with the finished movie. The cinema was crammed with luvvies, from Michael Gambon to David Hare, all applauding politely at the end. I clapped too, not because Michael Moore tells me anything I don't already know, but because he is quite simply the most brilliant propagandist on the planet. He fills his movie with ordinary poor white and black people, exactly the kind of cinema-goers who have made this such a box-office smash. He cleverly chooses his interviewees, recording their distress over slain sons and daughters for just a few seconds too long. His theme is simple - these fine working-class people have been betrayed by a lying bunch of rich white racist Texans who manipulated votes so that Bush became president and then used his family connections to earn billions by doing business with Saudis. Business is what fuelled the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the profits have cascaded back to Bush family friends.

The President is portrayed as a cartoon character numbskull with corny, heavy-handed editing of gaffes on camera, or when he thought the camera wasn't running. Just as another genius, the Australian director Baz Luhrmann, turned a whole new audience on to Shakespeare with his contemporary gang war Romeo + Juliet, so Moore is to be applauded for using whatever it takes to get ordinary people to vote.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is about as subtle as being whacked with a baseball bat, but Moore is a master at hammering home his message. He's said to want to tackle Blair next, but shouldn't he really be turning his attention to something larger: how, for example, rich countries keep the developing world poor with shameful trading agreements?

Kids need art

Vivien Duffield's foundation has given millions to establish education centres in museums. It also sponsors the Artworks awards, young people's version of the Turner Prize; an exhibition marking these opened last week at Tate Modern. But its report on the funding given to art education in Britain paints a depressing picture. Spending on books is at the lowest level since 1996, with the money spent on books about music and the arts in the lowest category. By the age of 14, more than 80 per cent of secondary schools pupils have given up on art and design, and three-quarters of all secondary schools have no facilities for photography, sculpture or three-dimensional work. The difference between the best funded and the most deprived widens. Depending on the local education authority, a school might receive 15p per pupil per year for art or £30. The average, for primary school children, is a pitiful £3.80 a year, about the same as for secondary school pupils.

The best time I had at school was in the art studio, after class, making things - pots, lino cuts, prints. Living in central London, trips to galleries were regular events. Art and design offer a haven for children, a way of expressing themselves away from bullies and judgemental adults. This government is all too quick to condemn the young who stray out of line, but if all we give them is £3.80 worth of art, why be surprised if we end up with foul-mouthed yobs? Is it really beyond David Miliband to ensure that every child in the land gets to a gallery once a term? If we don't invest in giving children primary experiences, then we will get nothing back.

The campaign to place a hideous statue of Nelson Mandela on the north side of Trafalgar Square should be abandoned. The man is worth more than this second-division piece of bronze. Back to the drawing board please!