By Bryan Newbury
June 25, 2007
“It is based on a recognition of the astonishing beauty of things and their living wholeness, and on a rational acceptance of the fact that mankind is neither central nor important in the universe; our vices and blazing crimes are as insignificant as our happiness. We know this, of course, but it does not appear that any previous one of ten thousand religions and philosophies has realized it. An infant feels himself to be central and of primary importance; an adult knows better; it seems time that the human race attained to an adult habit of thought in this regard.”
Preface, The Double Axe and
The words Robinson Jeffers unleashed in 1947 did not endear him to the established order of things, nor the public at large. While there is little to dispute in his logic, when applied to the cosmic order, The Double Axe likely sealed his demise in academic and critical circles. It is not good business to be against war in a time of hyperpatriotism. It is not good business to suggest that centuries of western philosophy and theology have been mistaken. It is most assuredly bad business to tell any audience, especially an American one, to grow the hell up.
It shows a good deal of bravery, but it ignores an essential truism about mass communication: no one likes the truth-teller.
No doubt Jeffers has rolled in his grave so many times over that Texaco has considered attaching a bit to his corpse to drill for some of those waning ounces of black gold. It is a curious debate to be had on whether Jeffers might have known that some sixty years hence, the world’s lone superpower would not only fall short of the mark in terms of cosmic awareness… it would extend its indifference beyond the world around, including the very people that its core philosophy held paramount.
This callous disregard for our fellow man seems to be the dominant theme emerging in the oeuvre of Michael Moore. Distilled to the essence, this is what Moore’s films have illustrated with outrage, humor and poignancy. If it is the indifference to the plight of the American and international working class, as seen in Roger & Me and The Big One; if it is the casual approach to gun violence in our culture of fear that Bowling for Columbine masterfully exhibits; if it comes in the voices of the helpless Iraqis in the jarring footage of Fahrenheit 911, the underlying message tying all of these elements is clearly that we just don’t seem to collectively give a damn about our fellow human beings.
Which brings us to Moore’s latest offering, Sicko.
Much of the media surrounding Sicko would lead the viewer to believe that this is an about face from the combative and, in the eyes of his critics, solipsistic filmmaking approach that has made Mike famous. If one only has the major media to rely on for a general idea, it would not be beyond reason for him to think that Sicko is a completely different ball of wax. Fox News gave it good reviews, for heaven’s sake.
True, Moore has polished his approach. The film doesn’t lose the real story, though in fairness it is hard to think of an example where Moore is more memorable from Roger forward than the subjects of his documentaries. The hubbub of the kinder, gentler Mike seems to be more a result of news outlets looking for an original angle (as opposed to reasoned reportage) and giving offerings at the precipice of the echo chamber. To the delight of his fans, and for some reason without the dismay of many of his detractors, Sicko is actually vintage Moore. His filmmaking has evolved, as is in evidence from the more subdued pacing of this latest offering, but isn’t that to be expected? Though fewer in number, the sardonic historical footage, replete with not-so-subtle allusions to our irrational response to L’ennemi du jour, is still present. The somewhat maudlin moments of empathy to his hard luck protagonists are as often as anything else in the Moore canon. Predatory capitalism’s vicissitudes are logged with the same force. George Bush says some very stupid things.
All the ingredients are there, but it could certainly be argued that Sicko delivers the message better than any of its counterparts.
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