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Fahrenheit 1776

Itís been a wonderful confluence of events: the celebration of Independence Day, the first block- busting week of Fahrenheit 9/11, the transfer of power in Iraq and John Kerry juicing up his campaign with John Edwards.

Coming one on the heels of another, itís hard to know what to expect next.

And though Iím not sure I recognize this in myself as it applies to politics, I think Iím feeling something like hope.

I credit Thomas Jefferson, whose face graces the cover of the July 5 issue of Time magazine. As a student at the University of Virginia, one of Mr. Jeffersonís (as he is called there) many achievements, I was surrounded by the lore and adulation of his legacy.

The legend overshadowed the man. And so the other day when I read the Declaration of Independence thoroughly for the first time since high school, I was struck by the compassion and wisdom of his words.

You canít really call Fahrenheit 9/11 a compassionate movie. It starts out as a blistering compilation of George Bushís misdeeds and misalliances. Itís funny in the way only real life can be: wryly and sadly. Itís if-I-donít-laugh-Iíll-cry stuff.

But about midway through it, the filmís tone changes. The laughter dies down. The images become harder to take. A narrative develops chronicling one womanís struggle with loyalty, disillusionment and loss. The filmís argument seems less polemical and more solution-oriented: These are the facts; now what can we do about them?

Not known for being mild-mannered, Michael Moore posted a response on his Web site, michaelmoore.com, alerting readers to the filmís impact.

According to his posting more people saw the movie in one weekend than saw Bowling for Columbine in nine months; the film broke Rocky IIIís record for the biggest box-office opening weekend for any film screened in fewer than a thousand theaters; and it beat the opening weekend of Return of the Jedi.

In his posting he goes on to say that that NASCAR champ Dale Earnhardt Jr. took his crew to see Fahrenheit 9/11 as a bonding experience because, ďItís a good thing as an American to go see.Ē

And he writes:

But it was the reactions and reports we received from theaters around the country that really sent me over the edge. One theatre manager after another phoned in to say that the movie was getting standing ovations as the credits rolledóin places like Greensboro, NC and Oklahoma Cityóand that they were having a hard time clearing the theater afterwards because people were either too stunned or they wanted to sit and talk to their neighbors about what they had just seen. . . . A man in San Francisco took his shoe off and threw it at the screen when Bush appeared at the end. Ladiesí church groups in Tulsa were going to see it, and weeping afterwards.

Theaters in the Deep South and the Midwest set house records for any film theyíd ever shown. Yes, it even sold out in Peoria. And Lubbock, Texas. And Anchorage, Alaska!

Itís easy to dismiss Michael Moore as a megalomaniac or a polemicist. One review I read referred to him as someone who didnít seek positive change, preferring instead to carp about the negativity of the status quo.

But Iím not convinced that tells the whole story. Weíre used to being suspicious of eccentrics. Thatís part of the reason why our presidential candidates end up being so bland: Bland is safe, easy to believe in.

Michael Moore is not bland, but that doesnít mean that he is not sincere. That does not mean that he hasnít amassed a compelling record of facts and presented them in a manner accessible to even the most dunderheaded of Americans.

Is that playing to the masses? Is that populist pap? Is it propagandist? Maybe so. But there is a long tradition of such things in this country. Think Thomas Paine and Common Sense. Hereís just a taste of that 1776 document speaking out against reconciliation with Britain:

Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offence, yet I am inclined to believe, that all those who espouse the doctrine of reconciliation, may be included within the following descriptions. Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak men who cannot see; prejudiced men who will not see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves; and this last class by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this continent than all the other three.

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 at a theater on Route 30 heading out into the small towns north of Amsterdam. I wasnít expecting Bush-bashing to score any points out there. But I was wrong. Comments percolated throughout the theater. Audience members applauded at the end of the movie. I strolled into the balmy night with people of assorted ages, but probably from a similar economic bracket. I got the feeling Michael Moore would be welcomed in Amsterdam.

In many ways Fahrenheit 9/11 follows the core advice that defines our common national identity: to recognize when leadership is being abused and to claim the right to bring about change:

Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, perusing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.

óThomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

óJo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org


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