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Michael and Us 

by Michael Corrigan

Michael Moore is an angry white guy with a sardonic wit. He has such a disarming approach to getting at the root of a bad situation that it's often difficult to see what he's up to, at least initially. Just about the time he's lulled you into some nostalgic reverie, he'll choose to go for the drill and, with clinical precision, gouge out that rotten tooth. You might not always like his methods, but if you are one of the millions of working people in this country who feel frustrated with the shenanigans of the corporate elite and their powerful political allies in Washington, D.C., Moore's populist crusade for equity in America might be your crusade as well. Aside from that, it's just about impossible not to admire the guy's tenacity and willingness to say the things no one wants to hear.

Moore, who makes a performance stop at WSU's Beasley Coliseum this Friday, has been the scourge of shady business and political leaders and other assorted troublemakers for the better part of two decades. In his 1989 film debut, Roger & amp; Me, Moore documented his attempts to interview General Motors CEO Roger Smith about the auto manufacturer's plant closures (and subsequent economic devastation) in Moore's hometown of Flint, Mich. Leavened with spot-on political satire and backhanded humor, Roger & amp; Me won critical acclaim as an indictment of corporate greed in America -- in particular, of the mentality that places the health and welfare of workers far below such concerns as market dominance and fat executive salaries. Moore parlayed that success into not one but two short-lived TV projects (the Emmy Award-winning TV Nation and The Naked Truth), several books (including the national bestsellers Downsize This: Random Threats from an Unarmed American and Stupid White Men, and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation) and last year's highly charged documentary, Bowling for Columbine, a look at the pathology of violence in the United States. Bowling for Columbine was the unanimous winner of the special Cannes 55th Anniversary Prize and took the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2002.

Yet for all his work turning sacred cows to hamburger, deriding human sloth and stupidity, and exposing corporate and political corruption -- or perhaps because of all that -- Moore is seen as a controversial and polarizing figure in pop culture. You either love this goofy-looking lug in specs and baseball cap or loathe you him. His now-infamous Oscar acceptance speech still has some people fuming:

"I'd like to thank the Academy for this. I have invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us... because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much."

Beyond the rancor stirred up by such provocation, some criticism of Moore aims directly at his persona as a righteous everyman and to his methodology as an activist filmmaker. Some see him as a self-serving opportunist who uses deception and ambush tactics on his targets in order to paint them in the most unflattering light possible. Others praise him for his honesty, his dogged pursuit of the truth, his pointed questions, his capacity for humor in the face of moral outrage and for his ability to catch his documentary subjects in unguarded moments. It's also worth noting that Moore is invested in the cause on a monetary level. He used the success of Roger & amp; Me, for instance, to establish the Center for Alternative Media, a foundation that supports independent filmmakers and social action groups.

Moore is currently on a signing-and-talking tour to promote his latest book, Dude, Where's My Country?, a look at 21st-century America through Moore-a-Vision. It's sure to torque a few undershorts within the current ruling party. In it, he lambastes the new crop of corporate sleazeballs and ridicules weak-willed legislators who signed away civil liberties in the name of "homeland security." Moore also takes direct aim at George W. Bush -- for his war in Iraq, for his mishandling of the U.S. economy, even for the illegitimacy of his administration. Consider it Moore's call for "regime change" -- only this one won't cost you hundreds of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. It just requires you to vote.

Publication date: 10/23/03

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