What was the message of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine"?

We’ve already had a thread (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=183647&highlight=bowling+columbine) over accusations that Michael Moore was dishonest in his presentation of the facts in Bowling for Columbine. I don’t want to start that up again. I have a different question: Exactly what point was Moore trying to make?

Based on what I’d heard about the film before I saw it, I was expecting a pro-gun-control message. I thought that was what we were getting when Moore harped on the murder statistics, pointing out that we have roughly a hundred times as many murders each year in the U.S. as they have in Japan, or Canada, or any of the nations of Western Europe. (I don’t remember the exact figures but I remember they were impressive even if you allow for population differences.)

But the movie is not about gun control, apparently. Moore went out of his way to make Heston and the NRA look narrow-minded and insensitive. On the other hand, Moore also spoke, without apparent scorn, of the rifles-and-hunting culture he himself was raised with in Michigan. He did not discuss the merits of any gun-control program, real or proposed, at any time during the film. He also emphasized that Canada is a heavily armed country, with approximately 10 million privately owned firearms for 25 million people. Yet Canada has nothing like our murder rate. His point appears to be that the culture of the U.S. is fundamentally different from those of the other nations discussed. A gun-rights advocate could even use this film to illustrate the principle, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

But, so far as I can remember from the film, Moore never answers the question he raises: Why is our culture different? Why are Americans so much more violent than other peoples of the industrialized world?

True that he fails to pinpoint or conjecture the origins of American Gun culture… but if he had given an “explanation” what were the chances of his explanation being “correct” ? I think USA gun culture is way too complex for a documentary to “offer” an explanation… Michael Moore probably doesn’t have the answer or a satisfactory answer himself.

So I think his movie is about showing this US Gun Culture and especially the myoptic and narrow minded NRA... show how americans deal with it. (Accusing rock stars, etc... ).  Naturally he pokes fun at and sometimes overdoes it. 

I consider it an eyeopener more than a statement of what should be done henceforth. He got a topic no one would touch or deal with seriously and exposed it. Doing more would mean getting entangled in gun control vs gun freedom issues… drug wars… etc… Thou he clearly seems to show that gun’s arent being controlled too well.

The best analogy I can come up with is when Darwin presented his Origins of the Species. Great work… everyone just paid attention to what he conjectured in the end: That we shared the same origins as apes. Years later people concentrated only on that aspect instead of his work. Michael Moore avoids those kinds of focus by not giving ONE big explanation.

I don’t think he really intended to. I think he produced the documentary as a means of starting a discussion on American culture and the predisposition towards violence. Sorta like starting a new thread on the SDMB. :wink:

I’ll nominate the notion that it’s a combination of the media and the government: they encourage fear-mongering in the populace for their own ends. The media scares the public because that draws eyeballs (which translates into money), and the government scares the public because that reduces resistance to their acts (using 9/11 as a pretext for the Patriot Act and the war with Iraq, for instance).

Not sure what we can do about it, but I now make it a point not to allow myself to become easily panicked the next time a Horrifying Menace Du Jour shows up in the newspapers.

Posted by rjung:

But wouldn’t the government and the media of any country have these same interests? What’s so special about the government and media of the United States?

What I read from it was that, in trying to determine why Americans specifically had such trouble with guns guns guns, even while neighboring countries managed to have them around with much less friction (Canada to be specific), he determined that:

America is a culture controlled by fear, which is enthusiastically propagated by a government and media who maintain control over the populace by scaring the bejeezus out of us as much as possible (yellow alert! orange alert! anthrax! tylenol poisonings! west nile virus! WMDs! killer bees! flouride in the water! the redcoats are coming! potheads are communists! your dentist may be a terrorist! who’s that moving in next door and why is he wearing a funny hat!), keeping the entire populace on a vague and paranoid defensive against everything;

And in particular this feeds on the white middle class sense of guilt and fear which has evolved from our unfortunate history of a disenfranchised lower class, where over the last 150 years even the common cause of lower class blacks and whites has been manipulated into a divisive race war, leaving well-to-do white folk and even the white middle class holed up in their suburban enclaves with the suspicion that one of these days things are going to hit the wall, and whitey will, in fact, pay. This is rather ironic given the example of Columbine and similar cases where it was actually the overly defensive white folk who went nuts on the guns for the most part, yet meanwhile the media continues to insist that gun violence is strictly a “ghetto thang…” and most of the guns that do turn up in the inner city are merely a cheap and accessible trickle-down from the upper classes’ gun fetish.

Overall, I don’t think the movie necessarily had one core message to deliver, rather it was a more general exploration of the phenomenon of gun violence in the US and probing what parts of our culture and history might have allowed such a condition to flourish here so well. But ultimately, what I got out of it sort of begged a larger agenda: that Americans live with a constant underlying sense of impending doom and fear which has been fed to us for all our lives, and as Ben Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And apparently will receive neither. The second amendment was designed to protect us from the government, yet through clever and well-calculated manipulation of our sentiments, they have us controlling ourselves.

Reemember to get home before curfew and lock the windows! :slight_smile:

I’d agree that his only consistent point was the marketing of fear by American culture. By the media and by the political establishment both and that both end up creating problems in ordeer to achieve their own ends.

That exagerated threats of home invasion etc provoke home arming.

That threats from home ownership of guns are exagerated as well.

And that guns and bullets are very available to a fearful populus.
Otherwise a lot of boy why is this so without clear answers suggested, while many avenues are explored.

As an outsider looking in, it appears to me that there are very few people in America today that are willing to confront issues that make ordinary people feel uncomfortable or culpable in some way. Michael Moore seems to be one of the few people prepared to raise a few awkward questions- not questions he has the answers to, just things that people should think about.

I think that he suggests that the “culture of fear” thing is very prominent as an underlying cause, and Brainglutton is right when he says it exists in other countries, but I think Moore succeeds in making the point that it’s more powerful in America than, say, Canada for example, because there are such real, huge inequalities between rich and poor, white and black etc.

This seems to be a very popular theme with Moore, and one that he deals with in his book “Stupid White Men” too…

I finally saw Bowling For Columbine a couple of weeks ago, and it had much the same effect on me as it did on BrainGlutton. I too went into it with the preconceived notion that it was ‘about gun-control’, and came away with the same impressions that he did.

I suppose that our fascination with firearms (and violence) has much to do with our history - how we ‘tamed the wild west’, how we’re the ‘defenders of the free world’ and all that. Firearms, in the hands of trained individuals, have always played an integral part in making and keeping the US ‘the strongest nation on Earth’. Our cup runneth over with testosterone. I think that’s a partial explanation for the differences in US and Canadian cultures wrt violence (albeit perhaps overly simplistic).

The larger question, it seems to me, is when and how did our society change from ‘controlled violence’ (that which has historically been necessary [for the most part] to keep us free and safe) to ‘uncontrolled violence’ (our current predisposition to kill each other over parking spaces)? Since others have commented on the government/media fear campaigns and the like, I’d like to take a different approach and place part of the blame for our violent society squarely on the shoulders of an undisciplined and apathetic populace.

I’m 41 years old, and I’ve owned firearms for most of my life. I got my first .22 rifle when I was 12. It came with training and specific instructions from my father regarding safe handling and respect for not only the lives of other people, but the lives of wildlife animals as well. I’ve never killed any animal that I didn’t eat (one wild boar), and I’d never dream of shooting a man who wasn’t in my house at 3 a.m. clearly intending to physically harm my family. Was my childhood like an episode of The Andy Griffeth Show? Nostalgia clouding my perception? Maybe[rry] so. Still, the fact remains that we didn’t kill each other over our toys (or our girlfriends, or because we weren’t ‘popular’), even though we owned real guns.

The only difference I can see between that time and this is that we’ve lost respect. People, young people especially, have lost (or have never been taught) respect for firearms as instruments of death. We’ve lost respect for proper training, thinking that if we’ve seen it done on TV, we can do it ourselves. Saddest of all, the murder rates indicate that some of us have just plain lost all respect for one another as human beings, and think little of taking each others’ lives over the least perceived insult.

If someone here can come up with a way to reverse that trend, I’ll gladly vote for you next November. Otherwise, the only solution I can think of is to teach my children respect above all else, and hope that others do the same.

I was also surprised in how much it wasn’t about gun control. I think the point of the movie is, as has been stated above, that we live in a culture of fear. And I think Moore thinks the fear is race-based–which was the whole point of the South Park segment.

Yep… thats it… Moore talks alot about creating a nation of scared chihuahas… (small mexican dog with hard spelling…).

Also, fear that any day now the jackbooted thugs will show up to take your guns (“from your cold, dead fingers”)

(oh, and minor peeve: it’s “populace”… unless you’re speaking Latin :wink: )

ditto what’s already been said a la “culture of fear”. The Marilyn Manson interview summed it up best in the film… “be afraid! go buy something!”

I don’t think there’s a “culture of fear” at all.

Aren’t most of the 25,000 murders or so a year, simply criminals killing other criminals? Yes, there are Columbines and such but they are relatively rare.

We deliberately have looser gun laws in this country so you can expect that unbalanced people will have easier access to guns. Handguns especially are used by irresponsible people in the heat of the moment against family members. I don’t think that is an indictment of the culture though as being “fear” based.

As for fewer home break-ins and people being unneccessarily scared of home break-ins in general; part of the reason there are so few is that so many people are armed, especially where I live.

Moore went on Oprah and basically accused white people of owning guns cause they fear blacks. What this would have to do with high murder rates is a little unclear to me. He also asked the women in the audience who they would be more afraid of following them on a dark street at night…a white or a black. He used this as a sign of “racism” or “fear”. But this again is a false, irrelevent accusation of racism. The vast majority of blacks and whites are law-abiding, but if you want to look at statistics, then he’s just wrong; blacks, unfortunately are more involved with violent crime (on a per capita basis) than whites.

Further, most of the guns in this country are owned by people in the country side. Most of the black/white conflict seems to be in cities. Most of the murders are not inter-racial as far as I can tell.

So what is his point? Not sure. Bash whitey basically?

bri1600bv… you are looking at the cold hard statistics… most don’t. The numbers dont scare people… the news and other things do.

What are the statistical chances of your getting killed in a Terrorist attack in mainland USA ? Pathetically small… and yet look at all the fuss about security and storing water/food.

People arent afraid of real dangers... more of the perceived ones.

Well, just speculating off the top of my head, consider that the United States is

(a) a relatively young country,
(b) a country that was founded by rebellion, and
© a country that actively celebrates rebellion and a “loner” attitude.

As examples of ©, think of the examples of popular heroes in the USA – the cowboy, the pioneer (Davy Crocket), the vigilante (Dirty Harry). Throw in the second amendment and the NRA, and there’s a fairly strong subtext that says “an American is someone who fends for himself in a hostile environment.” And if you push that attitude a little more, you end up on the verge of paranoia, where everyone and everything is a threat.

Just a theory, anyway.

And bri, you miss the point entirely.

Fears do not need reality. Fears are marketed because fear sells … product and politician alike.

Why is the US the king of marketing? I dunno. But the pervasiveness of Hollywood, McDonalds, and Starbucks worldwide should be enough to convince you that it is.

I’ll ignore the whole gun ownership prevents break-ins claim … this is not the thread for another gun control debate. But interesting isn’t it, that you are apparently afraid that bad guys are out there waiting to break in if only you didn’t have your gun? Do you keep it under your pillow?

I’m not sure where I said that fears need reality. What I said was there is no irrational fear in the US as far as guns. People like guns and have them to prevent crime, whatnot. Their belief that guns will protect them in crime is not based on an irrational fear of crime.

Moore relates gun ownership to some kind of “fear of the black man”, which I don’t think exists. People in Canada have guns, too, and there are much less black people up there. I also pointed out that the country folk have more guns than city folk, and blacks are more common in cities than rural areas.

He uses the crime statistics as evidence that Americans are incredibly violent. I pointed out that it’s usually criminals killing criminals. So this violence can’t be put on the backs of law abiding people, almost by definition. Although there are crimes of violence.

I actually don’t have a gun. But I think it’s well documented that break-ins are lower in states with more guns. See the book “More Guns, Less Crime”.

In my area, there are almost no break-ins whatsoever. It’s pretty remarkable for a city of 250,000 to have less than 50 break-ins a year, I think.

So are bad guys just waiting to break in? Why don’t you ask people in cities who have bars on their windows? Or is that an irrational fear too?

Do you wear a seatbelt? Is that because you have an irrational fear of accidents? Even if you never wore your seatbelt, you’d be unlikely to die in an accident or even get in one. I’ve been driving 20 years and never had an accident. So that makes your fear of accidents and the resulting use of seatbelts totally irrational. Taking a precaution isn’t the same as irrationally “fearing” something. Simpleton.

I think statistically, especially if there were no guns, break-ins would happen more often than accidents.

The simple premise of having a gun = security is already different from other countries where this “mentality” doesn’t exist. Even if the equation is true… at least in the US. You might find it normal… most other countries don’t. Maybe including Canada that has mostly hunting guns from what I have been told. To say its all crime related isnt fair either… and that already speaks for a “black” & “criminals” are guilty tendency ?

There are other trends like over reporting of crime that WAY overtakes actualy crime rates. This happens in many countries... but in the US it might translate into more gun ownership... and since crime hasnt gone up in fact its "fear" thats boosting sales.

 I think you dismiss the fear factor too easily bri1600bv with rational arguments. Maybe most americans are rational... but the way Bush has been having a free hand and getting things going based on WMD and immenint terrorist attacks that never come I would be on "fear" marketing side. 

 Well even if your right about no fear factor... how do you interpret the way higher number of homicides and guns in the US ? Michael Moore gave his...

Actually, you asked if this was the case ("Aren’t most of the 25,000 murders or so a year, simply criminals killing other criminals? "). If you think this is true, I would love to see a cite. It’s a valid question, but I don’t think your generalization is right.

I saw it a couple of weeks ago as well. Besides what everyone has mentioned here, I thought you could drive a truck through his arguments.

He doesn’t touch on the handgun versus rifle thing. Canada is heavily armed, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that it is much harder to get a handgun there. Most of those guns are rifles, and rifles aren’t used in street crime and random violence.

He makes a big deal about violent histories and mixed race societies, and how the US is not unique in that. But he avoids addressing the confluence of factors that is probably pretty unique in the USA. Especially with the African-American situation: we have a cycle of poverty which we avoid addressing. Without active work on our part, increasingly the easiest way out of the cycle of poverty is through crime.

Mostly, the message I got out of Bowling for Columbine is on our government and our media pushing fear. Like he does with race and violent history, I think the US is not unique in these fears. There are plenty of other countries with fear-mongering media and governments – the right-wing reactionary politicians are more popular in Europe than over here (LePen, the Dutch guy who was murdered, Zhironovsky to name a few).

I also think media fear-mongering is less than Moore makes it out to be. Sure, the media often highlights the relatively rare cases of black-on-white violence. But I don’t think that they spotlight this any more than white-on-white violence or white-on-black violence, while they nearly ignore black-on-black violence (sorry to stereotype).

So, as a liberal, I think Moore is pretty wrong with the movie. The movie was interesting, compelling, and raised a lot of discussion. I think he oversimplifies and comes off as trying to push a viewpoint. Paradoxically, though, it isn’t clear as to which viewpoint he is pushing (as shown by the OP). I think he raises some points, but the points are weak and can be disassembled by a bright fourth grader. I think our gun violence is due to a confluence of factors – a cycle of poverty, availibility of handguns and ammunition, violent history and media and politicians, and a bunch of other factors that make the American milieu unique.