To fully understand the point made here, we must look first at Michael Moore as an individual, before posing a much broader social issue. First, a diagnosis of Moore -- then a look at whether he is merely a mirror for a broader cultural development.
Oscar For Best Acting Out
Of A Personality Disorder?
"He may well also be an egomaniac, although he professes to be puzzled when he reads that: "Clearly, I am a person who suffers from a lack of ego. I mean, if I felt better about myself I wouldn't look this way."" Moore, in an Australian newspaper.
Actually, there is no contradiction here. Both aspects are explicable once we look at what is classified as Nacissistic Personality Disorder. The personality disorders (which also include the antisocial personality, the borderline, the histrionic and others) are not delusional. Rather, they are disorders in personality or character. If we could talk in the language of ethics rather than of medicine, we might say that personality disorders comprise patterns of knowing, evil conduct.
At a risk of grossly oversimplifying: Freud, who defined the disorder, concluded that proper development of a normal human followed a certain path. In the womb, the infant is unconscious of any world beyond itself; it sees itself as meeting all its own needs, as omnipotent. Birth changes this -- dammit, the world is cold, diapers chafe, why am I hungry?
At first, the infant still sees itself as the universe. The others -- its parents -- are simply extensions of itself, not separate human beings, just part of the child-universe which fulfils the child's desire. Note this is not really "selfishness:" the child doesn't yet absorb that there is a "self" separate from other people. Since the child is the universe, the child's perceptions are the only reality. And of course all gratifications of its desires must be immediate. There is no thought of others' needs, since there are no "others."
In terms of personality development, the narcissist stops right here. He (it is predominantly a male trait) remains the universe, others not quite human, existing as inferior beings (to be precise, as mere objects) to fulfil his desires.
The normal infant, in contrast, continues on. Parents don't always immediately fulfil his or her drives. They don't know that the diaper is wet, they somehow don't know that he has a bellyache, it's not that he's hungry. The child eventually realizes that his parents (and by extention, other people) are other beings, even equal human beings, and not simply servants of his or her needs. There is a world out there, full of people who have their own minds and outlooks and desires, and the person had better adjust to that.
That understanding requires differentiating between how one feels about something (idic impulse) and what something is in either social or other-person perspective. And that's the developmental step the narcissist never takes, for whatever (there are some who say Freud was off) reason.
Thus the objective/social measures of truth and the external world can never enter the narcissist's personality. What an event or object or proposition is or means, first and last, is how it makes the narcissist feel. The adult narcissist is at once in the world of adults and also locked out of it. He has learned the shell of adult language, representations, behavior, and may even work as an adult in the social world. But he can never be truly in the adult world because he cannot truly experience and understand that world or other persons. He can only use the world for its personal gratifications, and can only use people as utensils of his will, valuing them only as they serve or fail to serve his needs.
Now, there's dispute over Freud's theory (although it's replicated in developmental theory generally). But there's no dispute as to the effects of narcissism. Here is (one) good definition of the narcissistic disorder, from the above link:
"A pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance and ambition. . . . An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:"
The criteria fit Moore to a T:
"Feels grandiose and self-important"
"I'm a millionaire, I'm a multi-millionaire. I'm filthy rich. You know why I'm a multi-millionaire? 'Cause multi-millions like what I do. That's pretty good, isn't it? There's millions that believe in what I do. Pretty cool, huh?" Michael Moore
"Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, . . ."
Moore's pre-election letter to Al Gore: "Look, Al, you have screwed up -- big time. . . . And now your people are calling ME, asking ME to do the job YOU'VE failed to do! Jeez, I've got enough on my plate these days, between work and the holidays coming up and the leaves I should be taking -- and now I'm supposed to save YOU? Unbelievable!"
After the election: "Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you!"
"In fact, Moore joined the NRA again after the Columbine shootings. The idea for the entire film project began as a bid to challenge the office of NRA President Charlton Heston."I had this grand plan -- if they had four million members, I'd get five million Americans to join, vote for me, and then I'd dismantle the organization," Moore said.
"Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions)"
"I walk among them. I live on the island of Manhattan, a three-mile-wide strip of land that is luxury home and corporate suite to America's elite..... Those who run your life live in my neighborhood. I walk in the streets with them each day" Moore, Stupid White Men, p. 51.
"Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation - or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply)"
"Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations."
"Then, on his second-to-last night, the wide-bottomed windbag raged against everyone connected with the Roundhouse and complained that he was being paid a measly $750 a night. "He completely lost the plot," a member of the stage crew told the London Evening Standard. "He stormed around all day screaming at everyone, even the 5 pound-an-hour bar staff, telling them how we were all con men and useless. Then he went on stage and did it in public." At his last appearance, staffers refused to work or even open the theater's doors....." [NY Post, Jan. 8, 2003; free version, if you don't mind the very conservative bent of the journal, here.]
A coworker at Mother Jones:
"In fact, as Moore will recall, after he was fired by the magazine just months after being hired. . . . I was dissuaded from joining his cause when I heard directly from many of Mother Jones' aggrieved employees that it was not just the owner who was fed up with Moore but much of the magazine's staff as well, who found him to be an autocratic and incompetent manager."
"Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others." (This is not just a personal lack of empathy. The narcissist cannot understand when he has fouled up or put his foot in his mouth socially, because he cannot understand that other people may see things differently. His feelings are the universe and the only reality.)
Moore: (On 9/11) "Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!"
NY Post, Jan. 8, 2003: "Moore ... shocked the crowd at North London's Roundhouse Theater a couple of weeks ago by ranting that passengers on plans hijacked on Sept. 11 were 'scaredy-cats because they were mostly white.'"
Moore's "Open Letter to Elian Gonzales":
"You are being told that your mother died trying to bring you to freedom. I am so sorry to have to tell you, that's not true. The Cuban court granted your father custody of you, and your mother decided to kidnap you. She placed your life in horrible jeopardy by putting you in a leaky, overcrowded raft that eventually sank, killing everyone except you and two others. . . . The truth is your mother and her boyfriend snatched you and put you on that death boat because they simply wanted to make more money."
"Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her."
Moore: "The local paper in Flint has never written the words, "and he lives in a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan," because the local paper in Flint hates me. If they wrote that, that would be a positive. Everybody would be like, "All right, Mike! One for our side!" So they will never write that, because it would be such a badge of honor that I've done well, or that my book sold all these copies, or that I made all this money.
They never mention that in Flint. But I'll read it in the liberal publications ... They're just pissed because they're not sitting in this apartment. . . . They played by the rules, and now they're a grunt at Newsweek or The New Yorker or someplace like that, and they want to know why they're living with five other people in a five-floor walk-up down in the East Village, and now they have to move to Jersey City. And I'm sitting here. There's a voice in their head, the voice of class, screaming, [adopts whining voice] "Not fair! Not fair!"
"Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted."
Asked about small businesses being taken over by chain stores: "You know in my town the small businesses that everyone wanted to protect? They were the people that supported all the right-wing groups. . . . The small hardware salesman, the small clothing store salespersons, Jesse the Barber who signed his name three different times on three different petitions to recall me from the school board. Fuck all these small businesses - fuck 'em all! Bring in the chains."Moore interview, 2002.
[This indicates a truly pathological degree of self-absorption. Here, that "Jesse the Barber" dared defy Moore, in a piddling squabble thirty years before, is sufficient to determine all issues relating to small businesses vs. chain stores.]
"During the session [at Cornell Univ.], Matt Hirsch '02, a former Sun News Editor, approached the stage and presented Moore with a fake check of $10,000, Moore's honorarium for the appearance. Despite lack of a microphone, Hirsch told the audience that Moore made more money off of this one speech than many teaching paraprofessionals make in one year.
"Mother***er ... You come down with your check making a big-ass statement. ... I give this money away to organizations I support," Moore responded angrily.
What complicates things is that the narcissist has both a sadistic and a masochistic aspect:
"A narcissist would tend to display the sadistic aspect of his personality in one of two cases:
1. That the very acts of sadism would generate Narcissistic Supply to be consumed by the narcissist ("I inflict pain, therefore I am superior") or
2. That the victims of his sadism are still his only or major sources of Narcissistic Supply but are perceived by him to be intentionally frustrating and withholding it. Sadistic acts are his way of punishing them for not being docile, obedient, admiring and adoring as he expects them to be in view of his uniqueness, cosmic significance and special entitlement. .... "
From someone who knows Moore: "He was almost always extremely unpleasant, rude, and basically treated everyone---especially the "little people"---like dirt."
New York Post, Oct 21, 2002 "Among those who think Moore hits below the belt with "Bowling for Columbine" is "South Park" co-creator Matt Stone. Stone, who grew up in Littleton, Colo., and attended Columbine HS, tells Foxnews.com's Roger Friedman: "It's hard to make Heston look sympathetic, but Moore did it. You can't help but think this is an 80-year-old man with Alzheimer's. He looked so frail."
But Moore doesn't quit while he's behind. In the current Entertainment Weekly he spouts that Heston "doesn't have Alzheimer's. He says he has Alzheimer's-like symptoms. He's not resigning as head of the NRA. . . ." "
(This event and Moore's reaction to it are especially significant. The failure in narcissism is a socialization failure and one of degree rather than kind. We all act with frequency out of self-interest, we all occasionally behave egocentrically, or narcissistically. The difference is that we can mediate between affect and act, and thus retreat from dysfunction before we get in too deeply. What conscience doesn't do, embarassment does.
Thus the inability of Moore to recognize lapses of the social self and to retrieve himself is very significant. As Joseph Church (Language and the Discovery of Reality) describes egocentrism -- it is embeddedness in a point of view without any awareness one has a point of view instead of an immediate grasp of obvious and unquestionable reality. Yes, Moore can't quit when he's behind -- not out of stubborness, but because he doesn't see that he's screwed up royally.)
"Sadists are often also masochists. In sadistic narcissists, there is, actually, a burning desire nay, NEED to be punished. In the grotesque mind of the narcissist, his punishment is equally his vindication. By being permanently on trial, the narcissist claims the high moral ground and the position of the martyr:. . . ."
Moore constantly this themes. His attacks on others are a crusade, others' criticism of him is character assassination and persecution. A conspicuous example is a book-signing incident at San Diego. In Moore's version, police enter shouting "VACATE THESE PREMISES IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL ALL BE ARRESTED!" and LEAVE NOW -- OR FACE ARREST!" People bolt in terror, Moore explains he is signing books, and police respond "I don't care what you are doing -- this is your last warning. I am ready to arrest you and everyone else."
Unfortunately for Moore, one of his fans who was there writes an account, stating that he is astonished to read Moore's account and discover that his hero has serious problems with the truth. He notes that the auditorium was rented until 11 PM, after that time the janitors said they would have to stay late to close up, and at 11 the janitors asked everyone to wrap things up. Moore kept on signing books. After a while the janitors got fed up with waiting, and called the police, two of whom came.
That's exactly how many showed up, two. And rather decent ones at that, doing an uncomfortable task. .... "MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION," yelled the senior cop as he walked into the auditorium. "THE USE PERMIT FOR THIS EVENT EXPIRED AT ELEVEN. YOU HAVE TO LEAVE NOW." . . . .
Moore seemed shocked that the cops were there to ask him to leave. "But this is a book signing...you would arrest people at a book signing?" he quizzed. "In America?"....
As I said before, the cops didn't come off as abusive, but rather as matter-of-fact and straight-forward. They didn't act like they were there to arrest droves of people for trespassing.
The incident shows several character attributes. First, Moore has no concern for the janitors (who understandably want to get home before midnight). Second, he has no idea that this imposition on them might have consequences -- they're just supposed to sit there and take it. Third, once consequences happen, Moore sees them as his martyrdom.
What distinguishes a mind with this character disorder?
A lack of self. With it comes a total lack of integrity, since integrity springs from the self and the superego. Where others feel character, values, their being, the narcissist has a void. His substitute must be created by worship given by others. To get that, he will manipulate as shamelessly as any sociopath.
A burning self-hate, which he tries to overcome with a malignant ego. (Significant here is that Moore shows his greatest disdain for everything that he actually is . . . a very rich, white, American male who was born in Flint, MI. Quaere: did he become a member of NRA before making Bowling simply because he was uncomfortable attacking something, until he had made himself a part of it?)
Unrelenting envy of everything and everyone, and the assumption they experience the same. The world is not cooperation, friendship, loyalty. It is comprised of rats clawing their way to the top, and you must tear down the other rats. (It may be significant here that Moore named his film production firm "Dog Eat Dog Productions.")
"the narcissist MUST deny the existence of any good OUTSIDE himself. The narcissist defends himself against raging, all consuming envy by solipsistically claiming to be the ONLY good object in the world. This is an object that cannot be had by anyone, except the narcissist and, therefore, is immune to the narcissist's threatening, annihilating envy. In order not to be "owned" by anyone (and, thus, avoid self-destruction in the hands of his own envy) the narcissist reduces others to "non-entities" (the narcissistic solution), or avoids all meaningful contact with them altogether (the schizoid solution). The suppression of envy is at the CORE of the narcissist's being. If he fails to convince his self that he is the ONLY good object in the universe he is exposed to his own murderous envy. If there are others out there who are better than he he envies them, he lashes out at them ferociously, uncontrollably, madly, hatefully and spitefully." Source.
A manipulative streak. Where there is no self and no superego, there is no integrity, and where one is the universe, one is entitled to do anything. The persons manipulated ... well, they aren't really persons, after all, and deserve no better. Thus the narcissist both craves adulation from his fans, but also despises them for it. How can one filled with self-scorn respect those he can manipulate into adoring him?
Finally, a sado-masochist streak. The narcissist must hurt, punish, humiliate, others. (And here it's noteworthy that humiliating others is a hallmark of ALL of Moore's films). Narcissists can drive the knife in and twist it on those closest to them, those they actually respect. If they're not loved after the punishment--which is always minimized and the other's hypersensitivity maximized--its a sign they weren't really loved in the first place--a betrayal. Add one more to the long list. If the victim abides the punishment, it's proof of the narcissist's worth and power--like the wife-beater who brags the wife's acceptance of his abuse as evidence she worships him. Power is the ability to make people suffer. Either way, narcissists get the payoff, betrayed martyrdom or demonstrable power. It is significant here that Moore's career essentially consists of mocking other people and making them look stupid, while in the process portraying himself as insightful and sensitive, usually the only such person in his film.
Hmm... this does put a different light on the only consistent theme in Bowling -- the attack on Charlton Heston Everywhere else the film wanders. It's guns. No, it's not guns. It's violent video games. No, it's not. And throughout, whenever Moore really goes overboard and discards the truth, as often as not ... it's Heston. Moore has an obsession with Heston.
Or might there be even more to Moore and Heston?
But enough of Moore as an individual. One more narcissist in Hollywood is a matter of no great moment. What is significant is -- can we use him as a lamp to illuminate broader issues? Or to use Neitzsche's phrase, can we strike the idol with a sledge, not to damage it, but to hear the tones it creates?
The point here: Moore is a textbook case of narcissism. He has released a film which is a clear, even blatant, acting out of a character disorder. The film and Moore are immensely popular, no doubt there. He's got an Oscar, has made millions, and will make millions more. Many love it, even when he they know he is lying to them, because it wakes them up, makes them feel real. Moore has a large and adoring audience.
And what is the key to much of that audience?
I can only wish I'd said this first: "In the despicable Bowling for Columbine, the lumbering behemoth makes fun of working-class whites in order to make over-educated whites feel better about themselves." NY Press. That's his audience -- just as it was in "Stupid White Men."
Is there something to be learned here?
Back in 1979, Christopher Lasch published "The Culture of Narcissism," a most intriquing piece of work. What may be of significance in our overly-political world is that Lasch was a Marxist, a member of what he called the True Left, and what I call the Thinking Left. The Left in the days when it could generate serious, insightful thought. The days before it became a fad among celebrities with IQs lower than their shoe size, who thought Leftism consisted of getting out of your limosine long enough to call for a government program for the homeless.
Lasch's central point was that the West, and especially the US, is tending toward becoming a mass of narcissists. Not a society, nor a nation, but just a large group of alienated individuals lacking the socialization required to become really human. (It must be understood here that techniques of psychiatric analysis are not strictly applicable to entire cultures -- particularly since individual deviance is defined as deviance from cultural norms -- and that a culture can only be assessed relative other cultures or to itself at another time -- that is, what he is really saying is that our culture is displaying more and stronger signs of narcissism as time proceeds, and this trend is rapidly accelerating.).
Becoming a proper human requires seeing oneself as part of a whole or several wholes. One is, at the present, a part of society, a nation, a family, and other groups. One is also, in a timeline, the successor to his ancestors and past Americans, and the ancestor and predecessor to those yet to come. There is, in short, much room within Lasch's Marxism for family and nation and history.
Lasch saw this socialization process as being destroyed by a number of forces. Schools, mass media, and "peer groups" had taken over the function of rearing children. ( The point is deeper than television. MTV is simply a televised peer group, teenagers raising teenagers . . . to be narcissists and thus good consumers).
The problem is that key components of personal development should be occurring, but are not. As noted above, an infant starts by seeing itself as omnipotent; it is the universe, and the parents and others mere components of itself. Then it discovers its separation, and that the parents, well, can be frustrating as well as wish-fulfilling: they have superhuman powers, but don't always do what you want, and sometimes even stop you!
The path from there to a functional adult involves reducing the parental image to realistic size, and achieving independence. Parental discipline plays the key role: it makes the parents appear human, and separate. There is also the community, which eases the child into independence.
Absent that emotional transition, the child remains, well, a petulant brat, with a void within, a fear of real attachment and loyalty, a lack of empathy for others, an unquenchable drive for adulation, and a childish rage toward authority figures who do not grant its will, and right now!
Lasch saw these social necessities as being disintegrated by the drives of capitalism (I did say he was a Marxist, didn't I?).
The nature of work takes the father (and today the mother) out of much of childrearing, which falls to schools and day care. (One way narcissism is created is via an upbringing rich in material goods and instant gratification, but with little emotional attachment given by the parents.)
The "reign of childrearing experts" renders the care the parents do give rather neurotic and timid, and deprives it of control and discipline. Parents become terrified that any failure to give in to the child, any reason for the child to be frustrated with them, will somehow ruin the child -- when in fact such frustration is a vital part of maturation and socialization, of learning that the world doesn't owe you, that life is more than making demands, that sometimes we all fail, yet life goes on. Their fear of ruining the child thus ruins the child.
After the economy became able to supply all the necessities of life, as it did decades ago, expansion was only possible by creating new needs. Since these, unlike necessities, are not obvious, advertising had to fuel demand, and create needs that were not experienced before the public was told it needed them. A part of this creation of needs lay in making narcisstic traits a way of life. Appearances mattered, not reality. Everyone must strive to be better than others, with better measured not as personal worth but as a more stylish car, overpriced clothes with the right label, a better home entertainment center, a more stylish school for the kids.
As the young increasingly came into money (usually not earned, and hence less valued), they became a major part of this market. Part of the narcissist/advertising appeal to them involved creating a culture of youth. Teenagers were no longer to be on a somewhat awkward stage between the child and the adult, but to become a status in and of themselves, full of entitlements which simply had to be met, and now. In short, a training ground for narcissism. The teen was not to be prepared to become an adult, but to be kept a permanent juvenile, the best of consumers.
(Lasch pointed out that during the 1960s, at a point when all these tendencies were gaining in force, a major concern among social critics was that there was too much "conformity!")
Lasch and his successors have seen evidences of a strong and continuing pattern:
1. Increasing materialism, which can never be satisfied (i.e., never give lasting happiness): the new narcissist "demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire."
2. The fears and hypochondria characteristic of neurosis. (Fear may sell, as Moore notes, but to Lasch there is a deeper problem here. It is hard to imagine previous generations being much excited by the M&M red dye scare, the Brie cheese scare, terror of asbestos in the soil, etc.). "The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety."
3. Increasing self-absorption -- self-help texts, daytime TV, etc.. And the self-help texts, when they "speak of the need for 'meaning' and 'love,' they define love and meaning simply as the fulfilment of the patient's emotional requirements. It hardly occurs to them -- nor is there any reason why it should, given the nature of the therapeutic exercise -- to encourage the subject to subordinate his needs and interests to those of others, to someone or some cause or tradition outside himself."
4. The cult of the celebrity. These are defined ... by being celebrated, not by being heroic or otherwise having self-worth. "The media ... intensify narcisstic dreams of fame and glory, encouraging the common man to identify himself with the stars and to hate the 'herd,' and make it more and more difficult for him to accept the comparative banality of everyday existence."
5. With it, the cult of the pose. Reality is not vital: acting out a pose is. Moore is the ultimate poseur, and worshipped by others for it. He boasts of his millions, and of his million-dollar apartment, is driven to shoots in a limo, and by many accounts disdains subordinates and the working class. His next documentary is being financed by millions from a subsidiary of Disney, a heavy exploiter of third world sweatshop products. But he poses so well as a wealthy sorta-leftist, and his fans (who doubtless long to be the same) lap it up.
6. Distintegration of the family, and indeed of all group loyalties. The world is seen as dog-eat-dog. Loyalty is replaced by continual envy. The sadistic humilator of others is seen as a winner. Bowling plays to this theme. Many of those watching it (judging from internet postings) leave in the happy reflection that they are superior to everyone they saw filmed (except of course Moore), and to all those who have not seen or do not love the film.
8. Loss of self and, with it, integrity and values. Appearance in the eyes of others becomes the only value. Credibility and image are real, but truth and inner integrity are not. "Self-esteem," taught from without, replaces a concept of self-worth. Whatever one feels at the moment is not a point of view, but the only reality.
9. Although Lasch died before the advent of "gangsta" celebrities, he made an observation of value: "The collapse of personal life originates, not in the spiritual torments of affluence, but in the war of all against all, which is now spreading from the lower class, where it has raged without interruption, to the rest of society." Sociopaths share many traits with narcissists--self-absorption, lack of values, a feeling of superiority to their prey, the perception of the world as dog-eat-dog. Gangstas are simply the sociopathic "noble savages" of the narcissists.
10. A culture which rejects personal responsibility (the self, integrity): if a person is overweight, they should sue McDonalds for having let them eat what they chose to.
Bowling plays to this theme. Who is responsible for acts of violence? Er--in the end, nobody.
Columbine -- might we venture that the killers (violent narcissists who wrote of showing their power by killing their inferiors, who mocked their victims as they killed them, wrote praises of Hitler) have some responsibility? You wouldn't know that by watching Bowling.
The kid who gunned down Kayla? Nah, "nobody knew why he shot the little girl."
The average murderer, a fellow who thinks sticking the Mrs. with a knife is an normal resolution of a family argument, or that the other crack dealer had it coming? Well, they don't really get a mention. To the extent the question is considered -- it must be because the US government hasn't set up a welfare system like that of Canada, or the media must make them fearful and somehow forces them into it.
Where Moore does propose responsibility, it always rests with something other than the killer. Maybe the bombers (actually, refuelling tankers) flying overhead. The Air Force base. The fact that there's a plant building rockets in town. U.S. foreign policy. Welfare reform. In the end, no one is responsible for their own acts.
11. Lasch predicated that the culture of narcissism would be characterized by making a fetish of youth and holding a disdain for the responsibilities that come with adulthood. He did not live to see the rise of the perpetually infantile adult. As Prof. Frank Furedi points out, "The infantilisation of contemporary society is driven by passions that are quite specific to our times. The understandable desire not to look old has been replaced by the self-conscious cultivation of immaturity."
"In recent years, TV has introduced a new breed of dysfunctional and immature adults who require counselling from teenagers. In the cult US drama Dawson's Creek, it is the serious and wise teenagers who give direction to immature grown-ups. . . . The American Drew Carey Show presents the everyday life of four immature adult friends who have no idea how to grow up. Buffy the Vampire Slayer casts adults as repressive figures, airheads or grown-up adolescents. Many of the leading comedy series - Frasier, Friends, Ellen - present grown-up men and women living a life of extended adolescence."
Here is a sampling of the Moore fan mail I received, which led to this line of thought. Interesting themes run through them --
Truth does not exist, lies are okay, who cares,
"I actually don't deny that the movie is trying to make a point, and in the process will edit speeches, and even use actors. But you know what? Everybody do that and what it is even worse it happen every minute."
"to deliberately deceive a viewer is wrong? How incredibly naive you must be. The entire notion of democracy, capitalism, freedom and justice (to name a few) are the greatest deceptions ever offered, no smacked, in the face of any viewers in the highly propaganistic western world, yet we speak not of these."
The viewer is the universe: there is no "truth" apart from his or her sensations:
"tv and movies, newspapers or even documentaries *are* constructions, not "the truth" ("truth" is subjective personal opinion/experience, which would be impossible to commit to videotape or celluloid)"
My motivation just has to be jealousy.
"Does anyone really care if its non-fiction or fiction? Are you jealous because you didn't win an award?"
"Sounds like you are too constipated and jealous. Maybe some day you will win an oscar and have a best selling book. Naaaaaah"
"You are a backwards, jealous, ZEALOUS, ignorant motherfucker. . . . im honestly so enraged right now by your site that i cannot continue to type this letter. i hope you one day realize that just because you graduated from college with some fancy filmmaking honor, [where the writer got that idea I do not know] it does not make you better than one of the foremost and corageous whistleblowers in america. i salute mr. moore's well-made attempts to pry us away from our television and to tell us what is really happening. fuck you, and yours. A 17 year old"
"You chastise Moore, than have the audacity to allude to the notion that you are a true documentarian. Cry the same fucking song every half-assed wannabe filmmaker has, about, "I don't have the kind of funding as so and so, so I'll have to really struggle to get my "art" made.""
The writer and Moore fans must be innately superior to others who cannot appreciate Moore, esp. working saps who shop at Wal-Mart and thus must own inferior consumer goods:
"And so what if they doctored it up to increase the entertainment value. They had to do something because most of their target audience don't have the attention span to watch a documentary in the first place."
"The following is not meant to offend but let me guess: You're: homophobic, a redneck in a necktie, right-wing, supporter of abortion clinic bombings, against birth control, definitely an NRA member, for the death penalty, a racist, a Wal-Mart shopper...."
I thus pose the question: is Moore's success a proof of Lasch's argument? The penultimate narcissist finds popular acclaim, and a cult status, and a two-hour acting out of his disorder wins honors and acceptance . . . does this tell us something of his audience? Does the size of that audience tell us something about at least an appreciable part of society?
Two Final Points
1. Of Columbine
The theme of Bowling centers upon the Columbine killings. Moore does little to answer the obvious question -- why would two high school students thirteen of their classmates, with most of whom they actually had no grudge, and then commit suicide? At the time of the killings, there were attempts to explain -- none of which panned out. They weren't members of a "trench coat mafia," weren't being thrashed constantly by jocks, and the local goth-types didn't care for them. So what made them go for mass murder (their plans were even worse than the reality, but the bombs they planted to blast all the students in the cafeteria malfunctioned) and suicide?
Moore briefly explores one rather shallow explanation -- they listened to too much Marilyn Manson music -- scraps that, and the search is over. It's a straw man; just because Manson took his last name from a serial killer, goes in for nazi-like images, and likes to dress up a little,
doesn't mean his music can turn normal humans into mass murderers. (Manson, who is actually exceptionally brainy for a performer, has his niche: every teenager wants to shock their parents. This is very hard to do these days. Nude mass orgies while under the influence of mind-altering drugs? Hey, grandma and grandpa did it at Woodstock.)
Perhaps Moore did probe farther, and found the answer lay a little too close to home. Nothing like investigating evil, and finding yourself looking in a mirror.
"Terrorists, serial killers, and mass murderers can be phenomenologically described as narcissists in a constant state of deficient narcissistic supply. . . . They decompensate and act out. They bring "down to their level" (by destroying it) the object of their pathological envy, the cause of their seething frustration, the symbol of their dull achievements, always incommensurate with their inflated self-image.
They seek omnipotence through murder, control (not least self control) through violence, prestige, fame and celebrity by defying figures of authorities, challenging them, and humbling them. Unbeknownst to them, they seek self punishment. They are at heart suicidal. . . .. These are all primitive, infantile, and often persecutory, defense mechanisms.
When coupled with narcissism - the inability to empathize, the exploitativeness, the sense of entitlement, the rages, the dehumanization and devaluation of others - this mindset yields abysmal contempt for the narcissist's victims. The overriding emotion of terrorists and serial killers, the amalgam and culmination of their tortured psyche - is deep seated disdain for everything human, the flip side of envy. It is cognitive dissonance gone amok." Source
From one summary of the videotapes the Columbine killers made: "They talked about how "evolved" they were and how beyond human they were, sentiments reflected in their writings..... He said that they were waging "a two-man war against everyone else."." The Denver Post reported, "Remarks made about religion or God [by the killers] were reported uttered because the gunmen were "taunting their schoolmates, who were saying things like, 'Oh God.' The killers used religion, race or anything to belittle their victims." (One might wonder how they were raised. One clue: five days after the killings, "Susan Klebold was still stunned Thursday, talking to her hairdresser about what her son, Dylan, had done." Source. Another: Klebold's parents filed notice of suit against the sheriff, alleging that he was responsible for the killings because he failed to notify them of the other killer's dangerousness. Source.)
They were the most extreme form of narcissism: a dog-eat-dog world taken to open combat, dehumanizing others taken to the point where others' lives had no value, attacking others by ridicule replaced by attacking with bombs and guns, and in the end self-hate taken to the point of suicide.
In short, might Moore have found he had more in common with the Columbine shooters than he would want to think of? Not a complete identity, to be sure. Moore uses a camera to humiliate, not a gun, and has managed to get all the narcisstic supply he desires.
(Having gotten this far, I was interested to discover that the links between Columbine, rising levels of narcissism, and mass murder have already been explored, most notably by psychologist/lawyer Barbara Lerner.)
2. Of Terrorism
Many of Moore's email supporters (and probably Moore himself) belong to, or suffer from, the condition sometimes called postmodernism. To this frame of mind, there is no objective truth: all so-called truth springs from experience, and is relative. There is thus no valid basis for judging others: to each their own. To judge other's actions is, well, to become an authority figure, and this is forbidden. The parallels with narcisstic thinking should be apparent here.
The godlike Ken Wilber, author of Boomeritis, makes an interesting point. (He defines Boomeritis, incidentally, as pluralism infected with narcissism -- that is, an attempt to posture as all-tolerant and totally non-judgmental, while at the same time remaining totally selfish and self-absorbed.).
First, he notes that terrorists, and always their leaders, are quite well-educated men, usually with a college degree (I believe bin Laden held a degree in engineering, and most of the 9/11 hijackers had at least some years of college.). These are not actually Taliban in caves, but people with an education, often a Western education. Second, what we might call the theorists of terror (Fannon, etc., who taught that the act of violent "liberation" itself gave meaning to life, regardless of whether it had any political effect) drew heavily upon the postmodernist view, and the university set lapped this up and made it "the one true style;" any other view was Neanderthal, or at least politically naiive. Finally :
[F]or the last several decades, the various Third World groups, factions, insurrectionists, and even terrorists have actually adopted the postmodernist lingo coming out of American universities in order to justify their actions. [This argues], in its extreme--and most common--forms, that culturally there is no good or bad, no better or worse: there are no universal standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. In short , we cannot say anything about an Other that the Other would not say about itself. Period. . . . .
It used to be that insurrectionists mouthed the Marxist lingo, or the anti-capitalist lingo, or sometimes they used a contorted religious lingo--and they still use all of those on occasion. But the most eloquent--the Michel de Certeaus and Edward Saids and Slavoj Zizeks of this world--now rely heavily on the language of postmodern poststructuralism, the language of pluralistic relativism--the language, that is, of boomeritis. . . . .
From that particular angle, you are quite right: boomeritis was deeply complicit in the deconstruction of the World Trade Center.. . . .When the net result of your academic musing comes down to: there are no universal standards by which any culture may be judged inferior to another; the West under sway of the Enlightenment is merely a hegemonic imperial imposition of universal absolutist standards on the innocent world; therefore anything Western is bad, anything non Western is good; therefore deconstructing the West and the Enlightenment is the noble thing to do--well, when your thought is shot through with pre/post fallacies of such magnitude, when it thus provides an intellectual atmosphere in which deconstructive terrorism anywhere is implicitly applauded--well, of course that entire academic atmosphere is deeply complicit in such terrorist acts. The extreme postmodernists are not the actual cause of any of this crime, but they are complicit, they are deeply complicit."
Cross-polination, as it were, between anti-Western thinkers and anti-Western terrorists is not mere speculation. It is significant that when Imam Samudra was convicted of the 2002 Bali nightclubs bombing, which killed 202, "His lawyer, Qaidar Faisal, later delivered an official defence submission. It argued about the real meaning of the jihad struggle, how Afghanistan under Taliban rule had been a pure nation, as its laws had been crafted by God and not humans. Mr Faisal also quoted from American satirist Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men and other anti-western texts." Source.
I'll pose a final question:
Assume, arguendo, that all Moore says and writes, that what his followers reflect, is accurate.
Now formulate a statement as to why the killing of thousands of civilians at the World Trade Center was fundamentally evil.
Not a terribly easy thing to do, is it?
(If you try to squeak by with total pacifism -- all killing is evil, period -- the next assignment is to formulate a war crimes indictment of Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and explain their moral equivalence to the death camp operators.).