Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?

The commercial glories of phony "censorship"


Michael Moore's forthcoming film Fahrenheit 911—whose final cut the highly successful documentarian/provocateur is busily preparing for its debut at Cannes next week—will not be distributed by financier Miramax. The studio's corporate masters at Disney, the antichrist of anti-corporate crusaders, have refused to allow Miramax to distribute it. Moore himself is calling this move a "profound censorship obstacle" of a sort that he "often seem[s] to encounter."

Suspiciously, this "news" breaks a week before the film's Cannes debut. But it isn't really news, as The New York Times article from yesterday makes clear. Disney told Miramax a year ago it would not allow the subsidiary to distribute Moore's film in America. The movie will, Moore promises, blow the lid off longstanding and allegedly little-known connections between President Bush and the Bin Laden family. Undoubtedly Moore hopes its release in America this summer will help hobble Bush's second run for the White House. And of course, Miramax or no, it will be released. Moore's last documentary, Bowling For Columbine, was the highest-grossing documentary of all time.

Even Alternet recognizes that this supposed blow to his film's prospects are in fact a big plus for Moore, noting that Disney's decision "may not be such a bad thing for the bottom line… While Michael Moore is no slouch in the publicity department, when's the last time he had a film promoted on the front page of the New York Times months before its release?" Indeed, the contretemps preceding the publication of his book Stupid White Men was the kind of "censorship" that got everyone salivating over the could-be forbidden fruit. Publisher HarperCollins got nervous about the book's anti-Bush tone right after 9/11 (it was scheduled for early October 2001 publication) and threatened to pulp existing copies and get Moore to revise it.

They eventually relented and published it as intended in February 2002 and this about-to-be-"censored" book became the best-selling non-fiction book of 2002, cementing Moore as a true superstar. Perhaps if Moore's admittedly fictional film about the American invasion of Canada, Canadian Bacon, had suffered a backing out from some corporation that he could spin as "censorship," it would have been such a life-changing success that we'd still have alive with us today star John Candy, or at least the sadly deceased career of the film's feckless president, Alan Alda.

In modern America, attempts to suppress (especially if you already have a fan base) are a sure sign that you are heading not down a memory hole but to the toppermost of the poppermost. On the same day Moore chose to make news from Disney's "censorship," the news was also floating about an Israeli filmmaker refusing to make changes to his film Jenin, Jenin, on the Israeli 2002 offensive on the West Bank city of Jenin. Such changes might have helped rescind an outright ban on showing his film in Israel. Now that's censorship. But it is only censorship in one nation, and in a world of broadband where any media that can be reduced to digits and shot over wires, even that sort of pure state censorship will be more and more meaningless and ineffectual.

Are the allegations Moore is going to present in his forthcoming film true? Will he use his notorious shading techniques to tell the tale he wants to tell, and imply the evils he wishes to imply? Undoubtedly, it will be a mix of incontrovertible fact, questionable speculation, and even some verifiable lies. And undoubtedly a huge and universally accessible scrum of arguers, haters, and correctors, both educated and uneducated, will leap upon the film. Rather than smother it, this will merely help continue the lively, ubiquitous, multivoiced conversation we've all enjoyed (or sometimes decried) with increasing intensity since the Internet entered almost everyone's lives.

Michael Moore is annoying and something of a hypocrite and he doesn't get his facts straight. But his flourishing as a professional pain in the ass to the president of the United States, and his continued and continual thriving despite supposed "censorship" threats from purportedly all-powerful corporations, make him a glorious symbol of the still-living freedoms in what we can, without much in the way of irony, still call this Great Land of Ours.

It isn't great because of Bush, or because of Disney (though the latter has done more for the commonweal than the former). But even such supposedly powerful forces can't ruin it. From big names like Michael Moore to the most obscure blogs, markets and technologies have given everyone the power to say everything they want to everyone who cares to hear. Dude, that's your country. It would be nice if once in a while Moore would acknowledge that instead of pretending for his own marketing purposes that corporate tyranny and a fake president are crushing him into dust.

Still, that's all part of the grand public pageant that makes living here entertaining as well as absurdly option-filled. May a thousand Michael Moore's—and ten thousand dedicated opponents—write, film, and talk. And let the rest of us choose to tune in—or not—as we wish.