MSNBC broadcast the Michael Moore masterpiece, Bowling for Columbine, Saturday night. It won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2003.
I’m a big fan of Michael and of course have seen the movie, but it’s been awhile and I forgot a lot about it, so I watched it again.
Somehow, I had forgotten that the documentary included security camera footage showing the Columbine kids hunkered down, hiding, running, and the shooters moving about the school. There was audio of 911 calls and phone conversations. It was chilling and although I was sickened and horrified, I thought: It is good for the nation to be reminded.
The film centers around the question of why in America we have so many gun murders. Compared to other countries who have from less than a hundred annually, up to three hundred or so per year, the U.S. at that point in time boasted 11,000 gun murders in a year’s time.
Moore asked the question of community members and students in Littleton, Colorado. He asked people in the streets. He went to Canada and asked Canadians, as Canada has as many guns as we do but no problem with gun violence. He asked the question of a Lockheed Martin spokesperson from inside its weapons manufacturing plant in Littleton.
Throughout, you got the idea Moore was pointing the finger at the gun industry. He spent a fair amount of time on the NRA’s pro-gun rally in Littleton shortly after the tragedy and again when the NRA came to town after another shooting of a little girl by a 6 year old boy who found a gun at home and took it to school. Charlton Heston was the figurehead for the NRA then and his defense of guns and the NRA’s right to show up wherever they want whenever they want was prominently displayed in the film.
One powerful segment was when Moore talked to two young men who had been wounded at Columbine. One was in a wheelchair and permanently paralyzed; the other still had bullets in his body. The ammunition that was used had been purchased at K-Mart, so Moore and the two young people made a trip to K-Mart HQ to get an audience with the CEO. What transpired was K-Mart agreeing to take their ammunition off of the shelves, a surprise victory.
But what I missed the first time I saw this film was that Moore ultimately laid the blame on our media and not just the news media. He spent several minutes showing us how the media covers crime committed by minorities over white collar crime and other ways our media induces fear, including in product advertising. He interviewed a producer of a crime reality TV show and asked him why they show more crimes committed by minorities than white people or why they don’t show white collar crime. He honestly answered that no one would watch white collar crime shows. Moore pointed out that they were giving a false impression of the people in non-white ethnic groups. The guy said he didn’t mean to do that but he had no answer.
Moore talked to people who own guns because they believe everyone is a possible killer and they could be the next victim. Fear was a theme.
Moore took a look at Canadian news broadcasts and you could see how unlike American news broadcasts they are. Basically, news without fear mongering. He talked with Canadians who said they don’t lock their doors. He asked Canadian after Canadian if they lock their doors and they all said no. He didn’t believe them, so he went around a Canadian city opening front doors to check. The doors were unlocked and sometimes people came to the front door and conversed with him.
His ultimate message as I understood the film on the second time around was that it’s not just guns that is causing America’s gun violence epidemic although that is a large part of it. It’s the fear mongering in the mass media, aimed particularly towards minorities, that is creating a sub-culture of gun violence in our country.
If you have never seen Bowling for Columbine, it is prescient and it’s beautifully done and you should take the time.
I hope Moore’s next movie is about the media.
“We live in fictitious times.” Michael Moore
Thank you for this very interesting post and for reminding us of the existence of this documentary. After I saw it years ago, I wondered if scientific research would be done on the reasons for the differences between gun violence in Canada and gun violence in the U.S, because the differences are indeed mind-blowing. If that kind of research hasn’t been done, it should be. Though it probably doesn’t help that, if I recall correctly, public money is not available in the U.S. for research on gun violence as a public health issue.