Michael H Goldhaber on Thu, 8 Jul 2004 22:26:40 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Michael Moore

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 and War in the Attention Era

War is always a contest over something; for instance, under capitalism, it
is often a contest over resources (including oil). In the attention
economy, however, war is a contest over attention, and the ultimate winner
is the one who is best able to use not only war but the images of war best
to win attention. Thus, as I have described in a 2003 telepolis column,
the Iraq war was the Bush administration's attempt to hold the attention
it grabbed as a result of 9-11. As the war unfolded, at first this went
well for the Bushies, what with embedded journalists, the quick march to
Baghdad, the brilliant use of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, the pulling down of
Saddam's statue, the playing card with the most-wanted Saddamists, Bush's
aircraft-carrier landing and the like.

But the images soon turned, what with the so-called "insurgency," which
was really just another stage of defensive moves by Saddamists combined
with guerilla and terror tactics by other anti-occupation forces, the
increasingly absurd hunt for =93WMD=94 then , more recently Abu Ghraib,
the kidnappings and beheadings, which, sickening as they were, still
captured attention for Abou Musa Zarqawi , or whoever was really behind
them, the Falluja uprising, Muqtada al-Sadr, the 9-11 hearings, and so on.
In the midst of all this, last Thanksgiving, Bush's attempt at new
photo-op quickly fizzled when it turned out he was holding a cardboard
turkey to serve the troops in the secured airport near Baghdad.

Getting and holding attention is a matter, very often, of upstaging an
acknowledged star by somehow getting into the frame, stealing the
attention that goes to the star for oneself. In the most simplified terms,
this now what Michael Moore has accomplished in and with his tremendously
effective film. Though others have tried in the past to leverage Bush's
image to the opposite effect, Moore has done this superbly, so much so
that now, inevitably, as more and more people see the film, Bush himself,
and the war, will become a reference to Michael Moore, and to the anti-war
movement he supports. This took real artistry.

Of course, critiques of the film and of Moore , from the silly right
(including David Brooks in the NY Times) and the silly left abound, each
trying to re-direct the attention Moore has garnered to him- or herself,
but so clumsily, in the cases I have seen, that they mostly might as well
be posing with their own cardboard turkeys. They accuse Moore of
everything from blatant anti-Americanism to "white nationalism" to "bad
analysis," to an anti-Israeli position to ignoring Israel entirely (it is
in fact not mentioned in the film). But all these attempts -- so far,
anyway -- have been ludicrously crude, themselves weak caricatures of
Moore's own somewhat crude but much more effective trademark tactic
(especially in his earlier movies) of obnoxiously getting in the face of
some important person he wants to make look stupid, and in doing so whose
thunder (that is, received attention) he wants to steal.

If Moore takes quotes from context for rhetorical purpose s -- and who
doesn=92t, at times ---these would-be deflectors of his well-earned
attention do so in spades, but without grasping how this tactic requires
careful variation and iteration to be effective, so they end up simply
making themselves look the same buffoons Moore is so good at skewering.



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