When your movie is about how awfully your audience failed their country, how do you sell their failure back to them in the form of a movie? And who wants to see a movie about their own failures anyway? The answers are: you don’t, and no one. Michael Moore’s latest documentary Slacker Uprising doesn’t waste its time trying to get you into theaters, because, I suppose, with today’s economy, why charge the price of a theater ticket to get his political message conveyed when giving the show away for free will reach more people? Admirably, Moore has decided his message is more important than what would’ve undoubtedly been a massive box-office turn around (Moore’s are some of the most financially successful documentaries produced).
Not so much a film as an extended video diary, the result covers Moore’s pre-presidential election tour of 2004, where he took to college campuses to encourage the younger generations, or “slackers,” that wouldn’t normally vote to register. Moore stands on stage before cheering audiences and asks its members, Who hasn’t registered to vote yet? For those who raise their hands and agree to register, he amusingly offers every college student’s lifeblood: ramen noodles and clean undies. The Republican Party accused Moore of offering bribes, to which he laughed in comparison to the millions in under-the-table transactions no doubt committed by politicians on both sides every election.
In the battle between Bush and Kerry, Moore was on Kerry’s side—that’s obvious with the release of Fahrenheit 9/11, which, hitting theaters just before this tour got underway, failed in its attempts to sway voters with its apt statements and evidence against George W. Bush. The reelection of Bush was a harsh blow against Moore’s faith in Americans, I think, not to mention his pride in his $100 million-plus earning documentary. Moore’s movement followed in Slacker Uprising, we know from the last four years, also failed. So why would Moore present two of his greatest failures from the last election in a free format just prior to the 2008 election? Indeed, on SlackerUprising.com you can download Moore’s new documentary for free (legally) and watch it at home. Moore simply wants to get the message out, but what is that message?
Moore’s chief purpose for the tour, getting unregistered voters to sign up, is noble enough. But there’s a clear Democratic undercurrent to the majority of his statements. Or maybe it’s just his passionate distrust and embarrassment that Bush is President. He creates hilarious pro-Bush ads against Kerry, admitted riffs on the then-current ads running on television. (One insists that if Kerry loved the country so much, he would’ve died in Vietnam.) And then there are the praise-filled introductions by friends like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Joan Baez, and the members of R.E.M., which are loving notes to their faith in Moore’s powers of persuasion and ability to rustle feathers—included for what feels like a self-aggrandizing masturbation. The accumulation of these events plays like an underground political convention for the Democratic Party, one that certainly angered the Republicans, and furthered Moore’s celebrity and his heavily publicized objections to the current administration.
Angry republican protesters crash Moore’s college shows; a group of them chant The Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary at his assembly and call him the “antichrist.” Demonstrators believe Fahrenheit 9/11 to be evil, and Moore “a communist,” but when asked, none of the interviewees had seen the movie. Clips from news affiliates talk about the Republican Party attempting to thwart Moore’s efforts, getting him banned from campuses, which only serves to further expose the tour. Some colleges maintain their backbone and ignore the objections, while others ban Moore, comically forcing him to a larger venue down the street. All those griping against his message and the way he presents it have seemingly forgotten Moore has the right to free speech too.
At one point in the movie, Moore rightfully scorns today’s mainstream news media for not doing their jobs. Why did they take Bush’s post-9/11 statements at face value, and why didn’t they follow their First Amendment rights and seek out the truth, or voice their skepticism? Is there no such thing as critical reporting anymore? He asserts how the media was intended as a safeguard, what should’ve remained a suspicious eye watching our leaders to avoid the perceived corruption that caused us to establish The United States of America in the first place. And so, I have to chuckle when those who oppose Moore accuse his work of being “propaganda.” Of course it is—he’s broadcasting his ideas. He’s structuring an argument, like any politician or news anchor would. Moore’s no different. There’s nothing immoral about what he’s doing. He’s simply carrying out his First Amendment rights. Like any politician or news source, however, we must watch Moore with a suspicious eye, realizing that there’s a spin on every piece of evidence or cleverly-edited interview.
Moore realized he made a mistake with Fahrenheit 9/11, I believe, by selling his movie instead of giving it away. His intent for that film was to prompt enough disgust in Bush that he wouldn’t be reelected. Knowing how that turned out, the message is further spread with Slacker Uprising’s viral campaign. Unfortunately, this film has none of the investigating panache or witty prose of his 2004 film. Frankly, it’s a bore. The setting seems irrelevant, his quest over before it begins. And while convincing people to vote remains admirable, the historical context communicates his failure from the outset. Considering the expert documentary filmmaking skills displayed on Roger & Me and Sicko, this is Moore’s least penetrating effort.