Thursday, December 16, 2004

Moore vs. Gibson: A False Dichotomy

Over the past several months, bloggers and other pundits have spoken of Michael Moore and Mel Gibson as if they (and the films they produced this year) are opposite sides of the same coin. Here's one example (and I don't mean to pick on you, Sean; you just happen to have spoken of it recently):
Time will soon pick its Person Man of the Year. The most obvious choice would be President Bush. Webloggers would be a great choice, but a MSM honoring their newest competitors (at least in their eyes) is illogical. How about this for a selection: Mel Gibson and Michael Moore? They both represent the politically divided nation we saw on Election Day. They both made movies that became bigger than what was projected on the big screen. With their success this year both won't be going away. It's Red State and Blue State. Liberal and Conservative. Left and Right. They both represent this moment in time. The picks just fit, and the accompanying articles would be more interesting to read than a rehash of Election 2004.

Others have wondered if Moore's and Gibson's respective films -- "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of the Christ" -- would be facing each other as Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards.

I guess I see the Moore vs. Gibson comparisons as a false dichotomy. Moore's film criticizes President Bush. Gibson's film glorifies Christ. Comparing these films' two subjects is like comparing apples to tricycles. Had Moore's film criticized Jesus, or had Gibson's film been a paean to George W., then I could see how they might be considered competitive visions, but that is not the case.

Moore's film concerns politics. Gibson's film concerns faith. Creating this false dichotomy may also put faith and politics in competition, or perhaps equate them in a dangerous way -- as if both filims express extremist views, or both play fast and loose with the truth.

When drawing ideological divisions in this country, it's tempting to call "The Passion" a Red State movie, and "Fahrenheit 9/11" a Blue State movie, but labels are never that simple. Just as there are people who are not professing Christians who support our President, there are certainly people critical of George Bush who also have faith in Christ.

Here's Michael Medved on CNN this past July.
Well, first of all, they're not doing comparably well. And I think that's very, very important to keep in mind.

The Michael Moore movie is a genuinely polarizing film. People either hate it or they love it in about equal measure. But if you listen to the audiences who actually went to see "The Passion of the Christ," which were audiences about five times as large as the Michael Moore movie, the audiences overwhelmingly loved it. They responded to it not as a political statement, but as a statement of faith.

And I think that the whole idea that these two movies are compared to one another indicates how out of touch some people in the elites really are.

Even E. J. Dionne seems to agree:
There are a lot of religious Americans, for example, who share Mel Gibson's value of Jesus as savior who vote Democratic. A lot of those voters are African-Americans.

They're totally left out of when we have this discussion. They're deeply religious people, quite traditionalist in their views, and they vote Democratic. The other problem with the discussion is that believing, having a clear and strong set of religious beliefs is not automatically associated with political beliefs, whereas the Michael Moore movie is clearly a political statement against George Bush.

So I think the two things we're comparing here are not exactly apples and oranges, but almost there.

In comparing the two directors and their two films we're dragging "The Passion of the Christ" down to the nasty, lying, mudslinging level of "Fahrenheit 9/11" or elevating Moore's film to the level of the gospel.

(Granted, to some on the left, Moore's film certainly is gospel.)


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