Sunday, September 11, 2016

Super Delegates Bonus: George W. Bush in "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004)

George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11
Welcome to Super Delegates Bonus. As a subsidiary of Super Delegates, the sporadic additional column is meant to explore depictions of politicians on film outside of the conventional methods of the column. This ranges from everything such as political candidates in TV movies and miniseries to real life candidates providing feedback on their pop culture representation. While not as frequent or conventional, the goal is to help provide a vaster look at politics on film as it relates to the modern election year. Join in and have some fun. One can only imagine what will be covered here.

Fahrenheit 9/11
Release Date: June 25, 2004
Directed By: Michael Moore
Written By: Michael Moore
Starring: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Ben Affleck
Delegates in Question:
-George W. Bush

It is going to be a tough move for there ever to be a date in 21st century American history that is as infamous and defining as September 11, 2001. It was a day of great change as plans flew into the World Trade Center, sending buildings crumbling to the ground with the chance of survival near impossible. Everyone worked together to find hope within the rubble. Many lives were lost. There's enough within that 24 hour time frame to write whole encyclopedias around. It's a date that changed the country, and 15 years later it is hard to not notice its impact. Not only on politics, but in how citizens go about their everyday lives. While things have gotten better, one can't help but imagine how different the world could've been if this date didn't happen. What would these past 15 years look like?

Or in the case of director Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, the better question is: How would we perceive George W. Bush? To be frank, he is one of the most maligned presidents of the past century, often referenced by historians as "Woodrow Wilson on steroids." He thought that war could solve issues, or at least serve as the best revenge plot. As a result, he started a War on Terror that is itself a divisive measure - leaving people on both sides of the equation in an uncertain dread. The perception of Bush otherwise would be hard to determine, especially since his momentary time in office before the attacks is now overshadowed by seven years of questionable decisions.

It should also be noted that Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't just your average propaganda documentary. It was a film that struck a nerve with audiences in 2004: grossing $222 million internationally, earning the Cannes Film Festival's top honor Palme d'Or, and is the most financially successful documentary in history (second place goes to March of the Penguins with $127 million). Audiences were clearly eager for Moore's take down of Bush. It was edgy and controversial for the sake that it was released towards the end of his first term, almost built solely as an attempt to get him kicked out of office. One could easily tell that Moore didn't like Bush. By that time, it seemed like most of the country didn't like him. Considering that this only chronicled everything before 2004, it comes across now as an incomplete documentary that could easily have seen Moore do a sequel if he preferred.

But what value does it have otherwise? Beyond the Palme d'Or, Fahrenheit 9/11 failed to make a critical splash. The truth is that it's the documentary that may be among Moore's most divisive simply by execution. Where Bowling for Columbine expertly explored gun culture; and Sicko explored healthcare, those were targets without a distinctive face and a far more boring payout. Fahrenheit 9/11 was about someone whom the country felt was doing them wrong. Moore was out to exploit Bush's downsides, and did so in a way that many would consider eye-opening and in other ways definitive of the era. If there's one document that would define the "Bush sucks" movement, it's this one.

The reality is that Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't just about picking on Bush's imbecile nature. The whole opening explores the lead-up to his election, including Moore sarcastically suggesting that the voting was rigged - with many voters being ignored entirely. He even showed the inauguration day where Bush was pelted with debris. Even the lead-up to 9/11/01 seems pretty damning when you follow Moore's logic. In some ways, it is tied into the Bush family legacy, with the dispute on if the attack was tied to business deals done by former President George H.W. Bush. To say the least, Moore's work plays out in a way that makes the final piece of the puzzle make sense while creating a million crackpots in the process. 

How does Moore describe Bush's first year in office? It was full of vacations. The day of the attacks saw him in a middle school classroom thinking for dozens of minutes on end about the ongoing tragedy. It's painted as poor decision making. Moore suggests that Bush knows that he screwed up. Everything that follows is a mixture of what the country would become. It would be at war. It was going to feature more bad decisions. Bush was only going to continue looking really, really bad. Moore wouldn't have it any other way.

This whole entry could dissect Moore's attack on Bush. However, part of the point of Super Delegates is to explore how it relates to the modern age. To be frank, it is impossible to imagine modern history of 9/11. It's one that has an exuding and conflicting pro-America stance that can at times be xenophobic, as seen with Donald Trump and his supporters who wish to ban Muslims and "rapist" Mexicans. There's even more propaganda out there that tries to paint terrorism as being in our own backyards - specifically in cases such as Fox News. While it comes across as comical in the documentary, it is the tragic truth that 9/11 convinced a certain facet of the country to become paranoid of anything that was different. While the date in question was full of unifying helpfulness, the judgmental nature that followed is something that lingers.

Even more than that, Moore's attack isn't just on Bush as a person, but congress as a whole. In the final third of the film, he shifts focus to one specific group who were victimized by the attacks: soldiers. While it may not seem so obvious, Moore suggests that there's various methods in which soldiers and veterans weren't given their due. Beyond war, they sometimes didn't even get the financial needs that they were promised to get by. Meanwhile, war went from being a masochistic joyride where tanks blasted The Bloodhound Gang's "Fire Water Burn," as they destroyed cities, to being about the horrors of seeing dead corpses. The impending trauma that followed is given heavy focus, also helping to shift the comedic edges of the documentary to one of tragedy. The whole thing doesn't end on a Bush attack for being dumb, but one for letting down those that defended the country.

While conservative and liberal ideals will forever be split on some of Bush's overall decisions, he does have an uphill battle to be more than the worst president of the millennium (in fairness, there's only been one other). Yet the access to media and ability to release content at a more rapid rate definitely makes it harder to splice out the good. Beyond his own policies, it does seem like the Bush name is tainted. When his brother Jeb Bush ran, he received such a tepid response that one unenthused rally caused him to say "Please clap" just to generate some sort of response. It does seem like after two Bush presidencies, it will take quite a bit of effort to get another one to even make it as a Republican candidate.

His policies are definitely still being felt, and President Barrack Obama is still working on fixing what many see as blunders. However, the bigger and more noticeable remark in recent months is Bush claiming that he worries that he will be the last Republican president. It could be that Trump is less than favorable to the point that none of the former living Republican presidents showed up to the Republican National Convention. However, one could easily see it as the fault of Bush himself, if you choose to buy into Moore's worldview. It may have started before 9/11, but it's easy to think that the way that Bush handled one day would change his legacy negatively for the rest of his life. 

The only real issue is that Moore's somewhat competent approach to this documentary has inspired other crackpots to make their own anti-candidate works. Dinesh D'Souza has made a career out of making documentaries that slam Democratic candidates in the belief that they're ruining the country. While one could at least thank Moore for making his facts look valid, it's hard to not see this documentary's impact as being more negative in the grand scheme of things. His stylized pop-documentary mostly used cool things to emphasize his point, and his sarcastic voice-over comes across as self-entitled genius than actual information. Of course, this is the result of a documentary making the money of a blockbuster. It is bound to impact people both positively and negatively.

I suppose it is telling that while Moore has remained busy with documentaries, he hasn't released any that have been as explicitly anti-Obama. Still, Fahrenheit 9/11 is at times dated and reflective of a less than pleasant style of documentary film making. He does share valid points, and plenty that reflect the political climate in 2004, but it mostly comes across as a banner for the "Bush sucks" movement. It likely even was the final nail in the coffin, as we are now 15 years on from that fateful day and are only starting to recover. Maybe Bush's reputation will change in time, but it will be some time before it is able to shake the notions spread by Moore and documentaries like his.

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