Bowling for columbine

Are you the only person on the planet who has not seen this documentary yet?

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Comments

  1. #1 Wayne Conrad
    March 16, 2009

    Documentary, or editorial?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    March 16, 2009

    Wayne: Quick: Without checking wikipedia or asking your mother for the answer, what is the editorial point of this film?????

  3. #3 Wayne Conrad
    March 16, 2009

    “Guns are bad, m’kay?”

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    March 16, 2009

    Wayne, you have clearly not seen the movie. Moore is a card carrying member of the NRA, a gun enthusiast, and a hunter, and he does not conclude that firearms are bad.

    Who told you to think that?

  5. #5 Wayne Conrad
    March 17, 2009

    Greg, Those facts about Mr. Moore don’t make the movie a documentary. He frequently injects his own point of view into the movie through several means. One is through what in statistics you’d call selection bias. I don’t know what it’s called in film making. For example, he’s picked only the victims of violence involving guns to interview, not those saved by guns (there are at least hundreds of thousands of crimes prevented by defensive uses of firearms every year). Of those on the “pro” side of the gun debate, he’s picked the most extreme examples to speak for the gun community: The Michigan militia, in full battle dress, marching down a dirt road at night like an army. And then that guy associated with the Oklahoma bombing. These are the skinny tail end of the curve of the views of the gun community, and not what you’d pick if you were trying to document something. They are what you pick if you’re trying to bias your audience.

    Another means Mr. Moore uses to bias the movie is to introduce his own point of view directly on camera. One I remember is, “Don’t you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?” It’s a cute, humorous editorial device.

    As I recall, there are some nonsense statistics presented as well. Numbers of “gun deaths” presented ignoring populations. The ratios may be different, too, but if they are, present the ratios. When someone presents only the numerator of a ratio, a skeptics eyebrows should head for the ceiling. Mr. Moore also states that it is the guns that have made the numbers different. Correlation does not prove causation. That’s basic science, and that’s why we don’t get our science from film-makers.

    If the “history” cartoon isn’t an editorial statement, I don’t know what is.

    The difference between a documentary and an editorial is this: A documentary shows me the universe without bias and allows me to draw my own conclusions. An editorial tells me what the editor is thinking, with examples backing up the editor’s conclusion. Have you every heard the story-teller’s maxim of “Show me, don’t tell me?” That’s the difference between a documentary and an editorial, with the added proviso that a documentary maker has the responsibility to maintain a neutral point of view–if he wants to call it a documentary with a straight face.

    The insidiousness of the modern editorial nee documentary film is this: A filmmaker at the top of his art can make a film where none of the material or numbers shown are false, but through the selection of material, the misuse of statistics, and the pointed remarks and scary music, the film presents the surface from 6 feet, from only the few spots the film-maker wishes to show. And yet the film appears to the audience as though it is the view from 10,000 feet, leaving them unaware that they’ve seen the truth but not the whole truth.

    I’m aware that documentary films have a long history of a somewhat non-neutral point of view–of telling a particular story, not of just presenting reality as it is and of letting the viewer make his own conclusion, such that the distinction I wish to draw between “documentary” and “editorial” might seem like a nit. I do not think it is, as long as people have the association between “documentary” and “reality” in their minds. Wherever one draws the line between documentary and editorial, there is one. It is my assertion that documentary films in recent years have moved closer to it, and in this case have taken that big step over the line.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    He frequently injects his own point of view into the movie through several means.

    Indeed. As is always the case with all documentaries.

    Of those on the “pro” side of the gun debate, he’s picked the most extreme examples to speak for the gun community

    such as the main spokesperson for the NRA.

    As I recall, there are some nonsense statistics presented as well. Numbers of “gun deaths” presented ignoring populations.

    I was totally annoyed by that as well.

    Mr. Moore also states that it is the guns that have made the numbers different. Correlation does not prove causation.

    Actually, his number one point is that gun ownership patterns have nothing whatsoever to do with gun violence rates, which is pretty much the NRA point of view.

    I don’t think Moore has ever claimed that his movies do not express opinions. What is more interesting here, though, is that you seem to be insisting that Moore is a gun-control and anti-gun nut, when that is simply not the case. Perhaps you walked out of the film early.

  7. #7 Wayne Conrad
    March 17, 2009

    Greg, Reasonable people can disagree while still having seen the whole film. I’m glad to find that you were just as annoyed with Mr. Moore’s misuse of statistics as I was.

    I don’t think we’ll come to an agreement on the difference between a documentary and an editorial, so I’ll move on to the point you’ve brought up, which is that Mr. Moore is not anti-gun. Belong to the NRA is a smokescreen (if I had to guess, useful for getting an interview with Mr. Heston). So is being a hunter: Guns are ultimately about the defense of life and liberty, not about obtaining food. What tells are actions and the flow of dollars. Mr. Moore’s support is going to the Brady Campaign, the premier anti-gun organization. From http://www.michaelmoore.com:

    And it is that very gun that I still own to this day. I have decided the best thing to do with this gun is to melt it down into a bust of John Ashcroft and auction it off on E-Bay (more details on that later). All the proceeds will go to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence to fight all these lying gun nuts who have attacked my film and make it possible on a daily basis for America’s gun epidemic to rage on.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Every gun owner I know supports Brady. What you are saying here is that there is only one kind of gun owner, you, and everyone else is a pretender. Or at least that is what it feels like you are saying.

    His decision to melt down a particular gun (well, to joke about it) is not very telling . Have you seen the documentary? Can you articulate what Moore concludes in it?

    And, can you name a documentary that is not a nature flick that does not express an opinion or set of opinions? (in your opinion)

  9. #9 Wayne Conrad
    March 17, 2009

    Although I may know some gun owners who support Brady, of the people I know well enough to know both their politics and their ownership of firearms, I know of none. That may be a regional difference. I live in Arizona, after all. You are correct that I do not conflate “gun owner” with “second amendment supporter.” The two sets intersect but are not identical. There are plenty of gun owners who do not understand the true utility of firearms.

    The message is, as I said, “guns are bad, m’kay?” It’s there as a strong bass note, thrumming throughout the movie. That country has fewer guns and less violence, this country more guns and more violence. These guys with guns are kind of scary. These guys were hurt by guns, see their pain. These guys are gentle and are scared by guns, feel sympathy for them. The NRA (and by extension, gun owners) is cruel and feels nothing for the victims of violence. And so on. While Mr. Moore takes some interesting side-trips here and there, he always comes back to that theme.

    It’s a remarkable universe that we can both look at the same piece of it and one see a unicorn and the other an automated I-Pod dispenser, so different is our perception of it. And there are the two of us, each scratching our head and wondering how this could be.

    The last documentary I watched was Founding Brothers. Nothing overtly biased in it (which either means it had no terrible bias, or only biases which aligned with mine. There’s no way to know). Before that, Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Seemed pretty even, as near as I could tell. Again, that might only mean it’s aligned with my own biases. Before those, Our Brand is Crisis. I don’t know if that film is possible without a point of view–I doubt it. I’m positive it’s biased, but I’m too ignorant in that domain to know how much or in what way. I’m still glad I watched it.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    March 18, 2009

    There are plenty of gun owners who do not understand the true utility of firearms.

    You do realize, yes, that the NSA and the FBI monitor this blog, right?

    That country has fewer guns and less violence, this country more guns and more violence.

    In this documentary, Moore demonstrates that this is not the case. I’m still thinking you have not watched this documentary.

    It’s a remarkable universe that we can both look at the same piece of it and one see a unicorn and the other an automated I-Pod dispenser, so different is our perception of it.

    No, it’s remarkable that you are still saying shit that clearly indicates that you have not watched this documentary!?!??

    Regarding the documentaries you claim (seemingly) to be view-point/editorial free. These probably are efforts to not editorialize as much as Moore (intentionally, and to the preference of his audience) does, but it is not the case that these are perspective free and non-biases. Even the pointy-headed Ken Burns has got a bias. With these historical treatments, it sometimes take a while before we see what it is, how the bias really forms up, but it is always there. Or at least, always has been there. In this case, the inductive presumption that it is still there is pretty reasonable.

    Go watch Moore’s film. You might actually like his conclusions more than you think you would. But you actually have to go watch it. And pay attention. And stuff.

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