I wasn’t totally sold on Here Comes Trouble when I picked it up. I’m more interested in the issues Michael Moore is involved in than in him as an individual, so I wasn’t sure his autobiography would be for me. I have to say, though, that it won me over fairly quickly.
Moore opens with his account of his statement against the Iraq War at the Academy Awards, and the furious response he experienced in the aftermath of making it.
It’s pretty harrowing stuff. I know how hateful and vicious people can be, so I suppose it’s not really a surprise to read stuff like this, but I still find it unsettling no matter how used to it I should be.
Besides the vitriol directed at Moore at the event itself, subsequently he received numerous vulgar insults and messages up to and including death threats. Homeland Security officials keyed his Oscar. (I hope he displays it with pride and tells people exactly how it was damaged.) People dumped tons of horse manure on his lawn in northern Michigan and nailed threatening signs all over his property. He had to hire security guards and a team of nine ex-SEAL body guards. They thwarted multiple assaults on him—people rushing at him with knives and such.
As he points out, this was all encouraged by lies and propaganda from the conservative and even mainstream media denouncing him. Glenn Beck spoke openly on the air about how much he desired to murder Moore. CNN reporter Bill Hemmer told him on the air—as just a sort of neutral fact for Moore to respond to—that many people wanted to murder him, and then became infuriated when Moore pointed out how irresponsible it was to put such ideas in people’s minds, to normalize them.
There are an awful lot of people in the world who are made violently angry by anyone who doesn’t support their war, as if expressing any kind of dissent makes you a despicable traitor who deserves to die.
Given what it put him and his family through, he implies that if he had it to do over again he wouldn’t make that public statement at the Academy Awards.
That’s a striking admission. I’d have expected, and in some ways preferred, that he dismiss it all with a “They never laid a glove on me. They’ll never silence me” sort of defiant attitude, but actually I admire his honesty here. If he knows he’s not the willing-to-be-martyred-for-what-he-believes-in type of hero, then I wouldn’t want him to lie and pretend otherwise.
But it’s just another indication that terrorism can work. Violence and the threat of violence alter people’s behavior. There are an exceptional few that can stand up to that—and Moore may be engaging in a bit of self-deprecating humility here in denying he’s one; his career indicates he’s more willing than most to endure hatred and threats—but most people can be pressured into doing what they think they need to do to preserve their hide.
I’ve written about this in connection with his movies, but I’m always struck by how it isn’t just fashionable among conservatives to ridicule and denigrate Moore and his work, but to a lesser extent among moderates and some liberals. I came upon that again in reading reviews online of this book. Some—from mainstream outlets, not Fox News-type right wing garbage sites—could hardly contain their eye rolling and sneering when reviewing the book. They scoffed at this opening section about the Oscars and the death threats, implying that he made up or exaggerated a lot of it to make himself out to be some kind of brave victim.
My take on this is that when someone of the Left pokes his head up and acquires or threatens to acquire some significant degree of influence, the Right swings into action to destroy his reputation any way they can. All of their outlets join in to pound home the message that this person is an extremist, hates America, and is dishonest, and all of his laughable ideas have been thoroughly refuted. In other words, he’s not someone who needs to be listened to or taken seriously, and only uninformed sheeplike folks who are inferior to you would think otherwise.
A consequence of this is that not only do people on the Right dismiss and even hate such a person, but a significant number of people elsewhere on the spectrum take to denouncing him as well to show that they aren’t ideologues, that they can spot frauds and fools on the Left as easily as on the Right. They don’t have a blanket hatred of the Left; they just disparage those particular individuals (Moore, Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton, some unpopular feminist, or whomever) that are “well-established” as jokes. “I’m sophisticated and informed enough about such matters to know that just as Bill O’Reilly can be dismissed as a charlatan, so can Michael Moore.” What they all too often don’t see is that some of the folks they so distance themselves from have had their public perceptions very intentionally and maliciously shaped by people who have a self-interested reason to want to weaken their influence.
Following the opening, Moore goes back to his childhood and proceeds chronologically from there. The book is structured as a series of anecdotes, as indicated by the subtitle Stories from My Life. More often than not, the stories are funny, interesting, and enjoyable to read.
There’s definitely a Forrest Gump quality to Moore’s life. He often found himself—and I’m talking about before he was a world famous filmmaker—in the middle of important events or in an unlikely encounter with some powerful or famous person.
For instance, when he was an elementary school kid on a family trip to Washington D.C., he managed to get lost in the Capitol building. He stumbled into an elevator whose only other occupant turned out to be Senator Robert Kennedy. The Senator kindly assisted him in finding his family.
Years later he was running an alternative newspaper in Flint that got raided by the local police looking for information and photos relevant to possible crimes. Citing the First Amendment, Moore and his cohorts resisted the police and went to court. This got enough publicity that John Lennon in New York heard about it and called Moore to suggest a benefit concert to assist the newspaper. Moore was convinced it was a prank and hung up on him, though when Lennon called back he was eventually able to convince Moore it was really him. (He was then assassinated before any such concert could be arranged.)
One of the stories I enjoyed was about when he ran for his local school board (and won) as soon as he turned 18 and was eligible, with pretty much his whole platform being a pledge to fire the assistant principal who had paddled him the prior school year. (Yes, paddled a 17 year old high school student.)
To me one of the lessons of Moore’s life—and I get this not just from this book but also other books he’s written, interviews, etc.—is that it can be considerably easier than probably most people realize to make a difference when it comes to small scale, local stuff. Maybe you’ll hit it big like him and eventually be an activist on a much bigger stage too, but that’s a huge long shot. Making a difference locally isn’t a long shot at all.
Long before he was famous, Moore succeeded in bringing about small changes in law, raising consciousness, etc. through things like serving on a school board and operating an alternative newspaper. Achieving that level of impact is within reach of most people, if they put their mind to it.
As a critical thinker, I assess Moore’s documentaries as being above the norm, both compared to other advocacy films and the faux objectivity of the mass media. Admittedly that’s a low bar, so there is still plenty in his movies that makes me cringe.
Moore himself has always struck me as basically a decent human being who wants to make a positive difference in the world, and has. I don’t think his “ordinary Joe from Flint” thing is just a shtick. I think for the most part that’s who he is.
I’m impressed that he’s as popular as he is on the Left, since he’s not real meticulous about all the politically correct stuff. In terms of substance he’s clearly of the Left, but he’s a refreshing contrast from the humorless feminist and Marxist types so focused on policing language and doctrinal minutiae.
Though he’s far from perfect, Moore’s heart is in the right place and he’s led an admirable life. Here Comes Trouble is an enjoyable read that provides evidence of that.