Copyright 2002 Carolyn Gage Bowling for Columbine: Michael Moore Off-Target I just saw Michael Moore’s

Bowling for Columbine, and, although I think that Moore is sincere in his effort to discover the causes of violence in this country, I think his film seriously misses the mark. Here’s why: Violence against women is conspicuous in its absence from the film. In fact, it’s never even mentioned. Women are grossly under-represented in the film, and Moore’s use of them is highly selective. First there are the sainted martyr/mother figures, including a sound bite from a woman with a Million Mom March tee shirt and a traumatized teacher at a school shooting, whose taped “Oh Lord... Oh Lord... Oh Lord” rings in our ears. And then there is the welfare-to-work mother whose absenteeism is explictly given—by two middleclass white guys—as the reason for her six-year-old boy’s murderous shooting of a little girl. This is just a New Age recycling of the old wheeze, “badmothering-causes-male-violence.” Moore’s contribution is to assure us that today’s bad mothers are not to blame, because The System has forced them to become bad mothers. Welfare-to-work certainly needs to be exposed for the wage slavery that it is, and for this, we thank Moore. Unfortunately, his only interest in the subject is to prove that it turns out the bad mothers who are responsible for violent sons. There are other women in the film—a public relations director and a corporate spokeswoman—both doing spin control for a male-dominated corporation. And, of course, pin-up girls on a calendar that was being used to fund-raise for a predominantly male militia. Along with the pin-up girls, is a clip (no pun intended) of a Hollywood B-grade actress in a thong bikini spreading her legs and rapturously firing an automatic. Moore is so fond of this clip, which is never explained, that he shows it twice. Oh, there is one woman who has taken up guns, as she says, to defend herself. Now, this is an interesting clip. She is interviewed sitting on the floor, with her rambunctious young daughter wearing only underpants, tugging at her and attempting to interrupt. The woman is surrounded by mostly male

members of a militia group. Moore seems to view her as just some kind of gender anomaly, proof positive of the moral disintegration caused by gun culture. He ends the clip as the daughter jumps back into the frame saying, “Mommy, no! No!” Moore, presumably, is saying, “Out of the mouth of babes . . .” Nowhere does Moore take women with guns seriously. Mindless bimbos imitating macho boyfriends, or saintly mothers singing backup to Moore’s lead. But the relationship between women and guns is very different from that of men with guns. Does Michael Moore know that women who carry weapons are successful 80% of the time in deterring their assailants? (And, no, they are not “at risk” of having the weapon taken away and used against them. This is a sexist, urban legend designed to keep women helpless and compliant. The same argument could be just as easily applied to the police or to the armed forces. Except that they have too much common sense to fall for it.) There is a strong, growing movement of women who are empowering ourselves with self-defense classes, and, specifically, with knowledge and skills about guns. And this movement has some awesome foremothers: General Harriet Tubman, who not only carried a gun, but also told her passengers on the Underground Railroad that she would not hesitate to shoot anyone who attempted to turn back. It is this policy, along with her skill and strategy, that account for the fact she never lost a single passenger. There is another African American woman who carried a gun—and not only carried it, but made damn sure that everyone knew she carried it: Ida WellsBarnett. Wells-Barnett was one of the first African Americans to speak out publicly against lynching. When she began her newspaper campaign to expose lynching for what it was, a hate crime, her press was smashed and she was compelled to continue her work outside the South. According to her, “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap. I had already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit.”


Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, author of The Issue is Power, suggests that if we are afraid of owning guns, we may be afraid of our own anger. She suggests that we may be taking the lives of our attackers more seriously than our own. Annie Oakley, a survivor of battery, whipping, torture, starving, freezing, and repeated, brutal rape at the hands of a foster father, became internationally famous for her skill as a markswoman. Contemporary feminists score her today for her failure to take up the cause of women’s suffrage, but they overlook her aggressive evangelism on the subject of women and guns. She believed that a woman should be “as comfortable holding a gun as she is holding a baby.” Although she taught classes on marksmanship to both men and women, the women’s classes were often free. Specifically addressing the gendered nature of so-called “domestic violence,” Oakley showed women how to conceal small, readily accessible hand guns inside a closed umbrella, and encouraged them to sleep with a loaded gun in a drawer beside their beds. Michael Moore, in his zealousness to promote Canada as a model of nonviolence, shows his admiration for an apparently learning-disabled woman who tells him that, despite repeated unlawful entry by strangers into her home, she still refuses to lock her doors. In an experiment to test his findings, Moore goes into an urban Canadian neighborhood, opening unlocked doors and entering homes unannounced. He congratulates the obviously disoriented occupants with “Thank you for not shooting me.” I hope that the women who see this movie do not take Moore to heart. I hope that when a three-hundred-pound white man enters their home without knocking, they do not wait to see if they are on Candid Camera, or if he is doing a cross-cultural survey of neighborly attitudes. I hope they grab the most dangerous weapon they can quickly lay their hands on, and, before waiting for any explanation, yell, “Get the hell out of my house, asshole—! NOW!” And then I hope they start yelling the name of man, as if there was someone male in the next room. Why? Because this threat of the presence of another man has been proven to be a very effective deterrent to men. Perhaps, if Moore had talked to more women—and listened to them—he might have wanted to ask himself why this was so. Not to digress too far from Columbine, which is, after all, the subject… But Canada was the native home of Marc LePine. We all remember LePine,

except maybe Michael Moore. He was the twenty-five-year-old man who, on December 6, 1989, entered the University of Montréal's School of Engineering and murdered nine women. Walking into a classroom carrying a .223 calibre semi-automatic rifle, he shouted, “I want the women.” He ordered the men to leave the classroom, and he lined the women up along one wall. “You are all feminists!” he yelled as he began shooting. By the end of his spree, he had murdered fourteen women and injured thirteen others—nine women and four men. Hear the words of Michele Landsberg of the Toronto Star , who was asked to write a front-page reaction piece the day after what has become known as the Montreal Massacre: The story, in countless broadcasts and news columns, became not the dead women but the outrage of “innocent”' men, in a fury at being linked by their maleness to Marc Lépine. It was all about them - were their feelings hurt, were they being discriminated against because a few allfemale vigils were planned. I regret that many of us spoke up so honestly only because it gave the backlash an opening for attack that served as a distraction from the real issue. But a determined band of feminists in Vancouver came together to build a monument and to educate Canadians on the widespread occurrence of violence against women. They had a seven-year struggle, with contributions from over six thousand donors before they could complete the project. The inscription on the monument generated a firestorm of controversy. Why? It reads, “for all women murdered by men.” It was those last two words that caused all the trouble. The Montreal Men Against Sexism might have been able to offer Michael Moore a more balanced perspective on Canada and violence: Men kill women and children as a proprietary, vengeful and terrorist act. They do so with the support of a sexist society and judicial system. As pro-feminist men, we try to reveal and to end this continuing massacre, which will go on as long as we do not end sexism and sexist violence, along with all of men's alibis for them.


Michael Moore did not want to talk to men against sexism. But he did want to talk to Marilyn Manson, mommy-shocking, rock star darling of adolescent male punk-wannabes. Michael was seeking to debunk the theory that would link the actions of murderous male adolescents to the violent lyrics in their favorite music (or, by extension, violence in film or television or video games). But, again, he overlooks the obvious—for instance, the name of his rock star—“Marilyn,” as in “Monroe,” and “Manson,” as in “Charles.” Marilyn Monroe is the Western world’s image of a sex goddess. Interesting choice. Let’s look at Ms. Monroe. Just what does the life of a sex goddess look like? Well, some might answer “serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Marilyn Monroe’s behaviors, for example, bear more resemblance to those of a molested child trying to appease a male authority figure than an adult woman engaging in an empowering and mutually satisfying sexual interaction. And, indeed, why wouldn’t they? Our pop cultural icon for female sexuality spent her childhood in eleven foster homes and one orphanage. Eleven foster homes. One orphanage. By her own account, she was a survivor of multiple episodes of child sexual abuse. Shortly after her fifteenth birthday, her legal guardian brokered a so-called marriage for her. In other words, Marilyn Monroe she was legally prostituted as a teenager. She made three attempts at suicide before she was twenty-five, and several more throughout the rest of her life. Marilyn called her first husband “Daddy,” she called second husband Joe Dimaggio “Pa,” and she called third husband Arthur Miller “Pops.” Apparently it wasn’t just her heart that belonged to daddy. And what about Charlie Manson? He’s best known for the murder of Sharon Tate and her unborn baby, but, actually, Manson never killed anybody. He got his “family” to do the killings for him. The real killers were Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Leslie van Houten—his cult followers. Manson convinced his followers that he was Jesus Christ—or as he would call it the fifth angel, with the Beatles being the other four. His goal apparently was to begin a racial war. When the Armageddon of racial killings that he prophesied for the summer of 1969 did not happen, he told his followers that the Black population wouldn't know what to do unless the whites showed them. But, in fact, the real motive appears to have been even less coherent, and far more personally motivated. It seems that Manson had written some music,

and that he had tried to convince Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, to finance a film using this music. Melcher had once lived in the Polanski house, site of the murders, and, so it has been speculated that the murders were his attempt to intimidate Melcher. Fascinating as Marilyn Manson’s namesakes are—and positively loaded with clues about the causes of violence in this culture—Moore chooses to overlook them. He also overlooks the lyrics of Manson’s (Marilyn) songs. Here’s a sampling: I throw a little fit I slit my teenage wrist the most that I can learn is in records that you burn get your gunn, get your gunn get your gunn, get your gunn (Does that second “n” in “gunn” make it art?) Yeah I don't want you and I don't need you Don't bother to resist, Or I'll beat you It's not your fault that you're always wrong the weak ones are there to justify the strong. Heavy sarcasm, but likely to be lost on angry young men. Like “Use your fist, not your mouth.” So why is Moore courting the likes of Marilyn Manson and avoiding feminists in a film purportedly about stopping violence? Because what Moore is actually constructing is a counter-culture star vehicle for himself. And, because he is a man, he has chosen the Oedipal struggle between father and son, the most tried and true of narrative arcs for reinscribing manhood—which is ever and always the happy ending of all patriarchal drama. Specifically, Moore is out to topple a father figure, and in a tradition as old as Shakespeare’s Henry IV, he is collecting counter-cultural bad boys and other rejected sons along the way. And he’s got the perfect patriarch in mind: Charleton Heston. Heston is an aging matinee idol whose reputation rests on playing gladiators and biblical leaders. And, best yet, this daddy figure is the

president of the NRA who has, conveniently, had the lack of tact to make public appearances in locales recently traumatized by gun-related murders. How apocryphal! And in his anti-gun crusade, Michael Moore is going to stage a good, old-fashioned showdown. So, here he is, Michael Moore, looking like a scruffy Hoss Cartwright, stalking his man to his hideout—in this case a mansion that appears to be high in the Hollywood Hills. So aging, Alzheimer- bedeviled film star meets younger, iconoclastic maverick for the classic father-son showdown. And, sure enough, Daddy’s racism and amorality are righteously and ruthlessly exposed. The high point of the showdown is reached when Moore whips out a full-color, eight-by-twelve glossy photo of a six-year-old dead girl, brandishing it like a crucifix to ward off a vampiric Charleton Heston. What does this have to do with anything, except Moore’s ego and a future potential career in Hollywood? Ask any woman. We know. A showdown is still a showdown. The Oedipal struggle only results in one dominant male being replaced by another, arguably more sensitive, but still dominant male. And the women and girls remain tokens, just like the girl whose photo was so crassly exploited as a photo op for Moore. The film uses a lot of statistics—but it also goes out of its way to avoid some. Moore gives us the body counts from US military actions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Vietnam, Kosovo, and so on . . . But he does not tell us that nearly 100% of all these killings were perpetrated by males against populations that included large percentages of women and children. (He does mention the 500,000 Iraqui children who have died as a result of US sanctions—and, again, we thank him for that, but if he is really serious about stopping the violence, he must be willing to draw the obvious conclusions about who is perpetrating it.) He seems to be anti-war, but he also is quick to correct Heston when he implies that violence is an American phenomenon. In fact, the film includes photos of German atrocities in World War II. Moore can be congratulated for debunking the myth that it is people of color who are doing the killings in this country, but he does a disservice to peace activists when he fails to show footage from Rwanda. Violence is a universal male phenomenon.


How can one show clips of Auschwitz on the one hand and argue seriously for disarmament on the other? And this is perhaps why Moore abandoned his quest for answers to settle for the more dramatically satisfying verbal shootout with Charleton Heston. Given the dangerous nature of partriarchal governments and men in maledominant culture, it would seem that the only options are victimization or reciprocal armament. Is there no solution? Yes, but you won’t find it in Marilyn Manson’s lyrics or by crossing into Canada. The solution lies outside the paradigm of male dominance, and that is why Moore was unable to find it. The fish does not know it’s wet, and Moore’s film is all wet. Male dominance is not “society,” and male violence is not “human nature.” Moore missed the biggest clue of all in the story of the Columbine killers. The two boys had been mercilessly gay-baited by their classmates for years. The film made no attempt to explore this at all, except in a blink-and-you-miss-it reference to the fact that sometimes the losers in high school can become the winners later in life, while the football heroes drop out of sight. Is Moore suggesting that tormented gay adolescents should cling to the hope that, after graduation, they might become heterosexual? Or that being called a “fag” doesn’t necessarily equate to being one? What about coming right out and saying that being gay is okay and that gay-baiting is heinous? Why all the pussyfooting around the obvious motive for the Columbine murders? Because to confront homophobia, one must confront the myth of manhood. And Moore, perhaps more than a little challenged by his own insecurities, has made a film that is profoundly invested in manhood, masculinity, machismo. Reinscribing them, yes—but, dumping them, no. Because Moore has excluded the feminist perspective from his film, Bowling for Columbine is just one more smokescreen designed to disguise the deadly mechanisms of a male dominant culture behind the rhetoric of liberalism. When a film draws attention away from the gendered nature of violence, it ultimately—in spite of whatever other causes it may advance—enables the perpetrators.


This article is dedicated, in the words of the Montreal Monument, to the memory of “all women who have been killed by men.”


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