The movie “Bowling for Columbine” was made after the shooting in Columbine high school and tries to explore the reasons for America’s violent nature. Moore believes that there is one main reason for this, the fact that there are relaxed gun laws in America. Therefore, Moore uses a number of different persuasive techniques in order to try and persuade the viewer to believe that this is the case. He uses certain visuals, music, sequences the scenes in a specific order and uses facts and opinions to achieve this.
The first scene that shows persuasive techniques is “The Wonderful World” sequence. In this sequence, it shows horrible images of dead people, with various facts and figures shown at the bottom of the screen. In the background, the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong is being played. There are many persuasive techniques used in this sequence, being the visuals, the camera movement and editing, the sequencing, the audio and uses of facts and opinions.
The visuals used in this scene are very persuasive as they are very striking and are horrible images. We see images of suffering and death which are shocking and appeal to the emotions which, in turn generates sympathy. The images used are of suffering or death of real people which makes the reader feel very disgusted and shocked at how the USA was linked to this and would side with the viewpoint of Moore, that the USA is very insensitive.
The camera movement and editing of the sequence is also very persuasive. The main way in which Michael Moore persuades the viewer is by only showing one side of the argument. By introducing this element of bias, the viewer only has one view to believe and by doing this, the viewer believes this viewpoint to be true, as it does not know of any other. The viewpoint that Michael Moore is showing is that the USA is very insensitive. Moore makes the government seem insensitive by displaying pictures of dead corpses caused by US government-funded wars. He then amplifies this by juxtaposing the images of guns and gore with those of peace which makes the horrific images of corpses seem even more horrible.
The trust between citizen and government is broken down even further due to the way Moore has structured The Wonderful World sequence. We first see the image of the way things were before and non-violent images are used, for example a man throwing flowers. Next it cuts to what happens after the US get involved and then images of war and death are used, which gives the viewer the impression the government do nothing except make a negative difference to the world. The editing of this scene coupled with the camera movement means that Moore can only show selective images which would persuade the viewer.
The sequencing is another very important persuasive technique. To gain the maximum effect possible from “The Wonderful World” sequence Moore positions it immediately after the interview with Lockheed Martin’s press officer. The officer says the weapons they develop are solely for defensive purposes and then goes on to say alternative methods to violence should be used to settle conflicts between countries.
Moore then cuts to “The Wonderful World” sequence where we see the weapons being used for aggressive purposes and excessive violence used to settle conflicts – a heavily ironic statement from Moore. Here Moore’s depiction of opinion against fact helps the reader see their naivety in believing the government and helps support Moore’s belief that they should not be trusted. However this use of editing to create a one-sided argument may prove to be too much like propaganda to the more cynical of viewers. By structuring the scenes in this specific way, Moore can highlight that the USA is insensitive which is a persuasive technique.
The audio of the scene proves to be a very powerful persuasive technique. There is a deep irony in the music, as the music is positive sounding, whereas the pictures that are being displayed are very negative. This use of sarcasm is a very powerful persuasive technique as the viewer begins to side with Moore. Furthermore, the fact that the audio dovetails with the images seen on screen is also a persuasive technique. Where Noriega throws flowers out to the crowd, the corresponding words in the song are; “I love You”. By using sarcasm and dovetailing it with the music, a powerful persuasive technique is effective.
The use of facts and statistics is also a persuasive technique; “UN estimates 500,000 Iraqi children die from bombing and sanctions”. Facts are a very
powerful persuasive technique as there is no room for argument. If opinion was used, for example, by Michael Moore, then the viewer may not trust what he is saying as it is his viewpoint. However, as it is a fact, it is true and cannot be argued with. Furthermore, the fact that the source of the fact is from the UN, means that it is more persuasive as the UN is a trusted organisation and would not state any misleading facts. The facts displayed at the bottom of the screen are displayed in a crude militaristic font.
From this, the viewer gets the impression that killing is part of the US government’s agenda, thus detracting from the viewer’s trust in them. The viewers are made even more cynical of the government when they describe an aspirin factory as a’ “weapons factory” ‘. The use of the inverted commas gives the caption a sarcastic tone, helps make the reader more aware of how the government has made too many costly mistakes and makes them seem obtuse. By using facts and statistics, it means that they are true and means that the viewer must believe them which is a persuasive technique Moore uses.
Another persuasive technique that Moore uses is repetition; “Dictator”, “Massacre”, “Assassinated”. Moore has specifically used emotive words here, which is persuasive as it appeals directly to the emotions. Moore could have used other language such as ‘killed’ instead of “assassinated”, however this would have not been emotive language and the scene would not have the same persuasive effect that it does. Repetition is a very powerful persuasive technique which Moore uses effectively.
The second scene which was examined was the CCTV footage. In this scene, it shows the footage from the CCTV cameras in the lunch hall of Columbine high school. It shows the pupils of the school hiding under the tables in the lunch hall while the two boys walk around in a very cavalier manner, whilst holding armed guns. In the background, we hear 911 calls from pupils at the school, and very sombre music. There are a number of persuasive techniques in this scene, such as the visuals, sequencing and audio.
The visuals are a persuasive technique in this scene. At the very start of this scene, we see a very ironic image, which is the sign for Columbine High School, with the motto; “Home of the rebels” along with a picture of a soldier holding a gun. This is very ironic as the boys that committed the shooting thought of themselves as rebels. The visuals at the start of the scene are of the school, with the camera slowly moving around the school, which is empty. This is a persuasive technique as it shows the school to be lonely and sad, which appeals to the emotions of the viewer. The next part of the scene is the actual CCTV footage of the lunch hall as the pupils that committed the killings walk around.
This part of the scene is very emotive as it shocks the viewer. The scene shows complete panic by the children and the viewer is shocked and disgusted. The viewer also trusts the source of the CCTV footage, as there is a timestamp at the bottom of the screen showing the date and time. The viewer therefore trusts the source of the footage as they have to believe the footage to be true and not edited. Furthermore, if we study the times of the selective scenes Moore uses, we see that time code changes which is ambiguous and it generates panic in the viewer’s mind. The viewer is persuaded heavily to Moore’s viewpoint by using a number of persuasive techniques.
The sequencing used is very important in this scene in persuading the viewers. Immediately after the CCTV footage, we see a scene with interviews with young girls from the school. This is a very persuasive part of the sequence as it is very emotional. This is due to the fact we the see girls in a very emotional state. The viewer then sympathises with them and realises that Moore’s viewpoint, that guns should be controlled, is true. Moore specifically only chose the interviews with girls, as girls are much more emotional than boys, and this would have a greater emotional effect on the viewer. Immediately after the interview with the girls, the scene skips to a gun rally for the NRA.
This shows Charlton Heston saying “From my cold dead hands”. At first, to the viewer, this shows Charlton Heston as being very insensitive to the Columbine shootings and makes him look as though he has no heart. However, if we study Heston, we can see that the part where he says “From my cold dead hands” is not actually from the press conference after the Columbine shootings, as we can see that he is wearing different clothes. Moore specifically chose to use this scene from another press conference to make Heston seem very cold hearted and make the viewer hate him and the what he supports, which is allowing Americans to freely own guns.
The audio used in this scene is also another persuasive technique. The music in the background is a singular guitar, playing slow, mournful music. This music is a very subtle persuasive technique as it makes the viewer feel sad and serious. The other main audio used in this scene is the 911 calls. These are the real 911 calls that were made by the pupils of Columbine high school during the attack. These are very emotional, as they are very real and shocking to listen to. The viewer trusts the source as the 911 calls are grainy and sound authentic. The audio is a persuasive technique Moore uses.
The third scene which was examined was the cartoon scene on “A brief history of the United States”. In this scene, it begins to try and find a cause for America’s violent gun culture, and the cartoon puts this down to fear. The cartoon shows how the white people are scared of other cultures, for example Indians in America and black people. The main persuasive technique used in this scene is humour; however there are others such as the visuals, sequencing and altering of facts which help to sway the viewer’s viewpoint.
The visuals used in this scene are a persuasive technique as they are very comical, mainly because the scene is a cartoon. The actual people in the cartoon look ridiculous as they have been drawn with no noses and huge eyes, making the characters look very unintelligent. There is also a deep irony as the narrator of the scene is a bullet. The irony is present as the bullet is happy, which is not ordinary as bullets are made to kill people. The visuals used in the scene are humorous, which is a persuasive technique. By making the viewer laugh, Moore is making the viewers side with his viewpoint, which is a persuasive technique.
The sequencing is also a persuasive technique. The scene before the cartoon shows how many gun deaths there are per year in major countries across the world. The figures start high, with Germany having 381, and then decreasing until Japan which has 39. Finally, it gives the figure for America which is 11,127. This scene is persuasive as it highlights the fact that there is a problem in America, and Moore is conveying his viewpoint to the viewer.
Another persuasive technique that is used in this scene is the use of facts. In the cartoon, Moore only selects specific facts and makes changes to them in order to effectively convey his viewpoint to the viewer. For example, in the cartoon, it states that “the black people outnumbered the white people in many parts of the south” and that there were uprisings. This is not the entire truth as black people only outnumbered people in remote areas. Moore deliberately changes the facts to persuade the viewers to his viewpoint, that America should have stricter laws on gun control. By changing facts, it is a powerful persuasive technique that Moore uses to sway the viewer to his point of view.
In conclusion, I believe that Moore uses a number of persuasive techniques in order to make the viewer believe his viewpoint. This viewpoint is that America does not have strict enough laws on gun control. This was highlighted by the Columbine shootings at the ease two pupils of a school could purchase guns and attack their fellow pupils. Moore uses humour and sarcasm as the main way to persuade the viewer. By having a humorous scene, the viewer laughs along with what is being shown and sides with the viewpoint. Another main persuasive technique used is the use of emotive language. This is most apparent in the ‘Wonderful World’ scene, where images of dead people and specific words are used.
Michael Moore's Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine from 2002 is the biggest-selling documentary in history. In his Internet newsletter (www.michaelmoore.com), Moore tells us that as of August 2003, the film has grossed $22 million in North America and $35 million overseas, and has been in theatrical release for an unprecedented ten months. In addition to the Oscar, Bowling for Columbine received a special award at the Cannes Film Festival. After its release, the documentary has triggered a furious debate in American media and on the Internet, including a campaign for Michael Moore as President of the United States as well as a campaign to revoke Moore's Oscar. The controversy over the film has focused on what is seen to be a manipulative cutting and pasting of footage as well as a number of factual errors or inaccuracies. In addition to this, the film has raised a whole range of issues concerning the ethics and politics of the Moore-style documentary genre.
Moore, born in 1954 in Flint, Michigan, in the rust belt, to an Irish-Catholic working class family, has a long career in alternative journalism with The Michigan Voice and the San Francisco-based magazine Mother Jones. His first film, Roger and Me from 1989, a film in which he repeatedly tries to get an interview with General Motors chairman Roger Smith to question him about the plant closures in Flint, establishes his associative documentary style and his ambush interview techniques, placing himself in the foreground as the shabby, overweight, plain-speaking guy with the trademark baseball cap. After the commercial and critical success of Roger and Me , Moore tried his hand at feature film political satire with Canadian Bacon , starring John Candy. He then moved into television satire with the programmes TV Nation (NBC and Fox) and The Awful Truth (Channel Four/Bravo). The documentary The Big One from 1998 tackles economic inequality in America. His book from 2002, Stupid White Men , is, among other things, a violent attack on the Bush administration. With Bowling for Columbine, and particularly with his Oscar acceptance speech in which, with the whole world as his audience, he openly denounces President Bush and the war against Iraq, he establishes himself as America's most prominent anti-establishment voice. However, unlike another contemporary high profile political crusader, Ralph Nader, Michael Moore has chosen the heartland of American mass media as his battleground, and the guerilla tactics of satirical collage and mock-naive ambush interviews as his highly personalised mode of intervention.
Bowling for Columbine is a textbook example of this.
The rambling narrative of Bowling for Columbine may, at first view, seem incoherent, yet, in keeping with Moore's narrative technique of mixing concrete cases of outrage with more general issues, the film is loosely framed by two linked foci: the general indictment of the National Rifle Association, the number one gun lobbying organisation in America, and the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, when two teenage boys went on a shooting rampage through the school, killing and wounding dozens of their schoolmates before turning their guns on themselves. The rest of the almost two-hour-long film connects with these two foci by association.
In an interview with Rolling Stone , Moore characterises his approach:
The film took so many twists and turns in terms of what I thought it would be or should be that I finally threw caution to the wind. And it came to be something much greater than whatever I was thinking. See, I didn't go to college - I went for a year and dropped out. So I don't really organise my thoughts: Here's the thesis, here's the outline, here's the structure. What happens when you do that in a documentary is you end up filming to fit the outline, as opposed to letting the film sort of decide what the film should be. Everyone knows there's a gun problem. You don't need to waste two hours of your time and eight dollars of your money being told that. You might connect to it, but when you left the theater, you'd just feel despair. I think despair is paralyzing. I don't want people to leave my movies with despair. I want them to leave angry. (pp. 2-3)
"Letting the film sort of decide" brought about the following series of clustered stories: Opening with a satirical "typical day in America" where gun violence and fear reigns, Moore goes on to a sequence of Michigan-based scenes: a bank where he gets a free gun for opening an account, home movies of himself as a gun-loving youngster and card-carrying member of the NRA - which, apparently, he still is - and a series of interviews related to the Oklahoma City bombing, committed by Michigan-based militiamen. He then moves on to the Columbine setting in Colorado, with a series of interviews with, among others, a Lockheed public relations officer, creating a link between the rocket manufacturer and the Columbine tragedy. We then move into a collage of American military interventions - Iran, Vietnam, Chile, Panama, Iraq - accompanied in counterpoint by Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". The next central sequence depicts the high school massacre - including original 911 calls recorded during the shootings - with interviews with people involved, cutting to the NRA convention, with Charlton Heston, in nearby Denver just ten days after the massacre, and rallies protesting against the NRA. The film then moves on to the more general terrain of depicting the American climate of fear and the general debate over the origins of American violence - including an interview with a very sane Marilyn Manson - one of the bogeymen of American middle-class anxieties. A contrastive analysis sets US violence and gun killings against those of other 'civilised' countries, providing the well-known staggering statistical evidence (Canada: 165 gun killings per year, United States 11,127) - followed by South Park's cartoon version of American history, i.e. the arming and 'scaring' of America, including a juxtaposition of the Ku Klux Klan and the NRA. A history of 'scares' follows: Y2K, "Africanised" killer bees and so on, and an interview with Barry Glasser, author of The Culture of Fear , set in South Central Los Angeles, focusing on the demonisation of black males. The scene then moves to Canada, the American Other, providing 'Fun Facts' about the peaceful Canadians who, in spite of the prevalence and accessibility of guns, live with their doors unlocked, in a welfare state with reasonable unemployment benefits and a comprehensive national health care system. The next sequence is yet another indictment of US gun culture, this time embedded in issues of unemployment and forced welfare-to-work programmes, with its focus on the shooting of a six-year-old girl by a six-year-old classmate, near Flint, Michigan.
We then move on to the general issue of the climate of fear of the Bush administration after September 11, with gun sales and burglar alarms skyrocketing, the conclusion (which is really the conclusion of the film as a whole) drawn by Moore being that "A public in fear should not have a lot of guns lying around". Moore then picks up on the Columbine thread, taking two boys crippled by the Columbine shootings to K-Mart, where the bullets were bought, asking K-Mart to stop selling guns and ammunition - and succeeding. The final sequence of the film is Moore's interview with Charlton Heston in his luxurious Beverly Hills mansion. A feeble and bemused Heston is asked to account for the violence of American society, and is confronted with the picture of the six-year-old dead girl from Michigan. The inconclusive interview ends with an irritated Heston walking away. As the credits roll, we are given a sneering rock version of "What a Wonderful World".
The bowling motif, reiterated throughout the movie, takes its point of departure from the information - later refuted - that on the morning of the Columbine massacre the two boys attended their regular bowling class. Ostensibly, Moore uses the innocuous pastime of bowling as a metaphorical counterpoint to the gruesome high school massacre and, by extension, locates the violence of American gun culture as part and parcel of American middle-class conformism, in Littleton, Colorado and elsewhere.
No doubt, Moore's impassioned indictment of American gun culture in Bowling for Columbine has reached and impressed a larger and wider spectrum of audiences in America and abroad than is usual for a documentary of its kind. However, media commentary in America, predictably, has been split largely along the well-known liberal/conservative divide. Daniel Lyons, of the conservative Forbes Magazine , has led the way - not in questioning Moore's larger claims about gun violence in America, but in choosing a nit-picking approach in querying Moore's 'facts'. Apparently, the two shooters skipped their bowling class on the day of the massacre. The Lockheed Martin plant in Littleton makes peaceful space launch vehicles (although, as Lyons forgets to mention, Lockheed Martin as a nationwide company is an arms manufacturer). The bank where, ostensibly, Moore got a gun immediately after opening an account, requires you to have a background check, and normally you would pick up your gun at a gun shop. (However, as the bank manager pointed out in the documentary, the bank itself stores 500 guns for prospective clients.) The independent conservative journalist David T. Hardy, on his website 'Truth About Bowling', amid a host of alternative facts and figures, does make a point worth considering: the film's implicit linking of the Ku Klux Klan and the NRA casts Charlton Heston as a racist by implication. Heston, however, for all his gun-toting rhetoric, has a documented history of civil rights activism, having marched with Martin Luther King in the famous 1963 civil rights demonstration in Washington D.C. Furthermore, he was actively involved in breaking the Hollywood race barrier with Omega Man in 1971, co-starring with the black actress Rosalind Cash.
Most mainstream American media are cautiously sympathetic to Moore, if sceptical of his grandstanding. The US Catholic places Moore in the grand traditions of Old Testament prophets and American muckrakers, tracing backwards from Bowling for Columbine a film history of truth-telling and whistle-blowing that includes The Insider (1999), Silkwood (1983), Serpico (1973), and On the Waterfront (1954).
Curiously, the feminist periodical Off Our Backs is highly critical of Bowling . Moore, Carolyn Gage insists, is 'off target' in his wholesale criticism of US gun culture, in ignoring the link between gun violence (and violence in general) and male patriarchy.
Dissent , the prominent left-wing journal, has fielded a principled debate on the political propriety of Bowling for Columbine and the relevance and efficacy of Moore's documentary interventionism in general. Kevin Mattson (in 'The Perils of Michael Moore') characterises Moore's stance as 'Anti-Politics' - he is cynical and disillusioned about the entire spectrum of American politics, including Democrats and Republicans alike. Moore is the lone fighter with "no political solutions or realistic tactics for long-term change"(p. 79) His "merging of political criticism and entertainment"(p. 75) leaves us with "decontextualised images"(p. 78) of complex issues. Mattson compares Moore unfavourably with Edward R. Murrow, the famous crusading CBS journalist of the 1950s and '60s, who was instrumental in exposing the anti-Communist witch hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The Summer 2003 issue of Dissent brings a number of rebuttals to Mattson's criticism. The American Left, it is argued, "is going to have to get its hands dirty in the world of pop and commercial culture" (p. 108), if it is to have any presence in American politics. This is an echo of media critic Tood Gitlin in the American Prospect (February 2003), who deplores "the lack of lefty bigmouths to penetrate the thicket of right-wing commentary on the airwaves".
Bowling for Columbine and its history of reception - which is still ongoing - is a fascinating case of the interfacing of contemporary American media and politics. It illuminates both the perils and the potential of political interventionist strategies in a media-saturated society in which film, network television and the Internet interact. Moore wants his audience to "leave angry" after having seen Bowling for Columbine, and certainly the snowballing effect of Bowling for Columbine, catapulted by Moore's own publicity stunt at the Oscars, and backed up by the film's sales figures, appears overwhelming. The depth and durability of the anger presumably generated within those millions of viewers, however, is questionable. There is perhaps a point to the criticism levelled against Moore, that in his mind-blowing indictment of the American 'society of fear' he enlists himself, however well-intentioned and well-documented Bowling for Columbine may be, in that genre of 'scare panics' which he himself criticises.
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