Friday, April 26, 2019

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The Deceitful Documentarian

***

 
American documentary filmmaker Michael
Moore has said that he'd like to move to Canada.
He has, in a metaphorical sense, been cheating on his native country with Canada
for some time now, showering us with compliments, affirming references in his
films, and even political advice in the recent federal election while
criticizing his own countries policies and politicians. But if Michael Moore's
marriage to the United
States is on the
rocks, as his recent documentaries Bowling
for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11,
and the recently released Sicko indicate, his relationship with Canada
is not any healthier.

Most Canadians are fond of Michael Moore, as we are of all
people who consistently compare us favourably with the United
States. We're so used to Canadians fleeing
to the United States,
whether for tax purposes or because it suits their professional and personal
aspirations, that Moore's persistent
interest in Canada
is downright flattering. But flattery is often a smokescreen for deception, and
it is no different when it comes to how Michael Moore views and treats Canada.
We are, to him, little more than a useful prop, a stereotyped and
oversimplified character that he can use in his films to show Americans how bad
they are.

Bowling for Columbine,
released in 2002 to wide critical and popular acclaim, was treated by many
Canadians as yet more proof of our moral and cultural superiority over the
gun-obsessed United States.
There's a now famous scene in which he walks through a neighbourhood in
downtown Toronto, knocking on doors
and discovering that many of them were unlocked. This, he hinted, could never
happen in the United States,
where the pervasive culture of violence and paranoia would prevent people
living in a major urban centre from leaving their doors unlocked. Moreover,
most of the people behind these unlocked Canadian doors were happy to chat with
this nosy American documentary maker, and the scariest thing he encounters
behind these unlocked Canadian doors is a barking dog.

That dog, as it so happens, was my golden retriever Marlow.
She lived, as I did, on Euclid Avenue
in the Annex, one of Toronto's most
thoroughly middle-class neighbourhoods. In other words, Moore wasn't exactly
banging down doors at Jane and Finch – or Portage and Main, or Main and
Hastings, or any other number of less infamous but equally rough neighbourhoods
– where, I suspect, a fat American filmmaker trespassing on someone's property
would be met with a fist or, yes, even a loaded firearm. Similarly, I'm sure
that there are neighbourhoods in New York,
Los Angeles, Chicago,
or any other major American city where he could achieve similar door-knocking
results. It was, in other words, a set-up, designed to make Canadians look
disarmingly friendly. As anyone who's done door-to-door sales in Toronto
knows, it isn't even a remotely accurate representation. More importantly, it
downplayed the existence of a culture of gun violence in Toronto,
one that claimed the lives of 37 people in 2005 and continues to befuddle Toronto's
police and politicians alike.

In his latest high-profile polemic Sicko Moore has
promoted Canada
from a supporting character to a leading actor, the mirror against which he
projects the inadequacies of the American healthcare system. But yet again, Moore
has chosen to use a helpful stereotype of Canada
rather than dealing with the more complicated realities of our healthcare
system. There's no question that the American healthcare system is
dysfunctional and that, in comparison, the Canadian system is more egalitarian
and socially just. But that doesn't mean that all is well with ours, or that
Canadians are universally satisfied with it.

The political debate in this country over the past few years
has been defined by discussions about how to fix healthcare, be it for a
generation, a lifetime, or merely until the next election. There was the Kirby
Report, the Romanow Report, the massive deposits made by the Martin government
in provincial healthcare accounts, the Chaoulli decision in Quebec
that legitimized private, parallel, for-profit clinics, to say nothing of the
endless talk of waiting lines. How can an apparently intelligent man like Moore
claim that Canadians are satisfied with their healthcare system when the facts
so clearly indicate otherwise?

Michael Moore is an interesting filmmaker, and his films are
invariably provocative meditations on controversial topics. That he sacrifices an
honest representation of his subjects to his political objective shouldn't
therefore be terribly surprising. But we, as Canadians, should stop paying
attention to his observations about our country and our way of life, because
he's only using them – and us – as politically advantageous reference points.
Likewise, the next time he offers use political advice, as he did in the 2005
federal election, we should politely – another Canadian stereotype that Moore
would surely appreciate – decline. After all, why should we take advice on
something so important from someone who can't even be trusted to tell the truth
about us?

Toronto, June 27 – 812 w.

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Max Fawcett

Max Fawcett is the former editor of the Chetwynd Echo, a weekly newspaper in the small northern town of Chetwynd, B.C. He currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the managing editor of Alberta Venture Magazine.

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