Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Fahrenheit 9/11

I wrote this essay as my final submission as a part of the course ENG 440, Literary Genres (alternatively, Detecting Detective fiction: In search of a generic definition). The film falls under the category "Detective Non-fiction" (the topic of the trial for the same course mentioned in an earlier blog)

What strikes me after watching the film is the inherent bias. It comes too strongly anti-Bush for my taste. A documentary film is supposed to present the facts as they have been recorded or documented and not give its opinion on things. The opinion is to be formed by the viewers and isn’t to be tainted by the film makers opinion.
The picture presented by the clues/facts isn’t complete in itself and Moore takes full liberty of coloring the other parts which as a detective he should not be doing. What is presented is true but not the complete truth.
There are many frames which show Bush saying/doing things with Moore’s commentary in the background providing them with a meaning, pushing the viewer to believe Bush to be incompetent which definitely might not be the case if the plain facts were presented. The documentary thus comes across to me as throwing a barrage of accusations without any significant case. Apart from the presentation, the order of the scenes interspersed with commentary by Moore, adds to the distortion. A documentary with a bias does not do justice to itself as it no longer gives a picture of things the way they occurred.
The facts are still there but it’s up to the viewer to manually filter the facts from the opinion either while watching it or in retrospect (retrospect in my case). This also implies inherently the nature of the medium, i.e. a documentary gives the viewer food for thought so that he can form his opinions. In this regard, Fahrenheit 9/11 fails as the unwary end up taking Moore’s view while the resistant viewers end up more or less giving Bush the benefit of doubt.

There are a few other issues that in my opinion need to be considered. For instance, in this case, again like in Bowling for Columbine, there is no crime but when we move from the view of an individual to that involving different communities and countries something seems wrong. Among the issues raised, a significant question to be considered is whether making wrong decisions at a level when development, foreign policies, trade opportunities and needless to say lives are at stake is a crime? For Moore, Bush is definitely at fault and is responsible for the deaths of Americans, Iraqis and Afghans alike. I however can’t stop thinking as to whether Moore is justified in taking his stand as I feel that he lacks perspective for the same. Moore is definitely not in the business of running a country and so he knows nothing of the issues involved. In other words, the issue that he is tackling is way beyond his scope as in investigator and maybe even a wannabe detective. This also implies that detectives have a scope which limits them and the veracity of their findings and conclusions.
In his “investigation” of the “crime”, he comes across facts and bases his opinions on his perspective. What is interesting is to note that in this case, the facts unearthed don’t serve as clues but as symbols, which is pretty natural keeping in mind that here the things under consideration are at a level of different societies, having a history and a lot of interests coming into contact with one another. Thus Moore looks at the symbols and comes out with a verdict. It is further interesting to note how the same set of facts (symbols) could be interpreted in diametrically opposite manners. The probing could have been more neutral had Moore taken given the accused parties a chance to clarify their stance but this never happens and in fact goes to show how the unclean slate is affecting the investigation. When one is investigating a normal case, one could start with a clean slate but at the level of a society, when a matter is being probed, it might be impossible to remain unbiased as the very motivation for investigation is the disorder that is propagated in the society and its effect on the individual. So what would an arm chair detective do in the given situation? After all isn’t he entitled to an opinion? One could draw upon this and go further to say that the background of a detective does matter.
I feel that a lawyer would have served as a better detective as despite his bias, he would have given the other party a chance to speak thereby giving those witnessing the trial a better shot at unearthing a “fuller” version of the truth.
I can’t help wondering whether or not there is a case to be investigated. Does searching for the whys and the wherefores of events make up a case for a detective? Not to mention, the fact that things remain the same even though the facts are out. It’s safe to assume that the aim of the film was to generate awareness among people about an alternate possibility, rather than implicate someone, which as is obvious is way beyond Moore’s scope. So, even here like in Bowling for Columbine, there isn’t a case, just biased ramblings and musings about an event which shook a society and shook the world by both its form and the aftermath. No case implies no investigation. Moore could thus be viewed as a social investigator, a social scientist rather than a detective as he has all the characteristics of the former, (viz. belonging to one of the relevant communities under focus, an eye for social dynamics). However this doesn’t qualify him to pass judgments as he has no idea whatsoever about the “relationships” that countries have with one another and the stakes involved.
Thus, though Moore has brought to light many facts that don’t stop giving people a shock and make them question the maturity of the establishment; it in my eyes comes down somewhat akin to accusations with biases but no basis, something which no detective would do. Moore is no detective and the film, though evoking a strong emotional response fails when it comes to delineating the reasons for the deaths that took place and are taking place, rather ends up accusing with considerable success a man who is the obvious scapegoat (something that both the armchair detective and the detective of the hard boiled realm would detest and refrain from).


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