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Moore and Stewart

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One doesn’t usually look to Pop Matters for political essays, but this piece praising Michael Moore and lambasting Jon Stewart is interesting.

Michael Moore is one of the few heroes of contemporary American culture. He is a true patriot, a serious populist, and a clever provocateur, dedicated to striking politicians, jabbing corporate elites, and encouraging the American public into summoning the courage necessary to create a country of egalitarian love, benevolent community, and universal justice. The amazingly simple messages of his films – don’t outsource manufacturing plants because it will destroy American towns, don’t allow people to buy guns without precautionary measures, don’t deny people health care for seemingly arbitrary reasons to increase corporate profit, don’t go to war for specious reasons – have, in just a few years, gone from controversial to dully prescient and obviously correct

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It’s impossible to understand the hatred of Moore from the cocktail party and faculty lounge scene of the liberal establishment without also understanding the same politically impotent group’s love for Jon Stewart. Understanding the juxtaposition of Moore andStewart reveals the true depths of the failure and soullessness of modern American liberalism.

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Michael Moore is a populist and Jon Stewart is an elitist. The blind liberal embrace of the superficial smugness of Stewart and detachment from the heroism of Moore is the most powerful and convincing illustration of the suicidal tendencies, moral bankruptcy, and spiritual decay of the American left.

Well then. It’s obviously meant to be a provocative essay and while I wanted to toss it out the window, I actually have a hard time doing so. Stewart is brilliant and generally remains so. He allowed me to stay sane during the Bush years. But he’s obviously not a movement leader. He’s a satirist. When he leaves that role, things get shaky. The Rally to Restore Sanity never did make any sense; not surprisingly, it also made no difference.

That hardly means one is an elitist to enjoy his show. The piece John Oliver did on the Occupy Wall Street was fantastic. I think one has to be able to laugh at the movement one is involved in.

Or maybe not. If we are leaving an age where young people are super ironic and unable to commit to a cause, that’s probably a good thing. I’ve bemoaned that very irony many times. Sincere belief in a cause may open one up to a bit of teasing, but that’s a small price to pay for making change.

On the other hand, I still have trouble seeing Michael Moore as heroic and I don’t think that makes me “a member of the faculty lounge scene of the liberal establishment” to say so, even if that describes me pretty well (though I generally disdain anything reeking of a faculty lounge). Moore may be a “true populist,” but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Moore may be right on many issues, but he’s also a provocateur and not much more. He’s an extreme egoist, has committed his life and art to promoting himself as much as any cause, and gets attacked not for his causes or his weight but because too often his actions themselves, as well as the level of analysis in his films and books, are indeed kind of embarrassing for the hard-thinking liberal. If saying that makes me insufficiently worshipful of leading lefties, so be it.

Jon Stewart might not provide any kind of leadership for lefty activists, but Michael Moore isn’t too much. We need better leaders. Occupy Wall Street is hopefully creating those leaders. May they be more serious than Moore.

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