Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Slacker Uprising

Starring Michael Moore as…the `Journalist`?
JN201 Fall 2008

Michael Moore’s latest addition to his repertoire of satirical films about the US has caused as many tongues wagging and heads rolling as did his previous cinematic endeavours. Released less than 2 months prior to the 2008 US Presidential elections, Slacker Uprising was strategically placed on the election timeline to swing voters and carried a palpable message - vote the Republicans out of the White House. While the film has somewhat fulfilled its cause of propagating awareness among Americans about their responsibility as voters, some of the issues Moore raised in this film merit further scrutiny.

Throughout his tour to battlefield states, Moore consistently utilised a word to it’s full potential - ‘truth’. He fervently states that his film is not a propaganda. In the film, he chastised the press for letting themselves be used as a tool of propaganda by the government and that the American people would have opposed the US government’s decision to invade Iraq had they been properly and truthfully informed. ‘My movie exists to counter the managed, manufactured news which is essentially a propaganda arm of the Bush administration. My movies are the anti-propaganda,’ says Moore. This statement in and by itself is problematic. Slacker Uprising’s main objective was to influence public opinion, specifically from being for the Republicans to being against them. Propaganda, by the definition given by Britannica Online, is exactly what Moore is spreading through Slacker Uprising. In other words, Moore is running a campaign of his own, just like the politicos he is criticizing. The only distinction here being his approach - non rhetorical and aimed at middle America at the grass roots level.

During an interview about Slacker Uprising on Larry King Live, Moore summarized the 2008 presidential race as ‘Obama versus ignorance.’ He theorizes that, while people who vote for Senator McCain may do so out their firm belief in him as a leader, a large number of people will vote for the Senator out of ignorance. What Moore is directly implying here is consistent with his stand conspicuous in the film - that the US public has been kept in the dark about matters of war, economy, healthcare and others. However, the undertone of that statement and, most obviously, the movie, connotes that followers of the Republican camp are largely ignorant. The film was saturated with clips depicting Republican supporters as painfully inarticulate and, despite their admiration for Senator McCain, were unable to even form one coherent sentence of praise. On the other hand, supporters of Moore and his campaign against the Republicans were consistently portrayed as passionate, discerning and articulate about issues that concern the American public. This lop-sided portrayal of sources brings to question Moore’s integrity as a ‘journalist’ - as one who claims to be trying to clear up the ‘misstatements and untruths’ apparently spread by the American national media. His portrayal of Republican supporters can easily be seen as a conveniently ‘managed’ piece of information ‘manufactured’ to support his propaganda.

However, one has to question; is the journalist and the human being that he or she is to be kept separate? If the answer is yes then, how does one go about doing that? Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, exposed herself to a barrage of criticism when she voiced her disappointment in the US government during a public speech. This, despite her clean record of unbiased reporting throughout her career at the Times. Ergo the question - when does the journalist get to voice his or her personal stand? The answer to that hinges upon the context within which the journalist is operating. Michael Moore the concerned, patriotic, somewhat left-wing radical citizen has every right to stand up for his convictions. But, Michael Moore the neo-journalist, illuminator of misstatements and untruths, holds the obligation to disseminate to the public information that is non-partisan and independent of his bias.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Preserving The Arts

Why Should We?
JN201 Fall 2008

‘A bunch of people at a rich gala’. This was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s description of those who objected to his proposed $30 million reduction in arts funding several weeks ago. While Canadians initially expressed their support for Mr. Harper’s plan, his vitriol against artists seemed to have been a step in the wrong direction. Opposition party leaders rushed to the scene with alternatives to ‘save’ the arts. Artists, already greatly perturbed over the planned cuts, criticised Mr. Harper for his singling them out as the ‘niche’ crowd. Paladins of the arts such as Margaret Atwood went so far as to publicly repudiate government funding as necessary to its survival.

Across the country there was a widespread shaking of heads regarding the Prime Minister’s narrow definition of the arts. Canadians, as it turns out, have a greater awareness towards art and its tautology to culture. Although Mr. Harper has since backtracked on his proposals, Canadians – artists and non-artists – are still riled up and making noise. So what is it about the arts that merit such concern?

Lorrie Gallant of the Woodlands Cultural Centre which received over $50,000 in government funding in 2007 thinks that art is a vital component of education. ‘Art goes hand-in-hand with education – it’s a total package that must come together,’ says Ms. Gallant. The centre, which focuses on First Nations art and education, relies heavily on the use of art in its classrooms. From her experience as an Education Expansion Officer at the centre, Ms. Gallant firmly believes that art in the classroom is indispensable. Says Ms. Gallant, ‘We absorb more in learning by engaging our sense of touch, our sense of smell, sense of taste – your food is an art. We absorb so much more than compared to just learning from a textbook.’

Dr. Lisa Wood, a professor of English and Contemporary Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, strongly agrees. She regularly uses popular media such as images and films in her class to stimulate discussion amongst her students. Compared to conventional lectures, she finds that they are more comfortable talking about abstract ideas when there was something palpable to refer to. ‘Ideas are ideas,’ she explains, ‘but if they [the students] are not able to relate to those ideas, they become irrelevant.’ Apart from education, Dr. Wood also believes that art plays a vital role in our culture. ‘It’s a sterile world if we don’t pay attention to aesthetics,’ she says.

The First Nations people, like many other cultures, rely on their artwork in defining their cultural identity. Motives in a beadwork, according to Ms. Gallant, can explain the history of the family that made it. She feels that, because the world is growing so fast, different cultures have begun to merge into one. That has made it even more important for First Nations people to hold on to their distinctly unique heritage through the preservation of their art.

For Brad Woods, veteran Storyteller and frontman for The Great Wooden Trio, art has the power to bring people together. He recently organized a ‘house concert’ where he invited his neighbours to a night of music and stories. ‘We drive by their houses in our car every morning and we hardly know them,’ he says. For Brad, the impromptu concert was an example of what his art of storytelling did for his community.

The impact of art in our culture and education varies significantly from one community to the next or even from one individual to another. However, there is no denying the importance of its preservation, as Brad Woods says, ‘There is no substitute for art. If there’s no art, there’s no culture, no community.’