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Michael Moore Unplugged

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MichaelMoore is coming to Ann Arbor on September 9 to introduce his new book, "DOWNSIZE THIS! Rondom Threats from an Unarmed American. " Michael was the founder and editor of the Flint Voice which subsequently became the Michigan Voice. After closing the Michigan Voice, Michael toofc a job as editor ofMother Jones. When he returned to Flint several months later, he and a group ofhisfriends decided to make a movie. What they knew best was Flint and its leadership, the influence of General Motors and how theprocess ofDownsizing in the Corporation was leading to wholesale loss of jobs and opportunities in their home town. The result was the critically acclaimed "Roger and Me" (1989) which was on over ÓOcritics'listsforoneofthebestmoviesofthe year. Other films followed, including "Pets or Meat" (1992) and "Cariadian Bacon "(1995). The latter was afull-lengthfilm written and directed by Michael which received a good deal of favorable criticism - particularly in the foreign press - and was selected to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. "TVNation, " a satiricalspoofon allparts of our society, was a successful series onNBC (Summer 1994) and the Fox networks (Summer 1995). "Random Threats" AGENDA: Whatare you up to now, Michael? We know you' re going to be in Ann Arbor soon. This is AGENDA' s way of welcoming you and letting people know that you're coming. MOORE: Well, thank you. I am really happy to begin the tour for my new book in Ann Arbor. I will visit over 30 cities and I wanted to start in Ann Arbor. I' 11 be there on the ninth of September and apparently the response has been so good that we will make the appearance for Border' s Book Store but it will be held in the Michigan Theater. AGENDA: What made you decide to write a book at this time? MOORE: It has been a great time for me because it has given me the chance to write down many of the things I have been thinking about with respect to the problems facing our country. When you make amovie, every litüe official in the studio wants to make changes. The result often does not resemble the original script. When I finished the book, it went to the printers. All of my ideas were left intact so that it reflects my thinking and my ideas - not those of a group of people who may not have been thinking about community and national problems at all, and want to make changes only because that is what is expected of them. I really enjoyed writing again. I haven't done any serious writing in ten years and I found the ideas coming quickly - probably because I had been thinking about them for so long. I actually wrote the book in two months. AGENDA: So teil me a little about the book itself. What are you most proud of? MOORE: The first page shows two pictures: One is the Federal Building in Oklahoma and the other is a General Motors plant in Flint. They are remarkably similar. It's difficult to teil them apart and they represent the story I tried to teil about violence of any kind and its effects. It is impossible to differentiate terrorism by pictures such as this because the resulLs are the same - waste, wasted opportunities and wasted lives. With joblessness and despair there is increased violence, be it domestic violence, substance abuse or whatever - and people die. Whatever the cause they're just as dead. AGENDA: That certainly is a formidable picture but I hope the book is also filled with a Michael Moore kind of humor. MOORE: Let me review some of the chapters for you. One is called "Would Pat Buchanan Take a Check from Satan?" I tried a simple test. I sent S100 checks to all the presidential candidates from such organizations as The John Wayne Gacey Fan Club, Pedophiles for Free Trade, Satan Worshippers for Dole and Abortionists for B uchanan. In the book I show actual copies of the checks Buchanan cashed from The John Wayne Gacey Fan Club and Abortionists for Buchanan. Dole returned a couple of the Satanic Worshippers checks and Perot said that I would be contacted once the party was established. Another chapter is called, "Don ' t Vote - ItOnly EncouragesThem." In it I suggestany number of better ways to piek a President including a Monster Truck Race and ATough Man Contest. There is a chapter calleó, "Not on the Mayflower? Then Leave!" AGENDA: That would exclude most of us. MOORE: Not me. One of the families listed is More. AGENDA: They stopped in Ireland? MOORE: My ancestor dropped one of the Os before he got on board. AGENDA: Sure. MOORE: I have a chapter called "Big Welfare Mamas." It begins: "I hate welfare mothers. Lazy, shif tless, always try ing to get something for nothing. They expect the rest of us to take care of them instead of getting off their collective ass and taking care of themselves. Always looking for a handout, they simply expect us average, hardworking, decent taxpayers to underwrite their illicit behavior as they churn 'em out, one after the other. How long are we going to tolérate Big Business acüng this way? "Each year freeloading corporations grab nearly $170billionintaxfunded federal handouts to help them do the things theyshouldbepayingforthemselves. "By contrast, all of our social programs, from Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) to school lunches tohousing assistance,amount tojustS50billiona year." AGENDA: That's really well put, Mkhael . . . MOORE: I have decided that during this book tour, I am going to make appearances at the Departments of Social Service throughout the country and turn those "Big Mamas" in. I list a group of the worst ones and their pictures are in the chapter. Another chapter is called, "Let' s Dump on Orange County." As you know, Orange County, California is one of the wealthiest and most conservative areas in the United States. In December of 1994 it announced that it had gone bankrupt ! As part of their solution to this problem, they decided to open their landfills to their neighbors. I suggest that we all help them out by sending them our garbage. AGENDA: We like the üüe. MOORE: Yeah, I also wrote achapter called, "How to Conduct the Rodney King Commemorative Riot." I ask: Why burn down your own neighborhood? The chapter includes a map to Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Some of the other chapters are "Germany Still Hasn't Paid for lts Sins - and I Intend to Collect," "If Clinton had Balls," "Corporate Crooks Trading Cards," "My Forbidden Love for Hillary," "A Sperm's Right to Life," and "Mike's Militia." In "Mike's Militia" I outline the purposes and goals of our militia group to Norman Olson, co-founder of the Michigan Militia. We spent quite a bit of time together and I asked him to take an oath against violence. Then he asked an interesting question: '"You know, you guys were right in the sixties. The Government lied to us. They probably killed Dr. King. Us conservatives were wrong. So when we finally wised up in the nineties, after all these jobs were lost, where were you liberáis when we needed your help?'" And later in the chapter "RememberMark from Michigan? He surfaced after the Oklahoma bombing with his infamous radio broadcasts and faxes to congressmen and the NRA. But get this: He's a janitor at one of the most liberal schools in America, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. What is the Left in Ann Arbor doing while Mark from Michigan is scrubbing their floors and toilets? I can just see it now - all the groovy nineties lefties holding their PC meetings in Room 305 of the Student Union, talking about the oppressed CONTINUEDON NEXTPAOE F ROM PREVIOUS PAO E masses and not even noücing the oppressed Mark from Michigan who has to piek up thèir half-empty Starbucks cups filled with soaked cigarette butts. Mark needs some help, but he's an Invisible Man to this crowd." AGENDA: Have you been giving consideralion to some answers to these issues? MOORE: I try to suggestthings throughout the book. In the "Mike's Militia" chapter, I suggest we take over the Democratie party like the Christian Coalition took over the Republican Party. That could be done precinct by precinct. I also want to say something else about Ann Arbor. I am sure that many people would not consider the University of Michigan to be the most liberal school in America. I am grateful for the presence of Ann Arbor University. I cali it thatbecause, as you remember, we used tocóme down from Flint frequently to enjoy the treasures of Ann Arbor - particularly the libraries, Borders, the movie guilds and the Michigan Theater. It was our chance to see things that were not available to us in Flint. These visits certainly helped to shape our lives. Roger&Me AGENDA: Well, we really appreciate your taking the time to give us an advance guided trip through the book. We're really looking forward to reading the whole thing. Let's turn to some other areas of interest to our readers. The issue of downsizing was defined in "Roger and Me" and now almost a decade later the media is giving it an enormous amount of attention. How do you see that issue now? MOORE: When we made the movie, we used the city of Flint as a site because we knew the city, but it was never meant to be anything but the story of corporate greed and what it was doing to all cities. As we traveled to the various film festivals and screenings of the film, local people all over the world saw it as a film about their own community. Things have progressed to the point where enormous job losses have occurred and opportunities for young people have been reduced to less than nothing in some areas. These days everyone lives in Flint, Michigan. AGENDA: Have you thought about what impact you think the movie might have had if it had been released now instead of years ago? MOORE: I think the popularity would be even higher because more people have become victims of the problem and understand it more personally. AGENDA: You specifically did not pro vide answers to the problem in the movie. Do you have any now? MOORE: At the time, it was important to demónstrate the problem. That is really enough for one film to show. We are going to have to find the answers as a people. I try to give some direction in the book by showing the problems of the two party system and what we might do. AGENDA: The style of "Roger and Me," that inieresting mixture of the ridiculous and the serious, is now often mimicked. How do you feel about this? MOORE: I'm quite proud of that. The film's success helped to open many doors for young producers and directors. I think it was an enormous boost to independent film making. Unfortunately, many of these young people are more interested in producing something that will give them access to studio money. Subsequently many of them have lost their direction and fire. "TV Nation" AGENDA: Let's talk about "TV Nation." It appeared to be a greal success among young people, and 30-year-olds. Many of these people miss the show a lot. MOORE: Surveys showed that the show was extremely popular in the to 34-year-old group. The polis confirmed your personal observation. AGENDA: That's a first! Do you think the show will retum? MOORE: There has been a lot of interest in Europe to back the producüon of the show but I want to see it placed on American network TV. I think that will happen. AGENDA: Someone suggested that if TV Nation did not come back, he expected that you would invite all of us to a farewell barbecue where we eat the Corporate Chicken. MOORE: The Corporate Chicken will be back. AGENDA: We heard there was an Internet uprising when people heard that "TV Nation" was going to be canceled. Want to teil us about that? MOORE: Fox received something like 25,000 e-mail letters on their system and they had never received anything like that before. They received another 30,000 regular U.S. Mail letters. It was ahuge outpouring of support for the show. So, they haven' t officially canceled it yet - it's on this kind of permanent hiatus - because they don' t really want to let it go. Whate ver problems there may have been with it, it was the number one rated show in that time slot for to 49year-olds every week it was on. AGENDA: There were several episodes that we were surprised you were able to get away with showing. Forexample, one of the stories in the first show was about how U.S. tax dollars were being spent as start-up money for corporations to close their doors in the U.S . and move to another country. How did you get the Network Big Guys to let you do this kind of stuff? MOORE: It was not easy. There were long, protracted battles - literally with blood on the tracks. We had huge fights in the board room, the editing room, the studio, and over the phone. What sa ved it - what got it on the air - was its humor. And the fact that once the first show aired and it did so well in the ratings with young adults that they had no problem selling advertising also helped. One of the great ironies is that we could attack corporate America and get corporate America to advertise because by attacking them i t allowed them to sell more burgers. AGENDA: What were some of the major objections you were faced with? Were the Networks ever afraid of being sued? MOORE: No, not really. I think this was their main argument: They believe the American people could care less about these political issues and that we were reading the audience wrong. And, they argued, that what people wanted were more segments like "Pets on Prozac," and they did not want shows like "Democracy in Kuwait" or shows about the Savings and Loan crisis. But they are wrong about the American public. Millions of people are just fed up and they're tired that they can't get anything on TV that deals with these issues. They just have a very low opinión of the American public - one that I don't share. I'm not saying there aren't idiots in this country, in fact I'll grant you that maybe the majority of people are idiots. But if you have a slight majority of people who are idiots it means there are still 120 million people that aren't idiots - that's a lot of smart people! AGENDA: We noticed - not only in the kinds of stories you covered but also in your style as a reporter - that you talk to your interview jects as people and there is an appearance of respect . . . and so they talk to you and you let them put their foot in their mouth. You aren't confrontational yet people just teil you right up front "This is what we do!" MOORE: It' s notjust an appearance. It really is .... Because you want them to be honest. In their honesty they will reveal what needs to be revealed. I learned this by doing it. There is a good example of it in "Roger & Me" where I interview Miss Michigan. I asked her what she thought as she looked at the boarded up buildings in Hint. And she looked at me like "What in the heil are you talking about?" All I wanted to do was talk to her about my own agenda and concerns, not about her. About halfway through asking her these questions I thought "Mike, why don't you just shut the fuck up and talk to her about what she wants to talk about!" So, if you watch it in the film, I almost immediately change the subject and I say to her "Beautiful day for a parade, isn't it?" And she just lit up! She just went off! My last question to her was "Any final words for the people of Hint?" Now, if I had stayed on my original track of asking her Mike's political questions, I never would have got the awesome answer that I got from her, which was: "Yes, just keep your fingers crossed for me as I go for the gold in two weeks in Atlantic City." Her answer is the epitome of the culture we live in: Me! Me! Me! But I only got the honest answer that revealed to us much more when I started respecting her concerns and her agenda. AGENDA: We heard a story about one of the segments of "TV Nation" that didn't make it to the airwaves. It involved Ben Hamper (Rivethead) and condoms. Want to teil us about that? MOORE: It was one of the four pieces that they did not air on either network. We had Ben go around to different pharmacies and ask them if they had any small-sized condoms after we noticed that condoms suddenly started coming in extra-large sizes. Since there were only regular and extra-large we were wondering what happened to the all-important small sizes. That was one segment that did not make it to the ainvaves. There was a piece on abortion, a piece on gays, and a piece on Savings and Loans that didn't make it either. I believe we may show some of these censored segments at the Michigan Theater the night I'm there. The Flint Voice AGENDA: Do you miss the Voice? MOORE: Sure. AGENDA: Do you see any changes in the Alternative press now as compared to when you were producing the Voice? MOORE: I think the biggest change is that print media in general has had a pretty tough go of it because more and more people get their information from televisión. In terms of alternative newspapers tuming more mainstream - that was already happening. AGENDA: If the Voice was still being published, which direction would it have taken? MOORE: The same direction we were in except that I think we would be on TV (in Michigan). And I think we would really be using the Internet. I like the Metro Times. I think it is a paper that deals with politics every week, and editorially is something I can support, yet it reacties a more mainstream audience than your typical left publication. I'm all in favor of that because I want to see change in my lifetime and I don' t just want to be speaking to the con verted. Indies vs. Chain Bookstores AGENDA: Do you have any feelings about versus corporate-owned bookstores? MOORE: I really don't know too much about this issue. I was happy that the large majority of my upcoming tour will take place in indepenCONTINUED ON PAGE 27 "These days everyone lives in Flint, Michigan." FROM PAGE 9 dent stores but I have been surprised - as a consumer - to see how many of the independent stores provide an atmosphere that is not too friendly and how some of the large giants have worked to produce environments that are a pleasure. AGENDA: What do you mean "not too friendly?" MOORE: Well, it is ironie to me that an independent progressive bookstore like Shakespeare & Co. (in NYC), and others that I've been to, have this sort of elitist atmosphere unlike the Bames & Nobles and the Waldenbooks and the places like that where you think, "Wow! These are these Huge Corporate Entities!" There appears to be an invisible sign on many of the independent booksellers that say s "Do Not EnterBecauseYou'reNotWelcome!"And the invisible sign on the Barnes & Noble says "Welcome! You who are working longer hours for less pay - you can buy the book for 30% off here!" So, for all those reasons, I don't think there is anything wrong - I think there is a lot that is right - with the chain stores. This is not to say there aren' t some great independent bookstores because there are. That's just a given. There are things that you willneverfindata Barnes & Noble that you will find at Shaman Drum. And that's why we have to support the Shaman Drums. My mission, if you want to cali it that, is to reach out to that large group of Americans who have really been betrayed by this economie system. So if I come to Ann Arbor, for instance, and the people who work at Ford in Ypsilanti aren't there, then I have failed. Presidential Piek? AGENDA: You tell a story in your book about voting for Bill Clinton in 1992. Actually, you had your daughter Natalio, who was 1 1 at the time, do your dirty work and pull the lever. Who is your daughter voting for in 1996? MOORE: I should ask her what she thinks. She probably would still say Hillary . Right now, I'm thinking of voting for Richard Jewell [suspected Olympics bomber]. I think it's the only way that we can make it up to him. Let his mother and him have the White House. I'm really upset at what has been done to this guy.


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