Stupid White Men

By Michael Moore

Why has this book been spending so much time at the top of the bestseller lists, both here and in the United States?

One thing’s for sure: You can’t blame the “liberal” media. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when any questioning of the ruling American political establishment was equated with treason, it very nearly got scrapped by its publisher. In addition, the fact that it doesn’t deal with 9/11 or the “War on Terrorism” would seem to date it as political commentary. The authors of books about the 2000 presidential election have complained that 9/11 made their books irrelevant by the time they came out, yet Moore’s main target here is the “thief-in-chief” George W. Bush and the stolen vote in Florida. People weren’t supposed to be interested in that subject anymore.

Moore’s strange success with Stupid White Men – strange because it isn’t that good a book – may be attributed to a failure in the conventional thinking on these matters. There is no liberal media, and even Moore at his most obstreperous is a mild antidote to what passes for balanced commentary from mainstream media sources. His various rants, not all of them well informed, on subjects like the environment, the 2000 election, race in America, and the educational system, are just the flip-side to the blustering loudmouth sarcasm of conservative pundits. It is mostly attitude disguised as opinion, but to many it will come as a relief.

It may also come as a revelation. In particular, Moore’s background report on how thousands of voters were kicked off the voters list in Florida, a story first broken by the BBC that received little attention from the American press, is an important bit of history. Comics can also bring us the news. In a nation that doesn’t like to criticize itself they have to.

Finally, the timing for this book is right. Moore launches his screed with an introduction that asks how everything went so wrong. The stock market is in a funk, the Middle East is in turmoil, the hole in the ozone layer is growing, and the rest of the world seems to hate the U.S. more than ever. Things seemed to be going so well in the 1990s, and then “all of a sudden everything sucked.”

“The American Century? That’s over. Welcome to your Century 21 Nightmare.”

For those who agree that everything sucks, and who blame this state of affairs on the powers that be rather than radical feminists, liberal academics and the United Nations, Moore is a welcome tonic.

Stupid White Men is also, despite its comic title, a very angry book. Moore is not just cracking jokes. But the difficulty is in knowing when to take him seriously. Take his prescriptions on foreign policy. In order to fix the troubles in the former Yugoslavia he suggests cloning Tito and dropping Yugos on the populace from cargo planes: “It will never be safe to go out of the house because you’ll never know when one of those 2,000-pound lemons is heading for your head.”

I’m sure this is meant to be funny, but when it comes to Israel Moore is totally in earnest. Unfortunately his plan for peace – cutting off U.S. funding for Israel until the state-sponsored terrorism of the occupation ends, while getting the Palestinians to adopt mass non-violent civil disobedience – is only wishful thinking.

But to return to the question of Moore’s popularity. Why is Mike such a big hit in Canada? I’m not sure it does us any credit. Canadians like to think of themselves as superior in almost every way to the Yahoos living in the U.S. and Stupid White Men only confirms this prejudice. Like the Europeans, we have a tendency to gloat over any failure of the American experiment. And, most of all, laughing along with Mike helps us forget the state of our own nation, and the even sorrier excuses it has.

Review first published August 3, 2002.

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