Michael Moore believes he has been thinking like a chess grandmaster in planning the impact of Sicko, his new health-care movie. But has he checkmated his political and cultural opponents in doing so?
In an interview with USA Today [Friday 22nd June, 2007] the controversial film-maker continued to plug his new movie, Sicko, which has already been widely pre-trailed. He describes how his earlier movies had failed to achieve his political goals.
“Did going to (former NRA president) Charlton Heston’s home reduce school shootings in this country? I don’t think so ..[ recalling a scene in Columbine] ..
“Did trying to get onto the 14th floor of General Motors (in Roger & Me) to see (chairman Roger Smith) convince GM to start making cars that people want to buy? No ..
“ Did Fahrenheit stop the re-election of George W. Bush?”
“So a lot of thought went into, ‘OK, I get it. It’s a game of chess, and so far I’ve been in checkmate.’ … I need to find a different way to get to where I want to go.”
As there’s only one checkmate per game ..
Strictly speaking, Moore means that he has been playing a whole series of chess-like battles through his movies. And that in Sicko he’s found a different way for him to win this particular game.
He went on to explain that his earlier films have not succeeded in winning people over to his side of the argument. A closer examination suggests that he believes specifically that the stunts in the films may have made people laugh, but did not win converts to his cause. The different way, is to retain much of his compelling style but to avoid demonizing individuals. This will, he believes make him, through the film a more potent political warrior.
It’s a point of view
He may have been able to put a clearer case under less pressured circumstances (he was interviewed while taking a break from a public meeting with a thousand wound-up health care workers). As stated, it’s a bit muddled and a bit megalomaniac. What sort of film might have ‘convinced GM to start making cars that people want to buy’? Or one that might reduce home shootings? Or change the course of a presidential election?
I’m inclined to argue against the idea that any film, however brilliant, can achieve such goals. That’s because I believe what I learned from the writings of the great Kurt Lewin who presented social systems as stabilized through a set of forces which tend to be mutually self-adjusting. And I believe in such a systemic view because it has been confirmed whenever I have found myself caught up actively or otherwise in systems going through change processes.
That’s not to say that thought leaders and their creative efforts can not play a part in great revolutionary changes. Tyrants are notoriously sensitive to the dangers of being made to look foolish, or even to look less than special. Charlie Chaplin in The Dictator didn’t defeat Hitler, but I share the view that humor can be part of a radical cultural move.
Or, if we stick to the chess metaphor
Michael Moore may well have been playing quite a successful series of games of chess. Only he has been playing against in more than two dimensions, and against more a range of powerful opponents. He is unlikely to checkmate them all. But he shows his resilience, and may indeed have worked up a better plan. By attacking a system not its agents, Sicko may leave the film-maker-cum-chess-warrior feeling not completely checkmated in the end-game.