|Photo by Kevin Scanlon|
USC’S YOUNG REPUBLICANS may not be big on deconstructionist theory, but for a few minutes last Thursday they found themselves in a postmodern nightmare, learning the hard way all about ambiguous texts and binary oppositions. That evening about 50 of them, waving Bush-Cheney signs, had assembled on the edge of McCarthy Quad to heckle Michael Moore and his Slacker Uprising Tour by chanting, “Four More Years! Four More Years!” Standing next to them were another 50 or so students claiming to be Bush-Cheney backers but who chanted, “Four More Wars! Four More Wars!” Closer examination revealed this parallel group had brought its own signs, including “Rich Kids Against Moore” and “USC Future War Profiteers Against Moore.” The infiltrators’ placards were saying the things the Republican students probably believed in, and yet seeing the ideas in print made the young GOPers look pretty shameful.
I asked a business major named Nick to take a break from his jeering to tell me what he had against Moore. Detached from his frenzied crowd, he suddenly became calm.
“I think it’s ridiculous that the school is paying him $50,000 to be here,” Nick said. “It would be different if he was a Democratic candidate or officeholder, even if equally biased.”
Moore indeed was getting 50 big ones for spending little more than an hour berating the likes of George W. Bush, Bill O’Reilly and Halliburton. His appearance had caused USC’s events board to max out its credit card on Moore’s speaker’s fee (which the Fahrenheit 9/11 auteur had craftily raised from $35,000), and this was supposedly the College Republicans’ big complaint — not the fact that Moore was about to turn Bush into a bloody piñata.
When I asked the business major what he would say to Moore personally, he became speechless, even as his cohorts were turning up the volume. I had seen this same paralysis — the same cotton mouth and diluted pupils — in New York when young Republican ushers were suddenly confronted by the apparition of Moore at Madison Square Garden. Then, the kids had stood helplessly rooted to the floor, agog, while Moore held a press conference blasting their party from within its own convention.
“I would tell him to get his facts straight,” Nick said after regaining his composure. “What he says are not necessarily the facts.”
The College Republicans, their numbers slightly enlarged a little while later, kept up their heckling and chanting throughout Moore’s appearance. They only played into his hands, as does nearly any attack his opponents try, from Disney’s craven refusal to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11 to the insistence of Michigan Republicans that Moore be indicted for bribing impressionable college students to vote Democratic — by promising them clean underwear and ramen noodles.
THE 5,000 TO 7,000 who packed the quad Thursday had come to hear Moore bury Bush, and they were not disappointed.
“Bush showed up for a 90-minute debate with five minutes of material,” Moore mocked. “And did you see how when he reached for his glass of water and found it was empty, he pretended to drink from it! Probably thought, ‘I’ve fooled them about everything else, maybe I can fool them into believing there’s water in this glass.’”
No Bush slip during the debates was too small for Moore to pounce on, including the president’s reference to “the Internets.”
“The Internets?” roared Moore. “What the fuck is that? I never knew there was more than one!”
The night went on like this, with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello singing a few protest songs and a couple of guest anti-war pleas, one a veteran of the first Iraqi war, the other from an L.A. school teacher whose brother was killed in combat there. Toward the end Moore revealed that his next documentary film will target the pharmaceutical industry,
and read from what he said was a secret memo from drug
“If you’re approached by a bearded, heavy-set man wearing rumpled clothing and holding a microphone, you may want to think twice about answering his questions.”
It’s hard to imagine any corporate robot not ducking for cover when Michael Moore approaches, with or without a microphone. In a few short years he has become the left’s only avenger and celebrity. He’s as big a household name as Howard Zinn’s should be, and, in the electronic age, he commands more instant attention than Eugene V. Debs ever could. He also juggles facts as easily as Mike Davis and can be as temperamental as Orson Welles. Which often makes Moore the target of progressive commentators wishing to appear evenhanded or who are simply jealous they don’t have his clout.
But Michael Moore represents another truth about ourselves, reminding us that heroes are human, that ideological idols are just that — fictional constructs usually played in the movies by a Jimmy Stewart or a Robert Redford but never seen in real life. The same liberal pundits who denounce Moore in many ways created him. For years they complained that the left had no sense of humor, that it was represented by limousine radicals from Hollywood or New York, and that it had no one to fight dirty with the dirty right. And then came Michael Moore, a standup comedian of a heartland radical who doesn’t blink when sucker-punching an old conservative like Charlton Heston on film.
The urge to use tactics that we ourselves feel personally beneath us created a golem out of mud, and some are having second thoughts now that we’ve sent him forth from our ghetto to do battle. The rabid few hecklers who attempted — let’s be honest — to prevent the thousands in McCarthy Quad from listening to a speaker they’d come to hear say we shouldn’t be so quick to call him back.
As one of my wife’s USC students told her later, Thursday’s unprecedented politically charged event made him “feel like this is a real university.”