Excerpted from the full essay, "Reflections on Bowling for Columbine in the wake of Charleston and Chattanooga," available here.
When news of the latest white racist gun horror came up from Charleston, South Carolina last month, I was teaching Michael Moore’s 2002 film Bowling for Columbine. Once again, it seemed, Moore’s apocalyptic vision of an America armed-to-the-teeth and pushed-to-the-edge had proven prophetic. Once more, contrary to war-mongering media and ‘counter-terrorist’ propaganda, we were reminded: America’s terror is mostly home-grown. Draped in the insignia of white supremacy, Dylann Storm Roof shot to death nine African Americans in a historic Black church, restoring to view once more the racist character of that American terror.
Having taught Moore’s movie at least a dozen times over the past thirteen years, it struck me that it was about time I wrote up my thoughts about why this work is one I keep coming back to, and why I think that it remains a vital (if imperfect) resource for radical educators or activists today (despite the liberal limits of its creator).
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Liberal hubs like Daily Kos have brought Michael Moore into the current fray, citing his “anti-gun violence” documentary to support the case for greater gun control. (Moore has also interjected himself.) But instrumentalizing Bowling for Columbine in this way threatens to suppress what it was that made it such a vital intervention in the first place. At its best, the film insists on broadening and radicalizing the gun violence ‘debate,’ in ways that push well beyond Moore’s own liberal affiliations...The film powerfully reintroduces key context for grasping violence in the USA, context that too often falls out of the mainstream ‘liberal-conservative’ back and forth about gun laws and gun lobbies. Elements that Barack Obama—and maybe even Michael Moore himself—would prefer we not dwell upon.
Bowling does not simply fixate on bad US gun laws or the tragedy of lives taken too soon. It pushes further to link US gun violence to underlying legacies and systemic problems: from the history of white supremacy, to the racialized post-911 paranoia inflamed by corporate media and politicians, to the long-standing normalization—indeed the sanctification— of American violence in the form of US militarism and empire. Just as powerfully, the film refuses to engage in demonizing or pathologizing the killers it considers, instead tying their violence to the pressures put on young people today and to the despair affecting so many US ‘post-industrialized’ working-class communities in the age of predatory capital’s devastating abandonment.
You can read the full essay here, at Counterpunch.