Stupid White Men… and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation
HarperCollins £18, pp304
Michael Moore, the satirical agent provocateur of modern American life, returns with a caustic new book that created controversy even before it was released. Planned for an autumn 2001 launch, Stupid White Men was shelved in the wake of 11 September, when its publisher, HarperCollins, balked at its anti-Bush attitude.
Although 50,000 copies had already been printed, the author was told, according to Moore, to ‘tone down its dissent’. Going public through his own much-visited website, www.michaelmoore.com, Moore forced the company to reverse its decision and the ‘banned’ book became a pre-order bestseller on Amazon, going straight into number three on the New York Times bestseller list.
Best known in the UK for his satirical television series TV Nation, Moore has been exposing and assailing corporate America for years. In his previous best-selling book, Downsize This!, and documentary movies Roger & Me and The Big One, Moore chased down CEOs to bring them to personal account for what he saw as their attacks on the lives and livelihoods of blue-collar Americans.
Stupid White Men extends this to politics. Moore argues that under Bush the Wasp captains of industry and government – the Stupid White Men of the title – have collectively done more damage to his country than any other ethnic or special-interest group.
This powerful band of brothers includes Republicans and Democrats. The only difference, suggests Moore, is that ‘the Republicans tell you they’re going to screw you; the Democrats don’t, but then do it anyway’. Pausing only to note that Clinton was ‘one of the best Republican presidents we ever had’ and Bush is only an ‘uglier and somewhat meaner version’ of him, Moore offers to pay the legal fees for a merger of the two parties.
It’s this breakneck, tell-it-like-it-is rhetoric that makes Stupid White Men perfect for today’s speed-reader. In its 11 chapters Moore finds time to solve the Middle East (Arafat should deploy non-violent protest), Northern Ireland (convert the Protestants to Catholicism) and the Balkans (Yugo cars should be dropped like bombs until peace is secured). But these are really just asides, it’s the fat cats that really rile him.
Moore’s analysis of the Bush election and administration sails perilously close to conspiracy-theory oblivion at times, but Stupid White Men is saved from the wild-eyed scrapheap by its disarming satirical reversals. Moore describes a whites-only neighbourhood where ‘suspicious gangs of white people [were] lurking on every street corner, drinking Starbucks and wearing their gang colours of Gap Turquoise or J Crew Mauve’, and offers black people a checklist of items to take to their polling station next time, including a knitting needle to ensure correctly punched holes, a camera and a lawyer.
But Moore is not just interested in jokes; he wants to change the world. He urges readers to seek election to local authority boards and committees, vowing to stand himself in his own district. For the key to change, he says, is the people. Moore rolls his eyes at the celebrity-obsessed ‘idiot nation’, but he has faith that individuals can rise up and improve matters.
Although the book seems inextricably linked with 11 September, it was completed before then. A section on events since then will be an essential inclusion for the second edition.
Moore has already earned his position as an almost lone voice of effective mainstream dissent in the American media. He’s a genuine populist; a twenty-first-century pamphleteer with a broad appeal that ageing critics like Noam Chomsky – still preaching to placard-waving middle-class undergraduates – must envy.