In these times of instability and unrest, one must take heed of the esteemed 21st Century red neck philosopher James Nichols’ words as a source of comfort and inspiration. “Well,” James reflects, pausing profoundly, “there’s whackos out there.” Indeed there are James, indeed there are.
James is trying to explain to film maker Michael Moore that he believes, just as any other reasonable non-whacko would, that the right of American citizens to possess nuclear weapons in order to protect their homes, should be restricted. Hear, hear James! Nuclear weapons wielding American home owners are indeed a great concern of mine.
And yet, James firmly believes in the right of American citizens to own guns in order to protect their homes. “No has the right to tell me I can’t have it,” he says firmly, referring to the .44 Magnum revolver he sleeps with under his pillow. “That is protected on our constitution.”
James’ strong belief forms the subject of Michael Moore’s 2002 Academy Award winning documentary film Bowling for Columbine, an exploration into America’s gun culture on an international and domestic level. Up until now, I have never seen a Michael Moore film. I must admit that at some points during my viewing, I hoped never to see another. Moore’s confrontational style is not for everyone. Apologising when someone bumps into me is just about as much confrontation as I can stand. I’m British you know. And so moments such as the infamous final scene in which Moore quizzes the late Charlton Heston as the president of the National Rifle Association, were almost unwatchable for their bum clenching, cringe inducing awkwardness as Heston attempts to walk away and escape Moore’s accusing questions.
And yet this brash, over confident style, in which Moore shapes himself as a moral crusader for justice and sense, works as an interesting parallel to the gung-ho attitudes of the people he speaks to and the shaping of themselves as noble, righteous protectors of their homes and families. It also works as a great entertainment provider as it seems people are at their most amusing when cornered. “You could have a gun in that camera,” a man wearing a cap stating, rather bluntly, “Fuck everyone” points out. It’s true, he could. What’s less amusing about this of course is the statement’s painful reflection of media induced paranoia; the alarmist attitude that makes America pull the trigger on the camera man before the gun in his camera pops out.
Moore’s premise begins with the Columbine High School shooting massacre of 1994 and spirals out of control until it has spun a web encompassing racism, corporate greed and America’s political sphere. I found its comparisons between the attitudes of individual gun owners and America’s foreign policy as a whole, aggressors feigning as protectors and attacking in the name of defence of the homeland, fascinating. This mentality, scaling down from the man in the White Office to individual citizens, surely must be connected to America’s violent past one would reason. And yet Moore only needs to mention events such as the Holocaust to disprove the theory that a nation’s violent past embeds itself into its culture.
Bowling for Columbine offers no easy answers to the issues it raises and yet James Nichols’ solution is simple. “I use a pen because the pen is mightier than the sword,” he explains. “But you must always keep a sword handy for when the pen fails.” Wise words. After all, there’s wackos out there.
By Rebecca Hussein