Albion Monitor /Features

Presumed Unarmed But Dangerous [Editor's note: Earlier this week we caught up with Michael Moore, on a tour for his first book, "Downsize This!" ($21.00; Crown, ISBN 0-517-70739-X) Like his documentary Roger and Me, and his award-winning series, TV Nation, Moore's book mixes satire and outrage in equal parts. It's a swell book that would make a lovely holiday gift -- particularly if purchased at a locally-owned bookstore, such as Copperfield's.]
You're a satirist and prankster in the tradition of [Paul] Krassner and Dick Tuck. This kind of political humor always springs from the left; why can't conservatives produce satire?

[P.J.] O'Rourke's probably the closest one to it. I don't know why that is. I don't really see myself as in the company of Krassner or Tuck; to them, the prank was often the means and the end. I'm just trying to do a couple of things here to illustrate a much more serious point. And underlying what I'm doing is a real sense of despair and anger. The humor is there simply as a release.

One of the best things on TV Nation -- and it's hard to pick a favorite, because each show was such a delight -- was "Mike's Militia..."

Right. Well, I was just trying to get people to join a group designed for all the folks who felt left out of the militia movement and don't want to pick up a gun.

...But that was intended as a prank, right?

With the militia guys?

Yes. Did they know how you intended to portray them?

Oh, certainly. They're not dumb. They knew what was going on. They figured I'm using them to make a point and they're going to use me maybe recruit some more people.

Have you been in contact with them since?

Oh yeah.

Were they happy with the show?

Very happy.

You have a chapter in your book, "I Try to Commit Bob Dornan." Besides him, are there others on capitol hill that shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects?

There's a number of nutty people there. The congresswoman [Helen Chenoweth] who believes in the black helicopters flying around. Then there are the ones who sleep on cots in their office to prove that they're not "going D.C."

Is Bob Dornan mental? Is he a ticking time bomb waiting to explode? Consider these statements he's made, and ask yourself if this man isn't crying out for help:

"I used to pine away that my birthday wasn't April 13. That was Thomas Jefferson's birthday ... Until I discovered that [my birthday] of April 3 was the day that Christ was crucified."

"...Roosevelt's birthday is January 30. Hitler was sworn in on Roosevelt's birthday ... And then Roosevelt was sworn in on March 4. Well, my mother was eight months pregnant [with me] ... Now, I'm not being spooky about it, I'm just saying within a month of Roosevelt ['s inauguration] -- I'm born! The world really took off while I'm in my mother's womb."

-- From Downsize This! "I Try to Commit Bob Dornan."

Reading the dustjacket on your book, I was surprised to learn that you made a sequel to "Roger & Me" just about the bunny lady, titled "Pets or Meat."

You can't get it anywhere. PBS shows it occasionally. It's 30 minutes long.

So what's the answer?

[Laughs] There isn't an answer.

Do you have pets?

No, I don't.

Will there be any future episodes of TV Nation?

TV Nation logo Yes. The BBC has put up the money for another season's worth of the show, and they're now negotiating to find an American network. Also, Comedy Central is going to rerun all the shows from Fox and NBC, starting in December. They're also still running in Canada. I might also do a different show on Fox. I've written a half-hour comedy and Fox is going to do the pilot for that.

A sitcom?


What's it about?

It's about a fictitious Midwestern town where nobody has a job.

Not too fictitious, I assume?

[Laughs] No.

One of the best things about TV Nation were the public opinon polls. One of my favorites was, "16% of all Americans believe that the world is out to get them. Of those, 46% are gun owners."

All real.

Did anyone ever take a swing at the pollsters?

Were people pissed off? Oh, yeah. But we did it all on the phone.

  • 10% of the American public would pay $5 to see Senator Orrin Hatch (R - Utah) fight a big mean dog on Pay TV. 86% of all viewers would root for the dog. 100% of women viewers would root for the dog.

  • 34% of those who voted Republican in the last election believe "Forrest Gump" was a documentary.

  • 81% of those who have seen two or more "Police Academy" movies believe that O.J. is innocent.

  • 60% of Americans say that if they could push a button that would make Larry King disappear, they would "keep pushing it and not stop."

    -- More polls and show summaries can be found at The (Unofficial) TV Nation WWW Page

  • Some chapters of your book are quite serious, and sometimes angry. In your piece on Clinton, you hammer at his conservative retreat, pointing out research showing that liberals did better in the 1994 election than moderates.

    Oh, yeah. The media totally misread that election. We have not been told the truth about the last couple of years. But the people are smarter than the media, and that's why Gingrich and the others have failed. The American public haven't responded to them. If anyone bothered to read the true results of the '94 election, they'd know whyGingrich has failed.

    Do you see any hope that Clinton will be more progressive in his second term?

    No. He's so in debt from all these lawsuits that he knows he can't leave the White House broke, so he's gonna be kissing up to a lot of corporations. He's going to be on a number of corporate boards once he's out of the White House. And he's gotta make sure that Gore gets elected in 2000. Blah, blah, blah. No, I don't expect he'll be more progressive. What will be more progressive, though, if the democrats take control of Congress again, and I think they might.

    Any comments on Nader's campaign, and the lack of media coverage of him?

    In a democracy, you want as many voices as possible because it brings more people into the tent -- to eliminate voices means that you eliminate participation. Nader, Perot, and the others should all be in the debates. They should all be covered better by the media.

    Ralph Nader is always listed as one of the top ten most respected Americans in the country. He's not a nobody. Why is his campaign not being covered? But having said that, it's disappointing to not see Ralph out there, campaigning as he should be. That's because he doesn't want to spend more than $5,000, [which would mean] he'd have to reveal his financial background, which he doesn't want to do. I feel bad that he's not campaigning. I can see the disappointment out here on the road -- I run into the Green party people all the time. They're very disappointed in his lackluster efforts to get out there and campaign.

    There was a brief moment when I thought Clinton had discovered why we sent him to Washington. Immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing, he lashed out at the hatred that the Republicans had been fueling around the country and had the courage to link this climate of hate to the bombing. He stood up to the NRA, the right-wing talk-show lunatics, and all the others who had been pushing this loathing of the federal government. Now 168 federal employees and their children were dead, and Clinton wasn't pulling any punches. It was great to see him fighting -- and what was the result? THE RIGHT WING BACKED DOWN! They were on the defensive, on the run, and the rest of the year was a miserable one for them. The Contract With America bills came to a virtual halt, and their efforts to close down the federal government so many times became their Waterloo.

    -- From Downsize This! "If Clinton Had Balls..."

    Another serious chapter in your book was about union leaders. It's interesting that your most heartfelt chapters are bitter, about betrayal of the left.

    Yeah. I really feel that; I've had it with these people. I wanna see change in my lifetime. The union leaders have sold out, and hopped into bed with management. The workers got screwed. The elite left -- I dunno. All they do is hold meetings and sit around, in some kind of circle jerk, talking to each other -- never getting out there and talking to the people they wanna supposedly lead. It's very, very discouraging to me. I think what I wanted to do with the book is call upon the "average" American who reads this to get involved -- we've gotta start a whole new thing, here.

    What's happening on the Detroit [newspaper] strike, now in its second year?

    The battlelines have been drawn, there. Of course, I support the strikers, and refuse to buy the [Detroit] Free Press or the [Detroit] News. I won't do interviews on this tour with the Free Press or the News. And I convinced Random House not to put any ads for the book in thise papers. And I did a benefit for the strikers when I went there.

    Why isn't the strike getting absolutely no coverage in the press? Is it because the media doesn't want to air its own dirty laundry?

    That's part of it. It's also that they think unions and strikes are passe, no longer news. It's another way the presss has mistread where the American public is at. Unions are actually making a slight upswing. The last Gallup Poll, the one that came out on Labor Day, showed that 56 percent of the American public actually supported labor unions. You're going to see more support for unions as more people are "downsized," people lose their benefits, the pensions, et cetera. Suddenly, unions are going to look really attractive again.

    Do you think we could actually have a general strike in this country?

    They're getting ready to do that in Canada on October 25th. They know how to do this sort of thing -- we could learn a lot from them. They're going to shut Toronto down. Two hundred thousand people are gonna refuse to go to work that day. It's very impressive. And I think we'll reach that point, too, because they're eliminating the middle class. This is going to politicize many formerly apathetic people by ruining their American Dream, these people voted for them. Reagan. They believed in supporting the wealthy. And now the wealthy have snapped it from them. They've taken everything that these people have worked for. There are some miiiighty angry people out there.

    It's getting almost no play down here [in the U.S.], but it's big news in Canada, with lots of people supporting it. I was just up there and the president of the Auto Worker's Union had a press conference to endorse my book -- and that never would have happened in the U.S. They might have had a book burning at the UAW down here.

    What if I told you that Corporate Crime -- or its media-friendly term, "White Collar Crime" -- causes more deaths and costs you more money each year than all the street criminals combined? Seems impossible, doesn't it? But it's true. In 1994, burglaries and robberies cost us over $4 billion in losses, while corporate fraud cost us nearly $200 billion! Or how about this statistic: handguns last year caused around 15,000 deaths. Unsafe working conditions on the job and occupational diseases caused more than 56,000 deaths.

    -- From Downsize This! "Corporate Crooks Trading Cards"

    Are you going to be in Toronto for the strike?

    No, I was there last week. During the [Canadian] strike I'll be in Portland, actually, leaking a march on Nike.

    Speaking of Nike, the anti-drug slogan from the Dole campaign is "Just Don't Do It," a ripoff of that corporation's ad. This sounds like a parody of Nancy Reagan's anti-drug theme.

    I know. [Laughs] There's been lots of opportunity for humor in the Dole campaign. You can't make up material that good. The reality is funnier than anything you'd invent. I've been wearing my Dodgers baseball cap the last couple of days. You know, the Brooklyn Dodgers, our new favorite team, according to Bob Dole. I loved, too, the fact that he was praising [Hideo] Nomo for the no-hitter, an immigrant, praising a guy he'd like to have booted out of the country.

    You've met Gingrich, and a memorable episode of TV Nation had you marching in a parade in his home district, demanding that they accept Newt's pledge to "get big government off their backs" by refusing millions of federal subsidies for the area. I've heard that you found Gingrich to be a real creampuff in person.

    Yeah, he was! People ask me, "How did you get Newt to shake your hand, walk with you in the parade?" The guy's a marshmellow, man! Everybody's so afraid of him, but if you ever meet him and talk with him, he crumbles within a minute when you present him with facts. It's all over for him! He start's whining, "Why are you bothering me that?" I thought, oh, boy, is this what we've been afraid of since '94? It's a joke!

    In the chapter, "Take That Pen Out of Bob Dole's Hand," you provide doctored photos of Dole holding an Uzi, a coathanger for illegal abortions, and a wine bottle, which symbolizes the million dollars he's accepted from Gallo. Aren't you afraid there's gonna be some unethical lefty editor out there who will print one of these pictures as if it were real?

    No, I'm not going to worry about that. It's satire. The other day someone asked me, "aren't you afraid someone will read your chapter on Rodney King and actually burn down L.A?" As Americans, we have a hard time understanding satire.

    Bob Dole With Uzi Unretouched photo of Bob Dole with an uzi, preparing to shoot unarmed immigrants and recipients of public assistance. Not pictured are California Governor Pete Wilson and Attorney General Lundgren, waiting their turn.

    (Photo from Downsize This!)

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    Albion Monitor October 2, 1996 (

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