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We got game

Moore concession would be prudent

By Leigh E. Rich

If life is a game, then rest assured a television executive will make a primetime game show out of it.

It seems nothing is no longer sacred, as one can expect to find the most mundane aspects of everyday life—shopping, dating, foraging for food—replayed nightly in a perverted version TV execs have dubbed “reality.”

This is, of course, nothing new. And not so shocking as to be unexpected. All that is America has been orchestrated according to Wimbledon-like rules, with a winning party and a losing party stratified across the net.

The very core of American life—our political process, our judicial system, our foreign policy—has been set up in this dualistic, competitive fashion. Why should we presume the remainder to be so different?

But do we really want the creators of television entertainment shaping the very way in which we view the world? This so-called “reality” that emanates from the gas-filled cathode tubes and hunks of plastic and metal in our living rooms is no more than a slight of hand magically carried out by editors and their fancy production equipment.

Even the news is not immune, with both reputable and questionable programming dictating social “facts” in terms of Neilson Ratings. Spin, of course, is like housework—no one notices unless you don’t do it.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” says one television executive caught on tape in Michael Moore’s pseudo-documentary Bowling for Columbine. Time and again, news media critics have shown that, though crime has been on the decline in American cities throughout the past decade, the media continue to slant the public’s perspective by hand picking the most sensational stories for the nightly news.

Ironically, this made for an interesting 20/20 episode hosted by John Stossel concerning the media’s irresponsibility in sensationalizing shark attacks, killer bee infestations, road rage and others.

Regardless—in the name of “news” or entertainment—we continue to carelessly stir the pot until every American is afraid to wave hello to his fellow scaredy-cat in the SUV across the way.

“If they’re not with us, they’re against us” is all we know, because in our American worldview, there exists only winners and losers. Any shades of gray in between are incomprehensible, relegated to some forgotten, pre-Technicolor, unrealistic era.

Think about it: It’s Strickland v. Allard, white versus black, pro-choice or pro-life, Democrat or Republican, prosecutor or defense attorney, McDonald’s or Burger King, the United States against Iraq, Pepsi versus Coca Cola, heroes and evildoers, Greenpeace or the NRA, the good guys against the bad, us versus them.

One need only tune in to the latest 500-plus cable channels to see this perverted unbalanced scorecard in action.

Don’t like thinking about the pressing issues facing the nation? Then turn on Survivor or Fear Factor or The Weakest Link or Dog Eat Dog or Big Brother or The Mole or Road Rules or Elimidate or The Fifth Wheel or American Idol or The Miss America Pageant or The Bachelor. And, sadly, the list goes on.

Are we Americans caught in a weird, Festivus-like competition where only winning matters? Should I naturally become embroiled with my significant other in a “feat of strength” over the last donut in the box or who can reach the shower first?

And if I compromise and split the pastry or share the shower, am I merely conceding? Am I un-American?

The haunting reality of this winner-takes-all attitude becomes clear when watching Moore’s latest movie, which in itself is culpable of bias, slant and editing tricks just the same. In Bowling for Columbine, Moore takes on the important subject of gun violence in America, and kudos to the filmmaker for digging deeper about an issue the rest of us seem to only speak of superficially.

At first, Bowling for Columbine seems to say that the United States has more gun violence because we simply have more guns. This holds little water, as our not-so-naughty neighbors to the north can and do purchase guns as often and as readily as we here in the States.

Investigating a little further, Moore next blames the media for instilling fear in Americans in the name of capitalism. After all, xenophobic idiots purchase more protective devices and pay higher prices for delusions of security than those who trust their neighbors.

Wanting to garner Neilson Ratings, other various awards and market competition over advertising slots makes a mockery of what the media was originally intended for—to be the public’s watchdog over government and bureaucracy.

It’s true—today’s American needs to be savvy enough to wade through the editing and spinning of the money-hungry executives, journalists, lawyers and politicians which have all come to be regarded as used car salesmen without the integrity.

Moore, orgiastically spread-eagled on his own editing floor, also comes up short with his Bowling for Columbine. It’s not just the media creating this hyped-up, post-apocalyptic world akin to the murky ambiance of the second Back to the Future movie. It’s our very way of über-competitive American life that reminds each and every one of us that if we’re not the winner, then we must be the loser.

Cooperation is concession, and concession—even in the slightest—is failure. One need only look across the bay that is the Pacific to the Hatfields and the McCoys in the Middle East—or to Bush and Hussein here on the home front —to see how much we value compromise.

But those who cooperate win, so says Game Theory, even in evolutionary terms. The winner doesn’t take all. But it’s quite telling that, even with an economic and scientific theory that conclusively supports the case for cooperation, we deem it a “game.”

Rather than approaching those with views diametrically opposite to our own with a “game plan” for finding some sort of middle ground or any kind of workable solution, we believe—from The Bachelor to baseball to Bush—that cooperation is weak and compromise is failure.

And it makes for less-than-thrilling television.

C’mon, who wants to see Jerry Springer “talk it out” on national television? Or the Survivor clans collaborate and agree rather than scheme and conspire?

Even Michael Moore doesn’t.

Instead of approaching Charleton Heston or Dick Clark or K-mart executives in an attempt to devise realistic solutions to complex, real-world problems—and maybe, just maybe, find some common ground—Moore ambushed these conspicuous figures like the best of them.

True, it’s painful to watch as Heston can’t even utter an apology for bringing his NRA rallies to cities that had recently witnessed gun tragedies involving children while simultaneously shaking his “cold, dead hands,” but Moore himself doesn’t give Heston an opportunity to compromise. How can we expect Heston to concede if his attacker and competitor won’t, either?

Instead, Bowling for Columbine highlights rich, white folks as they look stupid in front of a camera.

Moore can hide behind his well-dressed intentions, diverting attention from the assets he amasses selling tickets, but he follows the fad just the same.

Rich, L. E. (2002, November 20). We got game. Advocate, pp. 8–9.

Third Place – General Columns – Colorado Press Women – April 2003

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