Theater gives needed forum for dissent

There is a saying:

“The object of oratory is not truth, but persuasion.”

That is, to cite an instance readily at hand, the implicit aim whenever the editorialist takes up the pen. And it’s why the reader takes up the editorialist’s dare and considers what flows forth. That is free speech, free inquiry, free exchange.

That is America.

Nobody should doubt for a minute that filmmaker Michael Moore is out to change minds -- and votes -- with his latest work, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a spirited critique of the second Bush presidency, its post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism policies, and the invasion of Iraq. As reported in these pages on Wednesday, the film is setting local box-office records in its first-week run at Lynwood Theatre.

Given the island’s voting tendencies and unflagging engagement with contemporary issues, we might expect as much. What’s surprising are critical comments, not just on the merits of the film and the information it presents, but on the social responsibility of theater owners who screen it. So besides a nod for their business acumen, we’d like to applaud the Lynwood Theatre management for seeking out and

providing a venue for this most challenging film. The Bainbridge community deserves to see it.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is film that is bound to infuriate many people; and showing as it does a view of the Iraq war that is decidedly non-sanitized, it is a film that absolutely had to be made. More than a polemic against a president, we see in it a fervent cry against the obscenity of war itself, the physical and psychic effects on the soldiers who fight it (and their loved ones back home), and the more terrible impact on those

hapless civilians who, caught up in a “war of liberation,” are liberated from nothing but existence.

Is it all true? To be sure, it is a collection of selected facts, selectively employed. Filmmakers, journalists -- and indeed, presidents -- well understand that different folks can spin different tales with the same reality; one of the fundamental questions Moore raises is the veracity of the claims made in justifying the war. But the object of his oratory – of any oratory – isn’t objectivity. It’s about changing hearts and minds. And is it too much to ask where Moore’s critics were, when a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theories -- “the mysterious death of Vince Foster,” anyone? -- sprang up in conservative circles during the Clinton years? Truth is, “Truth” is a concept too often ascribed, and too conveniently, to views that mesh comfortably with our own or discomfit someone we don’t like.

Thankfully, we live in a country in which the truth behind The Truth can still be debated freely. Some will find great merit in Moore’s version of current events; to others, those who see the film are fools. So be it.

Like all good polemics, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is impassioned, it is indignant, it is angry, it is anguished. It is, above all, provocative -- in the truest sense of that word -- and we suspect the filmmaker himself would take that as the highest compliment.

So celebrate the fact that Michael Moore exercised his

constitutional right to question the wisdom and motives of his government in the exercise of its most awesome power -- declaring war on another nation. That an inquisitive public is lining up to see his film to consider his views for itself.

And yes, that the savvy business people who run the theater are making some money on that exchange.

What could be more American?

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