The Pretender

It's tempting. It really is. It's pulling me like an alligator pulls in its prey under water. Comparing people of the same era is inevitable but comparing a 14th century personality with a 21st century character? Talk about treading a fine line. Yet, the more I read about the existence of Cola di Rienzo, the more he reminds me of Michael Moore.

Let me explain why. Cola di Rienzo was an ambitious, pompous and reckless 14th century revolutionary who attempted to restore the glory of Rome to Italy, and in the process save its people from the 'wretchedness of Rome.' And was Rome ever a nasty place. A few centuries of sack and burn pillaging will tend do that to a city. Cola attained enormous popularity as he seemed to bring some respectability to Rome as intended. He loved the Italian people and they loved him back. He even befriended the great Italian poet Francesco Petrarch whose birth historians attach with the beginning of the Renaissance.

Cola di Rienzo soon gained wide dictatorial powers proclaiming himself tribune of the sacred Roman republic. His ascent and downfall is a case study on how to use smoke and mirrors to consolidate power.

Like all narcissistic personalities, he eventually went too far and was caught by the very same people who loved him. He was killed and strung up upside down in a public square. Cola took advantage of a vulnerable people living in difficult times and managed to become a romantic figure for posterity. Of course, for some reason, shady and flawed characters always tend to be romanticized by idealists. Cola di Rienzo was no exception, and was the subject of poems and songs, including those by the great adventurer Gabrielle D'annunzio.

Michael Moore is a modern socialist troubadour and intellectual vigilante with a camera. He would like to save America from itself. Cola loved the Italian people, does Moore love the America? Moore is boorish and vociferous in his approach, and his diatribe Oscar night when he won the award for best documentary was something Cola di Rienzo would do.

Whether America is a nasty place like the 14th century Italian city-states is subject to debate. Moore, like Cola, is enormously popular and is the spokesperson for many modern liberal idealists including many pop culture celebrities. As far as I know, Moore is not the subject of poems or songs but his world view, more importantly, is the prevailing world view in public opinion not just in the United States but around the world.

The public relations nightmare American officials face is the single most important dilemma facing the Bush administration and scholars alike. With Moore and his influence, the degree of this influence is not obvious; one can be sure he will continue to sway some people. Moore is a cinematic tyrant that uses fine editing to espouse his opinion. His intellectual dishonesty is shocking in its depravity. When will he be made to account for his actions?

Moore's rise to fame was attributed to his popular and critically acclaimed 'Roger and Me', which basically capitalized on difficult times in Flint, Michigan. Incidentally, a recent business and economic report was published that shattered much of his mythology. His knowledge of capitalism and democracy and how they relate is narrow and clouded by his obvious socialist views.

Just like Cola, his arrogance will probably get the better of him. Was Fahrenheit 9/11 the equivalence of when Cola took a ritual bath in the sacred legendary porphyry sacrophagus that so profoundly shocked people of the Italian city-states?

Cola di Moore. Michael di Rienzo. Cut from the same cloth? Are we just as vulnerable to intellectual and political shysters as people in the 14th century were? Michael Moore is preying on our demand for neat answers to difficult questions. We are a cynical society that has grown ever more susceptible to conspiracy theories and pseudo-sciences based on the flimsiest of ideas on little or no data. Empirical science is no doubt under attack. The doomsayers have become extremely sharp and sophisticated on how they sell their theories. It all seems, well, so true.

We dislike mysteries. It makes fools of us and no one wants to be made a fool. What Moore and Cola do and did so well is that they carefully assess the ailment and prescribe antibiotics. The problem is that the process they use to determine the ailment is flawed. Badly flawed. How can one arrive at truth if the process is compromised?

In the case of Cola, he paid with his life. With Moore, he runs the risk of becoming a marginalized buffoon. Indeed, in some countries his antics would be considered treasonous. In politically correct America, powerful conservative influence notwithstanding, this is not possible. Moore knows how to use freedom of speech to his advantage, and coupled with the new culture of modern relativism where everything goes, Moore gets to cash some cheques.

Moore's films are works of brilliance. He uses humour to drive home important questions and points. He uses flashy and subtle editing angles and tricks to make his point all the more poignant. He plays with our emotions very well. And in an instance he forces you not to question him but to wonder about just how decadent your society and government is. The Monk (please see Batman) could not hypnotize you better.

His attraction is that he 'challenges' so-called conventional thoughts and thus is a purveyor of freedom in all its manifestations. Upon further scrutiny, however, his arguments and facts simply breakdown. In fact, it is disturbing just how easily it is to refute his points. It seems as if he did not even bother to try and hide this fact, as if to say that he is bigger than all modern historical and political facts.

The question should be what allows for such people who lie to further their outlook to be praised so highly? In the case of Moore particularly, is he the price of freedom? In a larger sense, how does responsible freedom distinguish itself from, say, 'freedom fighters' of Middle American militia armies?

To his fans, for their part, Moore can do no wrong. If he is challenged it's because he is being censored He is a great dissident (there are degrees of dissidence and some have stated that Moore is a dissident against George W. Bush. Either way, I would like to see him pull his act in China, Cuba, Iran or North Korea) and those who choose to hold him accountable will be chastised. If one would just look at things for what they are one would realize the joke is on them. Moore and his entourage are tyrants that would do the brown and black shirts proud.

In the end, his juvenile and over the top tactics may prove his downfall. Lost on Moore and Cola is that if their intellectual dishonesty proves that their world view can't stand on their own. They need pageantry, loud chirping and sneaky editing to glass over the lies. It's a hollow shell. Ironically, Moore chastises the nation that tolerates his views and allows for his right to free speech. His films leap from film as art to film as propaganda. It remains to be seen if Moore's efforts will be found in a 10 cent bin for posterity (or just plain forgotten or ignored) or if he achieves lasting power. Time will reveal this.

At the end of the day, no matter how one may view him, he fails to offer a proper solution and thus is apart of the problem-while the audience is stuck holding an inverted mirror.

Thank you Luigi Barzini.

1 comment:

  1. The Pretender....Hmmmm....reminds me of some song lyrics.

    Roy Orbison once sang:

    Yes I'm the great pretender
    Just laughing and gay like a clown
    I seem to be what I'm not, you see

    ...it applies.

    Jackson Browne has one also:

    Say a prayer for the pretender
    Who started out so young and strong
    Only to surrender

    ...it fits.

    Now we're gonna hear from all you Moore lovers out there. Bring it on!


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