On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on September 19, 2003
Watching a film like “Bowling for Columbine” is easy.
I watched it for the first time recently, and it was exhilarating to observe a film that asked all of the questions I wanted to ask three years ago.
It was also incredibly frustrating. Not because Moore is unable to settle upon one ultimate answer to a challenging question about gun deaths in America, but rather because when it is all over and I have considered everything the film has to offer, I’m just a slug sitting on a couch, being entertained. That sounds like an overly pessimistic and simplistic assessment, which it may be. After all, documentaries are still movies, and movies must first be entertaining on some level if they are to be watched at all. And obviously if one is watching a two-hour film, it would be silly to stand throughout, and being that couches are quite comfortable, they seem like good places to sit.
Still, what frustrates me is that after all of the ideas and emotions Moore has stirred in me, I’d rather just sit back down on my couch and watch the film again.
That is why watching a film like “Bowling for Columbine” is easy. Not because it is an “easy” film, one that asks easy questions and never bothers probing the taboo areas of a controversial issue. That it does. But it is easy because it does not require its viewer to do anything. It just asks viewers to watch it. This is in no way the fault of Michael Moore or the film; it is simply the nature of art and entertainment.
What is it that prevents me from taking action and making some kind of a difference?
While “Bowling for Columbine” never settles on one answer to its question about gun violence, it does point strongly to the idea that the government and the media use fear to keep citizens from questioning issues in the country. After all, if there was nothing to fear, we wouldn’t need government, because we could govern ourselves without the fear of being denied what we want, or of not being able to provide ourselves with our own basic, unalienable rights. Am I afraid to go out and make change? I hope not, and I don’t think I am.
But there is something that Michael Moore left out of his film, and that is this: as citizens of America, we have an unspoken agreement with our government that if our own personal comforts are met, we will be passive citizens. That is the definition of good citizenry as far as many politicians are concerned: be happy with what you have and shut the hell up. “Bowling for Columbine” makes me think about the problems that Moore is fighting to fix, and so I feel that I am a part of that fight, despite the fact that I have done no fighting. I am paralyzed between the right response and the easy response.
Instead, I merely think about Moore’s film and focus my energies on important distractions of greater personal immediacy than gun control, namely my education and my financial responsibilities. I try to make a difference on a person-to-person basis because these differences are tangible and easy.
That is not to say that the differences are bad. It is hard to tirelessly fight every day, to stand up for what you believe in when no one is asking you to stand. I want to do good, but I find myself struggling between the hardships of being a good American citizen and the appealing ease of being “A Good American Citizen.” Like John Goodman said in The Big Lebowski when life got too hard to handle:
“Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.”
Copyright 2003, jm silverstein