Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bowling For Columbine - Objectives of Reality

“What is so different about Americans? Are we homicidal in nature?”

This important question was raised by Tom Mauser, father of a Columbine victim, when interviewed by writer/producer/director Michael Moore in his 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” As I understand it, the film wants to explain the cause of high gun deaths in the United States of America, but it went far to explaining what causes violence in general in the U.S. It named possible factors that could cause this… mass media, the president, history, etc, but Moore never really arrived into a conclusion.

With regard to the question raised by Mauser? Moore and Mauser ended up exchanging “What is it?”

But is it really possible to know the answer to begin with? The fact of the matter is: it is really hard to single out a specific factor (or factors) that cause violent behavior among Americans (and among all people for that matter). But I would like to assume that it is their culture that heavily influences people in the U.S. to do violent acts. After all, it is really hard to ignore the role of culture. This culture is cumulative of so many factors, and influenced by so many factors. There are so many of these I am sure the documentary failed to name all of them. For that, I have become interested in patching up the ideas in the film to make a broad framework that can help explain what influences (rather than cause) violent behavior: There is an interrelationship between a person’s behavior, the culture in the society where he is in, and other external factors (like formal institutions). Though these three factors interplay with each other, what I would like to give emphasis here is that the behavior of a person is heavily influenced by the culture in which he is in, and this culture is heavily influenced by the institutions around the people.

Behavior refers to the actions or reactions of an object or organism, usually in relation to the environment (Wikipedia 2007). In the film, the focus is on violent behavior. It featured moments of violence in the US, and have named some factors that possibly cause and influence violent behavior of the Americans. It’s definitely wrong though to assume that all Americans are violent. Most of them are just paranoid in the sense that they don’t trust their neighbors (so they have to lock their doors), they don’t trust black people, they don’t trust the police, etc., leading many to carry a gun.

As the film suggests, those examples of behavior are highly influenced by the culture where Americans are in. As defined by Williams (1983), culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts, the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values, culture systems may on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other hand a conditioning element of further action. From this definition, we find out that culture and behavior (action) actually have a mutual relationship, but what I want to emphasize here is the influence of culture on behavior. In the U.S., as emphasized in the film, the dominant culture influencing the violent behavior of Americans is their “culture of fear.” Adapted from the title of Barry Glassner’s book, this kind of culture explains why Americans fear the wrong things. Many Americans identify with this kind of culture and some of them may even act (behave) in accordance to this. And how does one react to this kind of culture? It’s a spectrum of actions that include being simply paranoid, carrying a gun, or doing violent actions. A gun has even become a part of the “American identity” since it has already been embedded in the American culture. It represents an “American responsibility” in the perception of Americans as well, as a man from the Michigan Militia stated that “If you’re not armed, you’re not responsible.”

There are formal institutions that fan this kind of culture. The film suggests that some of these institutions actually benefit from fanning this culture of fear (and violence). Some of these institutions are the government, (some) corporations, the mass media, the school, the family, and the constitution. These institutions may also directly affect the behavior of the people (as opposed to influencing the culture, and letting the culture influence behavior). According to Marsh and Stoker (2002), seemingly neutral rules and structures actually embody values and determine appropriate behavior within given settings. Institutions influence actors’ behavior by shaping their values, norms, interests, identities, and beliefs. Through the process of socialization, these people adapt with the ways of these institutions, or adapt with the culture that these institutions influence.

In the film, the American government was portrayed as a violence-and-war-loving body. There was even a series of clips showing the American government’s participation in international conflicts, and a clip of the president endorsing military action. Some may have problems with Moore’s biases in portraying the government, but I should say that to a certain point, he has got a point. And if I live in a place where “violence is endorsed by the government” (as I perceive it), then I’d probably think that it is fine to solve conflicts through violence.

The American constitution also provides a basis for American people to bear arms. The second amendment of their Bill of Rights states that: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.” Think about it, if the citizens have restricted rights in bearing arms, then there should be less gun deaths in the country (emphasis in “gun deaths”, since they could use other primitive weapons to kill). I think their constitution allowed a tradition of carrying weapons, which in turn fans their negative culture. The U.S. has very loose gun laws. I can’t imagine getting a gun by opening a bank account here in the Philippines. Also, I can’t imagine Hi-Top or Shopwise selling handgun ammunitions.

The school was also pointed to be one of the bad influences of Eric Dylan and Harris Klebold, the young killers in the Columbine massacre. As it was said by one of the creators of South Park, Matt Stone, who used to study at Columbine High School, their high school teachers scare the students by saying that “if you are a loser now, you’re gonna be a loser forever”, and by doing this, they induced fear to the students. He said that Harris and Klebold were called fags and were made into thinking that “I’m a fag now, I’m gonna be a fag forever.” After doing the massacre in Columbine, both Harris and Klebold ended their lives, probably thinking that there they have already avenged themselves from Columbine and that there is no more future for “fags” like them.

The (broken) family was also pointed to be a factor that causes violence, where parents are not there to guide their children. In the film, this was portrayed in the case of Temarla Owen’s son, a 6 year old who shot another 6 year old. This specific case, as shown in the movie, was caused by other contributing factors: poverty, racism, and corporate interest bringing black women into work.

But the institution that I think was most emphasized for fanning this culture is the mass media. For example, in the news, while crimes in America were falling in reality, the crimes shown in the news were rising. There were scares about the Y2K (millennium bug), the Africanized bees, and the blade in the apple at Halloween, but none of them really happened. It has also been an instrument for further diversifying and dividing America by portraying the black people as bad and the white people as their victims. This was particular in the show “Cops”. Because the news has a legitimizing effect on us, we tend to believe them, and it even came to the point, as said by Moore, that they don’t need to give a reason at all. The mass media just loves to inflict fear to the American people that the Americans now tend to become afraid of the wrong things. Marilyn Manson said that people are made to be afraid so that they will consume. If they have bad breath, no one is going to talk to them. If they have pimples, no one is going to have sex with them. Just imagine how the mass media plus other corporations benefit from inflicting fear.

Of course the behavior-culture-institutions relationship is not only applicable to the American society. And I think the film should inspire us to start thinking: Are we also in a culture of fear? Are we in a society that endorses violence? Is our society in threat of being just like the Americans’? It should serve as an impetus for us to stop scaring ourselves of the wrong things.

And as to the Americans being homicidal in nature? I do not think so, because if yes, all Americans would be killing each other. I especially disagree with it if what we mean by ‘in nature’ here is that Americans are born violent or born to be violent. I do not know how much the nature-nurture debate could be of applicability here. But I would like to stress the point that violence in the American society is undoubtedly a product of “nurturing.” With a culture that makes people afraid, and with socializing institutions that ‘allow’ people to be violent, Americans are socialized to be really violent beings. But despite this kind of culture that America has, it is still unfair to say that all Americans are violent. After all, sharing a culture does not mean that people are necessarily in agreement in specifics (i.e. “This world is making me paranoid, maybe I should get a gun to protect myself and kill those who are going to be a threat to me”). Only they possess a similar understanding of how the world works (i.e. “This world is making me paranoid”) (Williams 1983).


Behavior. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 September 2007.

Marsh, David and Stoker, Gerry. “Theory and Methods in Political Science, 2nd ed.” NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 2002.

Williams, Thomas Rys. “Socialization”. NJ: Prentice Hall. 1983.

- J. Asama

The title stems from the events that took place on that 20th of April, in Littleton, Colorado, when two armed students went for an early morning bowling class just before they began the catastrophic Columbine massacre where 12 students and a teacher died. Everybody were shocked at the thought that two teenagers could master using a gun for such a mass killing. Michael Moore begins his documentary with a lot to say on his subject of violence in America with a much bigger focus on gun-related issues. His quest to find answers takes him into Littleton and to the Beverly Hills estate of Heston. He tries to corner the NRA's Charlton Heston making a statement as to why America is so in love with guns and why there is so much violence compared to other countries. One part that was incredibly moving in the film was when Moore interviewed the survivors of the massacre and telling the story of a six-year old Kayla being murdered by another preschooler. However, in his attempt to chew over the forces behind America's culture of violence, Moore sometimes draws some associations that seem quite airy.

The thought-provoking documentary seems not that much convincing in terms of Moore's arguments. His thesis on American violence ends up rolling a complete gutter ball (J. Heilman, 2002) as he ends up unmasking his willingness to ambush interviewees emotionally and in some way distort some facts. He seems to not realize that his guide lightsare similar to the one's that he is attacking. For example, he compares the raw number of crimes in America with no regard for population differences, instead of just saying that it's five times as bad as in Canada. The documentary seems a one-man crusade. I was thinking why he did not invite other anti-gun activists with him.

There was indeed a cohesive theme that glued all the pieces of the documentarian's questions together- that being the question of 'why the strong relation in the US proliferation of “arms” and violence (versus the Canadian context). As a thesis statement, Americans live in a culture that uses fear as a mechanism of social control, the way guns are used, and the way people treat each other and act out their discussion about gun control.(Glassner, 2000) Its not just the mere presence of guns that makes the country or any culture violent; in the US, it is the manipulation of its population through fear, propagated by media, gun manufacturers, the government, etc...

Bowling for Columbine illuminates both the perils and the potential political interventionist strategies in a media-saturated society in which film, network television and the Internet interact. (Mattson, 2003) Media is both shaping and is shaped by the public opinion. ( Heywood, 2002) The perception of viewers and spectators, as well as the course of action that actors may apply are input for the media. On an equal sense, media is also an influence to the viewers. What we see on our screens may manipulate our perceptions on issues. Media manipulation can only be solved by free thinkimg in the public. Although the film was a documentary and it is supposed to be a documentation of facts, the film itself is a form of media that the director intentioned to edit for the viewers to see what he intended for them to see. The director or the film maker has his own bias, even the lenses of his camera. In a way, the director intentionally or unintentionally manipulates the facts and edits the film so that his audience can only realistically be expected to see the information presented in the film in the light that he desires. In the film, I assume that Moore was expecting that his audience are drawing their own conclusions. Later, its quite not as such. At some point it made me think it was a connect-the-dots puzzle.

There is a lot to chew on, intellectually, in the film. Michael Moore which happens to be a first-year college drop-out before has asked an important question that open up discussions and debate surrounding his arguments and assertsions. Overall, the film is certainly thought provoking and oddly entertaining.


Heilman, Jeremy. Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Movie review posted on MovieMartyr.Com on October 27, 2002. Accessed on 8 September 2007.

Mattson, Kevin. “The Perils of Michael Moore”. Dissent; Spring 2003, Vol.50 Issue no.2, p.75, 6pp.

- R. A. Gaspar


me_delas_alas said...

Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine has, like any documentary dealing with such sensitive issues as politics and government, attracted many applauses and criticisms. As a documentary, it tries to capture as much as possible the realities behind one of the most tragic school shootout in American history. However, since he was the one who produced and hosted the documentary, we can’t help but think of the biases and the bases from which he uncovered the facts. We can only absorb so much, but the thing is that we have to be very scrutinizing and sensitive in our reception. Nonetheless, we see a very important issue being tackled that is of great concern not only for Americans but to the rest of the world. Post 9/11 events have paved the way for yet another dilemma of international security.

In a similar approach, Michael Moore also scrutinized the Bush Administration in handling the events of September 11 and all the subsequent events after. He portrayed a very negative Bush in dealing with such issues in Fahrenheit 9/11. And even though Columbine happened way before 9/11, we can see that the US has been in a steady state of insecurity, or at least that is what Moore is trying to arrive at. And even though there are biases evident, in a way as it is becoming a socializing factor to those who have watched it, the message is clearly laid on the table. Moore may have incomplete information regarding his claims (like many others, I assume) but certainly he wants to implicitly respond to the continuing force behind the fearful American people.

Security studies have been an ongoing trend especially in the international arena. Since every state is sovereign and no world government exists, every state has its right to do something to its advantage. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty of the actions other states might be doing or will eventually do. Consequently, since no one will enforce an overarching law, states tend to feel insecurity, thereby becoming more pessimistic of world affairs. This realist view of world affairs has dominated the International Relations scene especially in the War eras. In today’s environment, although there exist agreements that may forge mutual cooperation (and thus becomes the binding law that encapsulates the activities of the undersigned states) lack of complete information and signaling may eventually lead to lack of trust.

But why don’t we get to have guns here as much as the Americans? Why can’t we legally shoot any trespassers trying to assault our backyard? It is ironic that the most powerful (that is a basic assumption in economics) nation in the entirety of the world we are living at, are so insecure that they run like headless chickens in every decision. And for other nations, they try as much to follow the US because of its capability to either but you to the cradle or lay you six feet under the ground in one touch of a button. Others choose to challenge US superiority many times, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, only to prove the insecurity of the Americans.

On the other hand, security in this context is impressed in each individual, on the grassroots. We see then that the sources of insecurity are both external and internal factors, and the main mêlée is between them and the primacy of the state and its people. The emergence of separatism has contributed to the people’s sense of protection negatively, challenging governments to address the problem. But there are also constraints that affect decisions, such as international pressures. This vicious cycle of security has been engraved in the minds of the Americans.

Anarchy is what states make of it, so says Alexander Wendt in his Social Theory of International Politics (1999). Clearly, we make our own ghosts, our own insecurities. As rational beings, we are forced to react to this dilemma, to the point of plainly taking the lives of innocent people. In dealing with world affairs, it is always important to consider morality clauses involved (morality as being the respect for human rights and a mutual recognition that these rights exist). If we take a second look, we might just find another answer other than going to war. In that case, no one will argue, “Who will protect my family? People come to the police because they have guns.”

dominic_barnachea said...

Bowling for Columbine

I’d like to start by admitting that Michael Moore made me feel not just for the film, but for his cause. Such presentation of the present American society- paranoid and violent- is very much disturbing, that it made me think that it would be better off that we’re a Third World nation that is relatively peaceful and secure than a First World nation always watching its back while breathing gunpowder smoke everyday. That is if they are even alive in the first place. I recognize the effort to not make the documentary as depressing as possible by adding some comic narrations and animations, but I think that irony further highlighted the depressing impression of the film. The laughter made me feel more uneasy and insecure.

Well, film’s done. Now back to the reality of making critical observations. First, how did Michael Moore make me feel for his film? Further, how was he able to curtain his in ‘his film’ and replace it with the? Meaning, how was he able to make me ignore the fact that it was his film and made me believe it was an all-encompassing perspective of the real America today, when in fact he and his fatness was all over the film when it was shown? And why did he have to show his large self in the film when he can opt to ask questions behind the camera? And to reflect, how will some non-American stranger like me be affected by this? And, why is the Second Amendment created in the first place?

How did he do it?

The film’s approach was very different form What the Bleep Do We Know we watched way back. Instead of a rehearsed interview style of getting answers from ‘experts’, Moore’s approach was more of like a reporter, grilling his interviewees with on the spot questions and counter-questions and being rejected at times. On my opinion this added, or is even the base foundation, of the film’s credibility by showing the imperfections of making a documentary.

An addition to the film’s credibility, and in turn its power to convince the audience, is Michael Moore himself. Not that this style is unusual for documentaries, but his opting to going even more hands-on on the film by going in front of the camera and showing himself doing all the dirty work made the film as a whole even more convincing and the facts in particular appear solid facts. It is interesting to note here that Moore looks just like any other large red-neck white American we see wearing a cap and plain clothes on an average American day. His ordinary American image, whether deliberately shown or not, is an effective style for me.

Getting his hands even dirtier and showing his large self in front of the camera, I think I’m not the only one noticing Moore’s seemingly personal attachment for the theme. But on second thought, is he really? I don’t know much about the production process behind the film, but I can sense someone involved there has bad blood on NRA celebrity _____ Heston (forgot his name) or on NRA itself. But, you don’t really have to go by me.


Why and how was I, a Filipino, non-American, not even dreaming to be one, not even familiar with the country, affected by Bowling for Columbine?

Being thought to be skeptic, err… critical thinker rather, I think not everything presented in the film should be believed. I think everything presented in the film does not even encompass half the reality of modern American society. There are always two sides in a story, and I think Moore presented only one. At the end of the day, no film can frame and present in 2 hours length the complexity of any society. It can emphasize an issue, but if anything, any documentary, particularly this, can only make me aware that any issue, in this case American culture of fear, is at the very least possible to happen.

Tephanie said...

Culture. It certainly is a huge factor in shaping an individual’s behavior and actions. It serves as a mold in which societal factors use as guidelines and context for their interactions, as well as their basis for their perceptions. Perceptions. If ever there is one thing that could possibly make a difference among entities of similar characterization and qualifications, it should be perception. How an individual values something, how it regard something as necessary and important, everything is presented through a particular lens, a worldview, which for me, could also never be taken apart from culture. Perception and culture purports something, they purport almost the same thing.
The Michael Moor film Bowling for Columbine undeniably is a very strong medium of political socialization. It is presented as a documentary, incorporated various testimonies of the actual people who were involved and concerned with the tragic even in a school in Columbine, and most importantly, framed various actors namely the media, the politicians, and Charles Heston as necessary evils lurking around he whole of United Stated, spreading demons in every household of America. The film has certainly been able to play with various film elements which for me have supported the very thesis the film has been pointing out – America’s culture is one built through, and in fear.
Beyond these things however, for me, one of the most important things that the film has done is its exposure of the varying perceptions by the very people who were made to be concerned in the widespread violence occurring in the walls of the very classrooms that were supposed to guide the young students to avoid such behaviors. From the students, the parents, teachers, to Charles Heston, Michael Moore surely have though out well how to present each of the perspective presented by each of these individuals into something which very well show how a number of actors with vested interests perpetuate and use America’s culture of fear for their own benefits, of course, at the expense of the ordinary American citizen. The lump sum therefore of these testimonies supposedly makes a strong, hard backup to Moore’s thesis.
However, at some parts of the film, I couldn’t help but feel manipulated as to how facts in the film were presented. Surely, all those interviews were based on what those people perceived upon experiencing the events that brought Columbine to a long winding road of terror. But isn’t it ironic how I felt that the film is also presenting these perceptions in a way that will make its audience feel the same terror or fear that was being fed to the featured people in the film? Of course it could be on a different as Moore was attempting to clear the paranoia that the media and political figures have put up, but for me, Moore has done it in the very way these actors have done it. I am, of course, not saying that Moore’s strategy is dreadful or so. It’s just that manipulating perceptions could really give one a hard edge given he/she knows the right mix of pity, depression, hate, fear, and insecurity to be cooked. It’s really all about perceptions after all.

Ron S.R. said...

Bowling for Columbine is one of those films that elicit an eerie feeling—eerie in a sense that the word Columbine itself carries with it a meaning associated with the carnage that occurred in that high school; the tragedy of the families, the pointlessness of the killings, the implications of societal problems, gun control, cultural violence, in short, saying Columbine means a lot of things and most of them associated with that event on April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado.

This is partly the reason why there have been few films (documentaries in particular) that have tackled that tragedy. But in 2002, Michael Moore decided to make a documentary with Columbine in the title. And as it turned out, it garnered awards and elicited both positive and negative reactions. As we’ve also seen, the film itself was not entirely about Columbine but the various factors that contributed to it occurring; and that basically tackles a lot of aspects, mostly societal. Leaving us to question—was Columbine a byproduct of the unregulated selling of firearms, or a byproduct of the violent history of the United States or is it the innate nature of Americans to resort to violence to resolve problems? And more importantly, the style in which Michael Moore presented these issues is not something like—“here are the facts, accept them” but rather in such a way that makes one think on his/her own and leaves one to act based on what s/he has gathered from the film. This style is something new in this genre; it goes beyond basic documentary and immerses the audience into the issue while still retaining her/his capacity to think for her/him self.

This new approach in documentary making is quite an effective approach from my own assessment. As with most documentaries, you have facts presented in such a way that you know that they are “facts”. And they use these facts to present what the filmmakers intend to portray. It is worth noting that even the most nonpartisan/unbiased (as they claim to be) documentaries still has a shred of bias in them if not totally biased. Biased to an extent that they put value into what they intend to focus on and what they intend the audience will feel after they have viewed the film. And Michael Moore’s film is not excused from that bias. Obviously he intended to portray the tragedy at Columbine in hopes of finding answers as to why it happened and what can we do to prevent another Columbine. But he does not present them as plainly as others would, and this is where I see the effectiveness of such an approach. Michael Moore places his audience beside him in his own quest at finding what he intends to find. And he makes it clear that he is the filmmaker and this is his view. With that, he embarks on his journey with his audience. With Michael Moore’s style, you can see the that he is the one asking the questions, again explicitly portraying that such questions are from him, implying that his values are more apparent as compared to documentaries that have invisible narrators giving the audience distance from the issue. Such presentations of him asking the subjects himself places the audience in a position where one can think of such a scenario as him/her being the one able to ask such questions, ergo the audience is immersed. But not to degree that one is bombarded with facts that he/she will simply take in. With Moore’s approach, you are able to question why he chose to ask that question, you can question whether the question was relevant or was it leading the questioned to answer what he wants—and in the film, this is clear, from my view, there are certain instances that I really do not agree with what Mr. Moore presented and where his position on that matter was. But this does not avert you from the core issue; instead it provides the audience his/her own idea on that matter. And also strengthens the audience immersion in the film and the issue. Throughout the film, again and again, one encounters issues that Michael places his position, asks other’s views and presents this to the viewer who is left to decide where one positions on the issue—in the process, the viewer themselves establishes or formulates his own position on the issue. The key factor here is that—the viewer feels less manipulated and more empowered while constantly immersed. Hence, Michael Moore’s intention of involving people in the issue is achieved while the audience themselves do not sway away from the issue after they have viewed it since they were effectively immersed and involved without feeling manipulated. Clearly, if the audience continues to be immersed in the issue presented in the film after viewing it, that means it is effective—and from my view, this was clear in Bowling for Columbine, one is constantly left thinking about the positions presented and locates oneself in those positions—this even goes as far as into the actual actions of the audience as a result of viewing the film. From the extra-features of the DVD, it shows certain aspects where people engage and join in gatherings that address the issue that Michael Moore has presented—clearly a manifestation of political mobilization and even goes to the extremes as giving Michel Moore the “license” to lash out on Bush’s administration simply because this film gave him the reputation as being a credible public figure as a result of his film.

Bowling for Columbine was indeed a new approach at a documentary—instead of making the audience as simple observers, they are instead immersed to the point that they act upon the issue presented, in a way, Michael Moore’s film incorporated a “personal touch” that is rare in documentaries, this made it more entertaining, immersive and less manipulative which in turn gave it credibility (from the laypersons view) and believability which, at the end, got people thinking for themselves and acting upon these thoughts.

Ron S.R.

alejandro said...

“‘Bowling for Columbine’ is a controversial documentary film written, directed, produced by, and starring Michael Moore. It won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary Features and the César Award for Best Foreign Film. The film opened on October 11, 2002 and brought Moore international attention. …

“The film explores what Moore suggests are the causes for the Columbine High School massacre and other acts of violence with guns. Moore focuses on the background and environment in which the massacre took place, and some common public opinions and assumptions about related issues. The film looks into the nature of violence in the United States, focusing on guns as a symbol of both American freedom and its self-destruction.

“In Moore's discussions with various people, including South Park co-creator Matt Stone, the National Rifle Association's then-president Charlton Heston, and musician Marilyn Manson, he seeks to explain why the Columbine massacre occurred and why the United States has a higher number of violent crimes, especially crimes involving guns and charges that the occurrence of violent crimes in the US is relatively higher than other developed nations.” (Wikipedia, 2007)

As shown in the film, fear was very much a part of the American culture. As mentioned by Marilyn Manson in the documentary, media and other institutions made use of that culture of fear for the public’s consumption. Fear has been effectively well-intensified by the media, which focused on fear-developing news such as crimes and disaster. Consequently, the viewers have been exposed to such fear-intensifying news that made them seek for the most possible and most effective ways to secure their lives. That is why, in the case of US, as shown in the documentary, a lot of Americans owned guns as their weapon against anyone who or anything that could possibly threaten their security and/or their lives.

I could still remember a part of the film wherein “citizens” wore army suits and had guns with them while patrolling their community. As far as I remember, they mentioned that were only concerned citizens who wanted to secure their community. However, that statement of one of those concerned citizens seemed problematic to me. From what I know, what separates the military from the citizens is that the former is armed with military weapons (particularly guns), whereas the latter is not. Well, as a possible justification against my own critique that I said earlier, I think individualism is a possible explanation in support of what the concerned citizens with guns mentioned.

“Individualism is a belief in the primacy of the individual over any social group or collective body, which suggests that the individual is central to any political theory or social explanation….This view is usually underpinned by the belief that human beings are naturally self-interested and largely self-reliant, owing nothing to society for their talents and skills.” (Heywood, 2002: 190) Due to the fear-intensifying media in the US, most Americans have become more “self-interested and self-reliant,” to the extent that they have been outwardly self-reliant on their security. In fact, as what was shown in the film, most Americans have their own guns, and they are legally allowed in doing so.

I think that the documentary “Bowling for Columbine” is an effective medium for political socialization in a strongly and forthrightly provocative way. In fact, while watching the film, I, as a viewer, found myself seemingly drawn to approve of and agree to most of what it advocated, such as the increased culture of fear, and the non-implementation of gun control as possible causes of the alarming violence in the US.

Heywood, Andrew. 2002. Politics. Second Edition. New York: Palgrave. p. 190
Wikipedia. 2007. Bowling for Columbine.

buagñin said...

First of all, after watching the film “Bowling for Columbine”, I asked myself whether these gun related murders are individual problems or a social problem. Michael Moore, however, pointed out that it is America’s being nuts for guns which causes these murders. But I must argue that boiling down the cause of the murders cited in the documentary film to the high accessibility of guns in America somehow conceals the other related factors that could be of help in finding the real causes of the said murder events. Moore basically presents his examples of gun murders in a general point of view. He did not tackle every murder event in a detailed way that could reveal the real situation of each murder case. An example would be the lack of information about the two murderers in the Columbine massacre. He tried to introduce the two characters by searching for their whereabouts before the incident happened but he had not given a background check of how these two students behave mentally and emotionally. On the contrary, he also had interviews of the students from Columbine who had actually seen the two suicidal murderers before the event happened. However, what I what to point out is that he carelessly blames the whole situation on America’s freedom for guns, when in fact he has not dealt substantially on the topic. I think in making documentary films, it is important to be objective and not directed to only one conclusion. There are a lot to explore before one can point out that these gun related murders are related and part of the social problem. Yes, I understand that the film has a goal to achieve and an assumption to prove. However, before one can direct the audience to a specific cause, he should be able to discard or reject other pertinent factors that could also be part of the core problem.

On the other hand, I also want to commend the film in its thought provoking performance. Even though I am not an American, I feel that there is a problem that needs to be resolved. Moore, termed as leftist and activist, presented a lot of roots of America’s high crime rate as compared to Canada, Germany and other countries. Though not wholly elaborated, I agree on his opinion that American’s racism adds to their fear and anxiety. Moreover, in his pursuit of the causes of America’s gun problems, he interviewed Charles Heston, the president of the National Rifle Association in which Moore himself is a member. In my opinion, he was trying to get an even analysis of the murder situation by giving Heston a chance to clear himself of the people’s grudges against him. In one of the articles I have read, it is stated that Heston has Alzheimer’s disease that cause him to forget the murder incidents happened in the places where he made his gun rallies. I think Heston has also a point in promoting guns in America for protection. I guess the film has just been manipulated to make Heston appear uncompassionate and stone hearted. I have little knowledge about Heston but the other reviews that I have read also pointed out that Moore manipulated the film and let other people appear bad or good. Upon reading these kinds of comments, it made me think “Hey, this is a documentary film, right? This is supposed to describe real events.” Actually, it is not. Even documentary films are guided by the director’s own point of view to persuade its audience to believe what the film says. It accounts its objectivity on the presentation of facts and real events which in some cases are easily manipulated to direct the discussion on a certain goal.

In general, I do believe that Moore’s motives are to let not only the Americans think of their growing social problem but also the other countries. I think the most important idea that Moore wants to impart to its audience is the lack of trust of the American people among each other. He actually compared Canada to US in terms of ownership of guns and crime rates. In here, Moore argued that Canada, which has relatively the same size and population as US, has lower crime rate and high ownership of guns. Why is this so? Moore attempted to answer this question but ended up with no solution at all. Yes, we can blame Marilyn Manson, the constitution, the violent history of America, the multicultural society, etc. but the point is where do Americans have to start? It was like the film bombarded its audience of so many causes that it actually missed the point of the whole situation. Until now, I cannot still figure out why do Americans are so crazy about guns? Are they really crazy for guns or just crazy people? These are the questions left hanging after watching the film. As for me, before thinking this issue collectively, we need to understand if this issue is really worth thinking for as a social problem. Perhaps, each murder case presented in the film needs to be tackled individually and not in a collective manner. Thus, it is dangerous to boil down these cases to only one issue that is Americans craziness for guns.

Uy said...

More of Moore’s Mores… his view…

The film ‘Bowling for Columbine’ is neither a window-of-the-world nor a view of a ‘society’ but may be considered a selected and constructed representation of his (Michael Moore’s) reality. Indeed, the selection and emphasis of issues and events and how they were constructed in the film may never be neutral. However, even if the film may be seen as manipulative by others, I still consider the film successful in offering a constructive argumentative framework in coming up with explanations of why there is high violence in America. It presented a number of reasons about the culture of violence in the United States and even compared to some countries. But at the end, I found myself back to the start without a definite and certain answer to the issue – it brought me back to the bowling center marked by the ‘gun and ammunition’ issue.

Violence in the United States, such as murder and their aggressive behavior, exposed in the film ‘Bowling for Columbine’ was constructed in terms of multiplicity of streams of understanding and explanation. Violence could be seen as a product of two ideas of reasoning: concrete interpretation and the non-visible interpretation. First, the concrete interpretations could be seen as visible instruments in the society wherein individuals, the citizens of America, are provoked to act aggressively when threatened. Concrete interpretations include the market fully loaded with guns and ammunitions, the ‘manipulative’ media and ‘rebellious’ music, the support of high positioned leaders for guns in the community and the display of a forceful American government. On the other hand, non-visible interpretations are indirect and intangible explanations to what causes a violent system such as the perceived violent history of the Americans and the culture of fear and security (the responsibility to defend oneself through acquiring a gun). In any case, I consider these explanations as elements revealing the main issue – their ideology of superiority and domination.

From their history to present, from their music to media, from their culture of fear to sense of security, it was their sense of superiority and domination stirring their actions and ideals towards their neighbors and their neighboring states. Therefore, in some way, I realized that the film ‘Bowling for Columbine’ led me back to the start without arriving at a certain answer to the issue is because it was an attractive starting point in defense of my view of the American society which is ‘mega-superior’.

From the most lawyers and lawsuits to the most murder cases, who is the American?
From the most superior to the most unsecured people, who is the American?

As Michael Moore strikes the best documentary film in the year 2002, I answered and won the ‘Double Jeopardy’ game – who is the American?

mvga said...

Every camera selects and, thereby leaves the unseen part of the subject open to suggestion and inference. The gaps are usually filled in by a commentator. (Bernard Berelson cited in A Reader in Public Opinion and Communication, p. 288 ). This is the case in every film that we watch, whether it is a narrative, a documentary of a cinema verite.

Bowling for Columbine is a very controversial film not only because it contains political issues which are very important in the American society but because Michael Moore, just like with his other documentaries, is involved in the film, not just as a director but also an actor. I cannot comment on Moore’s personality alone and I think that it would not be fair to judge the movie just because of the director. Well, I think that I could comment on what he included in the movie.

Just like what the beginning sentence stated every camera selects the scene that it wanted to show. The movie showed Moore and two highschool students going to K-Mart to protest and insist that the store should not sell bullets anymore. They went in to speak with some high officials from K-Mart but were “ignored” at first. The next scene they were going to another K-mart store to buy all the ammunition being sold in that store. Media started to gather there and started televising what Moore and the two boys were doing. In the end, Moore and the two boys “got what they asked for”. I am just wondering how Moore got the two highschool boys to be in his movie/documentary. Did the two boys really wanted to stop K-Mart from selling ammunitions? Why only K-Mart?

Thee film also showed a story about a six year old boy shooting another six year old classmate of him. In the film, the story revolved around poverty being the cause of this incident. The film showed where the single mother and the boy who shot his classmate lived. It also showed how hard-working the mom was by showing that she works with two jobs just to sustain her family. While the clips of the place where the mother and the boy lived and where the mother worked, Moore was narrating. But it occurred to me, why didn’t he (Moore) just interview the mother? I think that it would even be better if Moore interviewed the mother to ask about their lives than to interview a man who happens to be one of the co-commuters of the mother and who barely know the woman.

The film showed bias in interviews I would admit. It showed an ambush interview with Dick Clark (the owner of the restaurant where the mother of the boy worked for) where Clark refused. From what I’ve learned in my Comm 3 class, the interviewer should ask for an appointment before he/she can interview someone.

But through it all, I think that Moore was successful in his transmitting his message. The documentary broke box office records internationally, becoming the highest-grossing documentary in the U.K., Australia, and Austria .

Berelson, Bernard and Janowitz, Morris. 1972. A Reader inPublic Opinion and Communication. New York: The Free Press

mAc said...

From the vantage point of Columbine high school shootout, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine investigates into the proliferation of arms violence in the US. He suggests several reasons for this stark phenomenon: a violent history, violence in the media, and the police’s non enforcement of existing laws, among others. For example, in a comparative analogy, he estimates that around 10,000 deaths per year result from gun-related violence whereas other civilized countries such as Germany, France, Canada, UK, and Japan only average around a few hundreds. He also says that this violence is further aggravated by the antagonistic incidences of terrorism; both government and non-governmental actors.

Social conflict has always been and will always be part of human life. But our knowledge of civility and the presence of rule of law tell us how to deal with conflict-related problems in a non-confrontational manner. Yet, with the institutionalization of a culture of fear into the equation, this worsens the way in which people are expected to socialize with one another. This culture of fear, then, serves as a mechanism of social control; a means through which social conflict is resolved by confrontation rather than in terms of negotiation.

A culture of fear is the root cause of arms violence in the US. Why? In a nutshell, culture is defined as a refection of society; norms, practices, and traditions. To speak of a culture is to speak of society, and to speak of a culture of fear is to speak of a society in fear. Thus, we can say that there is a two-way interaction between culture and the individual, in this case the American. Society is an aggregation of individuals; culture is a reflection of society; culture defines the individual. How? From the film, we can identify some factors that establish the preponderance of such culture. Moore points to several reasons: media (specifically reality television), the government, 2nd amendment that allows qualified individuals to carry arms, a violent history, violence in the media, and the police’s non enforcement of existing laws. Thus, a culture of fear among the Americans is readily established.

However, the proliferation of arms use is not part of this corroboration for the institutionalization of a culture of fear. An example for this is Moore’s assertion that gun ownership in Canada is at similar levels to the US. Nonetheless, death tolls arising from arms conflicts in the said state are significantly lower than the recorded arms violence in the US. Moreover, he finds that front doors in Canada-US border are unlocked and individuals are much less concern over crime and security. In my discernment, the use of arms is an end through which such culture of fear is confronted.

Finally, in my opinion, Moore’s film can be categorized as a documentary film. He clearly presents his thesis - “a culture of fear among Americans is directly associated with high occurrence rate of arms violence” and provides justifications [such as statistics and interviews] to support such claim. Although we can identify his biases situated within the film, we cannot disregard that as human beings we are inevitably located and engulfed within our unbiased-free cultural environment.


mimah said...

The film was rather an unusual documentary for me. It is different in style and structure. Different such that Michael Moore interviewed a lot of people from various sectors of society, from ordinary people i.e. random people from the streets to extra-ordinary people i.e. Marilyn Manson. The two and a half hour film showed that Americans have a culture of fear rooted in their violent history and unusual love for guns and war. It is another controversial film that received a handful of awards and criticisms as well. The film started tackling about the Columbine killings, but the film went beyond that. It covered a wide array of problems existing in American society. But I find it faulty the way one event is related to one event and then to another event when what are presented are just bits and pieces of what really happened, are cuts or splices from videos and poof, it’s as if Moore is saying, “Am I right or am I right?”

Moreover, after reading some reviews of the film, I felt somehow cheated. First, Charlton Heston is portrayed as a cold-hearted, gun-loving old man who does not care if murders happened in the cities he is scheduled to lead a campaign. I am not saying he is in real life a good man. But his speeches are heavily edited so as to stress the relationship between the murders and the guns. Second, Moore’s manner of asking questions leads people to answer the way he wanted them too. Third, he did not do the proper background check of the teenage and kid criminals. Yes, he asked some of Harris’ former classmates, but of course, their answers are based on how they see Harris. It is not clear if Harris was a disturbed teenager, has a troubled family, or is mentally incapacitated. All we know is that he bought a gun easily, a member of an informal group, Trench Coat Mafia, and one morning, went to school to kill. The teenagers are allegedly seen to attend their bowling class before attacking the school. But there are reports saying that they are actually absent that day. If this is so, the title of the film Bowling for Columbine loses its essence. Also, the 6-year old kid from Buell, it is said that in the film that he belongs to a struggling family who just found a gun in his uncle’s house and that no one knew why he wanted to shoot his classmate. However, according to one of the reviews, he is known as the class thug, known for violent acts even before he gunned down the little girl, Kayla, with whom he had a fight with the day before the murder. In the viewers’ eyes, he is just a helpless child. Lastly, he presented his very own statistics of the number of gun-related deaths without giving his sources or basis. Moore responded to some of these assumed deceptions and actually admitted his faults. There is no way the audience could verify some of the faults stated above easily. While watching, it is as if we are lead to believe everything he said.

As a viewer, I am bound to believe everything Moore showed. However, it is hard not to ignore the way his facts are presented. As the producer, director, and writer of the said film, it is more than obvious that his bias is present in the film. From its format down to its editing, everything is arranged so as to strengthen his thesis that it is the culture of fear influenced by the media, the music industry, the politicians, the school, the family and other factors that made Americans engaged in violence. In the film, he showed that media is hyping the fear of the Americans and making people believe that suspects or criminals are always black males. But is it not quite ironic he does the same thing in his own film? Whatever his objectives or goals are, I guess, deceiving the viewers is out of the question. If he really believed in what he thinks about the American society, there is no point of manipulating the facts.

abeleda said...

A grade school pupil once brought his father’s gun to school, showed it to one of his curious classmates in the restroom and boom--- the next thing anyone became aware of is that the curious boy’s brain is splattered across the cold, tiled restroom walls. This actually happened in my old alma mater, in a small provincial town where everyone knew everyone else. Both were brilliant, straight “A” students, but the senseless gun death seemed to obliterate any hope for their future (or at least for the dead boy). The community was affected profoundly as we asked ourselves how could this horrible thing transpire in our midst.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but how do we make the village accountable to the violent acts of the child being raised? The film “Bowling for Columbine” tries to make sense of the deaths of the students of Columbine High School (who were shot by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both of whom were also students of Columbine, before turning the guns to themselves) by asking accountability for the village who raised the teens. Unlike our town which is relatively small, this village happens to be the United States of America.

When that tragedy happened in my hometown, the people basically found fault with the gun-owning parents. The parents should be responsible for the safekeeping of the loaded gun; a child is not expected to fully realize the consequences of his actions, and so forth. Personally, I think it was the culture of owning guns itself that is at fault. Owning guns should not be seen as some sort of privilege but a social liability. It’s simple equation, popularized by the likes of Nandy Pacheco: we don’t own guns, we don’t have gun-related deaths.

But alas, Michael Moore, in this film does not see guns as intrinsically evil or at fault. It is not guns, he argues that causes a lot of gun-related deaths in the US, but rather the culture of fear among the people. Mass media is teaching the Americans to be afraid of their neighbors and thus, they were being led to believe in the paradox that they need guns to live peacefully. Canadians have guns but they don’t kill each other as much as Americans do apparently. It is because, Moore argues, Canadians don’t live in a culture of fear and distrust unlike the Americans. This trust in fellowmen can be demonstrated, Moore states by the fact that Canadians do not lock their front doors. He proves this point by trying to open some front doors in Montreal, and after seeing them unlocked decided that the rest of Canadian homes must be similar to the ones in Montreal.

Michael Moore makes several of these (in NY Times’ A.O. Scott’s words) “slippery logic, tendentious demagoguery, a rather rambling discourse of causality…” but this does not diminish at all the power of the film as a tool of political socialization.

Before we pass judgment on Moore’s film, we must first arrive at a consensus on the medium utilized. Is it really a documentary in the professional journalist sense of the word, or something else? Most of Moore’s critics I find are harping about particular instances of Moore’s leaps of momentary logic instead of judging the product as more than the sum of its parts---which it is. More importantly, these critics start lambasting not just the film but Moore himself (“the shlub”). When the montage of violent events are played out about 20 minutes into the film with “Happiness is a Warm Gun” as the background music, I could not help but surmise this is no ordinary, bland, journalistic BBC-type documentary. ‘Bowling for Columbine’ straddles the line between a fictional ‘inspired-by-true events’ movie and a documentary. The same is true with the next montage featuring what is supposed-to-be America’s real foreign policy: supporter of Osama Bin Laden, the Chilean coup, etc. This is a faux documentary skewed mightily to propaganda.

Because it is not purely a documentary, any attempt to judge its merits on a purely documentary basis of assessment is ultimately flawed. Once we get that, the film morphs into a pseudo-documentary/social satire that’s really, really funny and really, really though-provoking.

From a single incident, the Columbine shooting, the filmmaker attempts to find the answers. This would appear to be inductive. But upon closer observation, particularly with regards to framing and editing (for instance, Charlton Heston’s rallying cry of “from my cold dead hands” is interspersed with the interview of a father of one of the victims of the Columbine massacre making Heston appear more malevolent than he might be when he said those words) it would appear that Moore is less interested in ferreting out the “objective truth” because he is already nursing his very own “subjective truth”. In a sense, it is deductive, Moore already knows his politics and he is “selling” it to us through this film, through the particular instance of the Columbine shooting.

Lastly, I should also point out that even if I had objected to the caricaturing of Moore by his critics to deride this film, I believe Moore, as a character, not just a filmmaker is very much part of the film, and the film’s appeal. He is the hypocrite’s enemy, the American man’s unlikely hero, the voice of the victims, the instigator of the Kmart scene.

It may be enjoyable but at some times, it can be a tad too much. How much of Michael Moore the filmmaker are we seeing and how much of Michael Moore, the character? When old man Heston terminates the interview by ambling away, and Moore insists on charging away, then leaving a picture of a dead girl in Heston’s house. I thought the last part was a bit too much, for he has already made his point. At some point, Moore has to decide whether he remains to be a character or a filmmaker.

jeejee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jeejee said...

Given that Bowling for Columbine has won Best Documentary Film in the Academy Awards, a number of reviews reveal about the inaccuracy of certain parts of the film, which apparently makes it fictional in a sense. Michael Moore as a renowned filmmaker and an evident left-wing advocate has attracted not just avid fans through the persuasiveness and determinacy of his approach in terms of doing his documentaries but an awful lot of detractors as well. There actually exists a website for the purpose of criticizing and watching Michael Moore’s every move, and the prominence this filmmaker has only heightens the curiosity of critics in scrutinizing every detail of his work. But do these “inaccuracies” found in Bowling for Columbine (which Michael Moore answered himself in the website he made to dismiss the controversies of the film) forfeits the essence of it being a documentary?

“A documentary film, purports to present factual information about the world outside the film. It typically comes to us labeled as such and the label leads us to assume that the persons, places, and events exist and that the information presented about them is trustworthy” (Bordwell and Thompson, 2004). According to the reading, some viewers tend to suspect that a documentary is unreliable if the events in the film are manipulated. But it is inevitable that certain events may be recorded without staging or scripting it. But in the case of Bowling for Columbine, the manipulation pointed out here, has something to do not with the staging but with the editing of the film. For instance, Heston's "cold dead hands" speech, which leads off Moore's depiction of the Denver meeting, was not given at Denver after Columbine. It was given a year later in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was his gesture of gratitude upon his being given a handmade musket, at that annual meeting. This was proved by the visual background wherein it was noticeable that Heston in mid-speech changed from a purple tie and lavender shirt to a white shirt and red tie, and the background draperies went from maroon to blue. Another is by juxtaposing another Heston speech with a school shooting of Kayla Rolland at Mt. Morris, MI, just north of Flint. Moore makes the claim that "Just as he did after the Columbine shooting, Charlton Heston showed up in Flint, to have a big pro-gun rally." The fact is, Heston's speech was given at a "get out the vote" rally in Flint, which was held when elections rolled by some eight months after the shooting. Another “inaccuracy” I found was the shooting at the Buell Elementary School in Michigan where it depicts the juvenile shooter who killed Kayla Rolland, from a struggling family, who just found a gun in his uncle's house and took it to school. "No one knew why the little boy wanted to shoot the little girl." But the thing is, the uncle's house was the family business -- the neighborhood crack-house. The gun was stolen and was purchased by the uncle in exchange for drugs. The shooter's father was already serving a prison term for theft and drug offenses. A few weeks later police busted the shooter's grandmother and aunt for narcotics sales. So it’s not just the National Rifle Association which has the sole influence in the behavior of the shooter. To a closer extent, the action is deeply rooted from the orientation of the child in the family.

As a type of film, documentaries present themselves as factually trustworthy (Bordwell and Thompson, 2004). Throughout film history, many documentaries have been challenged as inaccurate, and Bowling for Columbine is one of them. But what made it appealing and somehow, it was able to ‘touch’ the audience, was the way Michael Moore framed his documentary. Frames are defined as a set of ideas that interpret, define and give meaning to social and cultural phenomenon (Baylor, 1996). The framing was strategically organized in a manner that would captivate the audience’s sympathy. The incident when the boy shoots his classmate could possibly fall back to the fact that it was the family orientation which lead to such violent action. But of course, the filmmaker will not do that because it would not serve his interest of conveying the National Rifle Association as a factor of the widespread gun violence in the United States.

In conclusion, an unreliable documentary is still a documentary. Bowling for Columbine would not turn into a fiction film even if some of the data presented were inaccurate. “Just as there are inaccurate and misleading news stories, there are inaccurate and misleading documentaries. A documentary may take a stand, state an opinion, but again, simply taking a stance does not turn the documentary into a fiction” (Bordwell and Thompson, 2004).

Oklobdzijia, Stan. Moore’s film surrounded by controversy. 2003.

Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. 7th edition. Boston, MA, USA: McGraw Hill

eva marie said...

I have to give it to Michael Moore, “Bowling for Columbine” (2002) is one good film; even, or especially in the light of our political socialization discourse. I believe that much of this success can be attributed to his approach which, for convenience I would refer, an eclectic approach. In another setting, it could be a catch-it-all strategy or an idiographic explanation. Eclecticism is actually “a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases” (Wikipedia). Along these principles, Michael Moore tried to explain the prevalent of gun violence in the United States of America by looking for possible explanations from different perspectives using various strategies in order to gather a whole array of insights and thus capture attention from as many kinds of viewers as possible.

He did not stop at conventional at answers – the easy availability of guns, violent national history, and violent entertainment and poverty; but also took a deeper examination of America's culture of fear, bigotry and violence in a nation with widespread gun ownership as fanned by the powerful political elites (noting President Bush and past US presidents) and corporate interests (with focus on Lockheed Martin and K-Mart) for their own unscrupulous gain (Chisholm in IMDb). He also discussed the contributing factors of institutions like the family, schools, National Rifle Association (NRA) and the media in perpetuating culture through working on the psyche of Americans.

The film also presented its arguments in various ways: by appealing to both logic (e.g. statistics) and emotion (e.g. testimonials of victims and/or their relatives); montage of American foreign policy decisions; comparisons with Canada and other Western nation, media exposure (e.g. bringing the media at K-Mart). Parenthetically, it is interesting to look at the many-faced media in this film – as one contributor of the propagation of the culture of fear, detached reporters after Kayla’s death, news and series producers/writer creating and making use of stereotypes, useful attention generator, etc.

The eclectic approach utilized in this film is best seen in the discussion of two sensational incidents related to gun possession – the Columbine high school massacre by two of its students and 6-year-old Kayla Roland’s death from the hand of her classmate. In the former, the background and environment in which the massacre took place and some public opinion assumption about related issues were explored in commendable detail while in the latter; the search for explanation followed the community’s economic and social problems, to the murderer’s family conditions, to work-to-welfare program of the likes of their family, to the man behind the program. However, this technique potentially makes one lose attention on the central argument of the section and garnering the focus somewhat fuzzy.

Michael Moore also tried to maintain at least an appearance of balance or accommodation of perspectives by getting the statements of various individuals involved in the issues he presented in the film. Hence his interviewees include the members of the Michigan Militia, policemen, Marilyn Manson, students at the Columbine high school, relatives of the victims as well as the murderers, Matt Stone (co-creator of “South Park”), Evan McCollum (director of communications, Lockheed Martin), Charleston Heston, and ordinary Canadians. Most of the time he makes it look like every individual has a sensible point that at first I was actually confused on his stand. Perhaps, his anti-gun stance have been most manifest with his rather confrontational approach to Charlton Heston of the NRA, his parting words as the film closes and upon examination of the editing done to the documentary.

The film is further made effective because it fulfills much expectation on how documentaries should be that Rotten Tamatoes’ tomatometer critic recorded 96% approval or perhaps something more that the Jury at Cannes had to create a special 55th Anniversary Award just for the film since it did not fit neatly into any established categories. It is important to note that most criticisms were directed on Michael Moore himself rather than the more substantial elements of the his documentary.

If the film could mobilize any political action, then it could be directed at various institutions and at different levels at the film suggests.


Wikipedia. Eclectism. Accessed 19 September 2007.

Chisholm, Kenneth in The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Plot summary for Bowling for Columbine.

Richard Henrick said...

In a country that has clearly established laws and well-formed institutions, why is it that there are a lot of people who are dying from the use of guns? In Michael Moore’s documentary entitled “Bowling for Columbine”, one of the interviewees said that she secured guns for herself so that she could protect herself and wouldn’t need to rely to the police. She does not really intend to use it to assault others but just to defend herself in case she will need to. Someone will need to defend himself if he feels that there are some threats to his security. However, the existence of a threat to someone is conditional upon his own standards. For the majority, a threat exists if someone points a gun to you and threatens to take away your life. However, for some, discriminating them is already a threat to his security. For them, it is already an assault that warrants the necessity of using guns to eliminate the people who do it to them and to threaten others to not do the same or they will receive the same fate. As they do this, they perpetuate or even heighten the existence of a security dilemma within the community for after doing that, people will start to feel unsecured again and will buy guns to defend themselves.

The society in itself is responsible for perpetuating the insecurity. As each people continue to discriminate someone, and someone feels oppression on his part, there goes this fear that someone may be out there for a shootout. That is basically what happened in the Columbine massacre. The murderers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, found it difficult to fit into any of the cliques when they entered high school and are frequently picked on by athletes and other students. The same case made the similar incident in Virginia Tech take place when it was reported that the suspect, the South Korean named Cho, had been bullied because of his speech problems. Such responses of the general American public to the minorities that are present within their country may explain why there are more incidents of homicide in their country as compared to Canada. In Canada, wherein the society is more heterogeneous, the people are more adept with dealing with people who are from a different culture. Such kind of attitude makes the people feel acceptance rather than oppression from others, making them feel secured and the use of gun to reassert their selves not a necessity.

Social groups are very necessary in order for someone to feel accepted within the society. However, as what Robert Putnam said in “Bowling Alone”, the number of social groups within the United States is declining. According to Putnam, this might be attributed to the growing technological changes, which makes people contented to not associate with others for they get the things that they get from organizations from the internet or the television. On the other hand, the existence of a “bad civil society” as what Simone Chambers and Jeffrey Kopstein calls it, may be chosen by people as an alternative given the lack of “good civil societies” that are present. People may find identifying themselves with the goals being perpetuated by these “bad civil societies” and may cause harm to the other people. As what some reports are saying, the murderers in the Columbine massacre are said to be a part of an informal school club called the “Trench coat mafia”. Their association on this club may have influenced their actions of committing the massacre. In “Bowling for Columbine”, Michael Moore have somewhat painted the National Rifle Association as a bad civil society, responsible in influencing people to use their guns whenever they feel it to be necessary. However, this portrayal of NRA could be said to be biased according to Moore’s own perspective. It could be argued that in the end, the NRA is not a bad civil society that tells their members to freely use their guns whenever they want to. Rather, NRA is an association that reminds its members to be responsible gun owners and users.

In “Bowling for Columbine”, Michael Moore pointed out other factors that made shootouts like that in the Columbine High School happen. The presence of supermarkets wherein everyone could easily buy ammunition plays a big role in making those shootouts happen. Indeed, if they don’t make those guns and ammunition available, no one could have the gun to use to kill everyone. We might have prevented such murders from taking place. This shows how lax gun laws at least in that state in the United States. In the end, all of these boils down to the government not doing so much when it comes to regulating their citizens in the use of their guns.

In conclusion, I would say that Michael Moore’s documentary is very powerful. After watching the movie, even if I feel that there are some questionable points that are raised; I indeed realized how the society has shaped the culture of fear. The mere fact that Michael Moore was able to make Kmart stop their sales of ammunition shows how powerful media could be in pressuring certain actors within the society. He could even have made an impact to Charles Heston’s principles after their confrontation in Heston’s own house. In the end, Michael Moore had been an example to his viewers of how we should be vigilante in forwarding our causes especially if it is aimed for the betterment of our society.

Steph said...

Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine is a witty documentary that delves into various layers of analysis with regards to the aftereffects of a tragic incident in Columbine High School. The film begins simply, with flashes interviews of a selected sample of personas related to the horrific event and their views on what could have caused such a chaos. As the plot develops, the audience slowly realizes that Moore is not only focusing on the event but uses it to present the idea that the US has an accepted “culture of fear” that needs to be immediately addressed. Moore confronts the audience by demonstrating that the biggest socio-political player, the government, highly endorses violence yet cunningly manipulates its constituents to think otherwise; further on, Moore zooms the lens in transnational companies, specifically Lockheed Martin (world’s largest weapon’s manufacturer which is conveniently located in Littleton) and then towards national organizations such as the National Rifle Association. Moore continues refining the focus until he eventually nitpicks on the idea that the overwhelming violence in the US really boils down to the individual—ones choice to act a certain way amidst the community, and even ones choice to simply accept the fact that the community has become very violent yet not do much about it.

I beg to differ with the main entry in that “if I live in a place where ‘violence is endorsed by the government’, then I’d probably think that it is fine to solve conflicts through violence.” Actually, we do live in an environment wherein the government highly endorses violence. Take a look at the news—the Arroyo administration one day easily decided to give one billion pesos to the Armed Forces of the Philippines but hundreds of millions were cut off from the education sector such as the state’s premier university (yours truly, our University of the Philippines); the never-ending conflict in Mindanao where media has made the public think that guns has been the primary solver rather than discourse; muted murders of civilians and political activists; daily showcase of poverty-driven armed robbery and murder… violence is heavily endorsed by the government and the common Filipino perhaps could even think that the best way to solve our problems is by violence—but we do not actually go out and do this. This is where an individual’s thoughts can be placed in the context of socialization since it depends on society to set certain guidelines for accepted norms and perhaps even moral values. What stops an individual from going out in public and shooting randomly at people is not so much why but if that public in general accepts such a tragic act of violence and can actually pressure members of the community to conform with such norms. We must analyze what is instilled within the norms of a certain society and the social acceptance of various attitudes.

In relation to trying to compare US culture and that of the Philippines, what was interesting was the rather brief suggestion that broken families may be a factor leading to violence. It is a generally accepted fact that the US has one of the highest divorce rates (and thus broken families); in the meantime, the Philippines highly regards its sense of kinship—to what Westerners may think of exaggerating proportions because a wife can be physically abused yet decides to continue staying with the husband for the sake of the children and for the sake of public opinion. Yet this is a powerful statement that children are indoctrinated with: an individual sometimes has to suffer for the greater good and the children end up favoring the battered yet are not taught to lean towards taking revenge towards the abuser to the extent of murder.

The documentary does not seem to heavily rely on the questions revolving around the possible factors that could cause the alarmingly high rate of violence in the United States; rather, Moore seems to want to make the audience be alarmed—not just challenge us emotionally but actually turn us into proactive advocates against the proliferation of the notion that violence has become a mere standard of daily life. Towards the end, we see Moore actively seeking to do something to help the victims who survived the Columbine incident: the group marched to the main superstore of Kmart and virtually pestered its executives until they did something about the disturbing, highly accessible acquisition of ammunition. The aftermath proved successful to Moore and his young friends: Kmart abolished all sales of ammo in all of its stores nationwide. The tone during this scene was one of shock—the subtle yet firm implication was the challenge for ordinary citizens to act and not succumb to pressures of larger key players in society, especially if we know that we are on the right side.

Fascinating was Moore’s choice of interviewees. The reason why the film is so successful because Moore was able to get exclusive one-on-ones with a wide spectrum of personalities such as South Park co-creator Matt Stone, then-president Charlton Heston of the NRA (in the privacy of Heston’s mansion, at that) and even rock star Marilyn Manson. Even if many think that Moore manipulated his interviewees through asking certain questions to get certain answers, the director proved successful because of the fact that this seemingly regular journalist was able to manipulate masterminds of their craft (particularly Heston). I think what is important is that Moore wanted to show the public that Regular Joe could fry the bad guys if they really put their heart to it.

Moore did not have to give his own opinion on whether which factor most contributes to America’s high rate of gun deaths or violence in general; conversely, the film in itself presented a very vital statement—we should not finger point as to who or what causes so much violence (in the US) but more important is the necessary focusing on how people now concededly accept that the increase of violence has already become an unexciting, albeit repetitive, reality. Moore explores the attitudes of people as we talk about the factors causing this so-called culture of violence—people easily point to others but never to themselves.

- S. Tan

kat suyat said...

Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine, puts blame to the distinct “culture of fear” of the Americans for the proliferation and high gun use and violence in American society. Now, the bigger question is, why do such culture of fear exist?

Michael Moore presented many reasons for this existence. He mentioned history, music, widespread presence of guns, and media among many others. The main thesis of this entry would be the effect of media and media framing in creating a culture of fear amongst the Americans. Media frames news about violence, crimes, deaths, and gun use, for they view these kinds of news to be worthy and of human interest. As mentioned by Jill Abraham in his study “Media Frames, Public Opinion, and the First Lady”, media account of events, issues, or individuals are not and cannot be all- encompassing (Abraham 2004). Media utilizes framing in order to select and de-select the important events from what they view to be not so important. What actually are frames? Frames are the selection of the rhetorical words and phrases describing political topics, events, or messages (Carragee and Roefs, 2004; Scheufele,1999). It suggests how politics should be thought about, encouraging citizens to understand events and issues in particular ways (Fridkin, 2005). Framing is necessary to attract readership and oftentimes, news accounts are framed in terms of controversy and conflict (Abraham 2004) as “conflict provides the drama needed to attract the audience” (Miller and Reichert 2001).

How is media framing seen in the film? This concept could be explained and seen through two ways. One, as seen in the documentary, media (particularly television) frames news in such a way that gun violence is vividly seen and explained. In almost all news headlines and stories or even television shows whose main purpose is to entertain (as it comes from the entertainment business), gun use and violence seems to be the most commonly used and exhausted topic. They focused deaths and crimes to the point that this already creates a culture of fear within the society. People buy guns in order to feel secure. Once again citing Abraham, “…frames can serve as important indicators of the ‘general issue culture’ (Abraham 2004).” And indeed, this is the case in American society. How media frames the news influences and affects how people view things, and even to the point of changing their culture that they live upon.

The second way on how media framing is evident in the film is through Michael Moore and this documentary of his, Bowling for Columbine. Indeed, the documentary is still and undeniably a media story. And since frames are present in virtually all media stories (Fridkin, 2005), even Moore’s documentary is not free of media framing. In a way, he is all trying to frame only those that are important or those he view is necessary for his cause. If one would look at the way he formulated and even asked the questions, you would see that they were somehow leading. And if one would also took notice on the issues and shots that he focused on, you will see how he only put much emphasis on one side of the coin and not the two.Hep uts blame in the media for the creation of the “fear of culture” of the Americans but ironically, he is also a part of it.


Abraham, Jill. 2005. Media Frames, Public Opinion and the First Lady. Poltical Reseach Online. Date Accessed: September 19, 2007.

Fridkin, Kim, Spinning Debates: The Impact of News Media Framing of the Final 2004 Presidential Debate. Political Research Online. Date Accessed: September 19, 2007.

Felicia said...

The 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine” (henceforth referred to as “Bowling”), which was written, produced, directed, and starred by filmmaker-provocateur Michael Moore, has indeed caught people’s attention from all over the world, resting its eyes on the American society. It also won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary Features and the César Award for Best Foreign Film. And as much as it has caused a great deal of debates in terms of its artistic merits as well as its political content, it cannot be argued that “Bowling” has exposed, though not necessarily solved, the social cancer of crime and violence in the United States. The main thesis which this writer intends to discuss in this essay is that a society, such as that in the United States, which is inherently individualistic in nature, is indeed most conducive for the development and propagation of the culture of fear. This main assertion is theoretically anchored within the Hobbesian thought on the state of nature.

To give a background, Thomas Hobbes' political philosophy on the state of nature is basically premised on the assumption that all people, by nature, are equal. Therefore, it is also implied that they are given equal opportunities to attain their goals and desires. “And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both [sic] enjoy, they become enemies; and, [they] endeavor to destroy, or subdue one another.” Further, this enmity among individuals entails the use of violence, “to make themselves masters of other men’s persons”, as well as “to defend” themselves. Above all, therefore, people “are in that condition which is called war”, which does not only consists of actual fighting, but also “the known disposition thereto, during the time [when] there is no assurance to the contrary.” (Hobbes, as cited in Curtis, 1961)

“Bowling” is an exposition of the praxis of such theory, particularly depicting the American society, and that there is the cultivation of the culture of fear. This fear, being internally felt, is being outwardly expressed in the use of violence. This is manifested in “Bowling” through the focus on guns as the symbol of freedom and the fact that the United States has a much higher number of gun-related murders than any other country in the world, specifically focusing on the Columbine High School massacre during the 1990s, on which the title of the documentary was based. Also, another instance of gun-related violence focused on the film was the murder at Flint, Colorado, committed by a six-year-old boy against another first grader.

Moreover, this use of violence actually sets in the atmosphere of war. “Bowling” depicted this in two levels, namely in the macro and micro levels. In the macro level, the US’ inherent culture of fear and orientation towards war has been shown by its continued efforts in breaching the sovereignty of other countries by means of military occupation, aside from being an economic and cultural hegemon, among others. Particularly, the US was bombing Kosovo about the time just before the Columbine massacre; in fact, in “Bowling”, it was asserted that this foreign policy against Kosovo actually encouraged the shooters of the Columbine massacre. More importantly, the documentary was filmed as an expression of Moore’s rationale in his opposing position towards the US’ invasion of Iraq. In the micro level, this atmosphere of war is felt by the obsession of being ahead from everyone else, much like the US’ need to be ahead from the rest of the world, disguising it with the world-police-self-image. In fact, “Bowling” showed such micro-level competition by interviewing a high-school drop-out in Oscoda, Michigan, who was disappointed that he was only the second most dangerous man, according to the town’s bomb-threat list. “I wanted to be No. 1. … It’s an ego thing,” said the drop-out, who was a sad, disturbing and pathetic picture of a war-crazed man. The PR man of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest ammunitions producer, was discussing with Moore about his taking anger management classes, while ironically standing beside ballistic missiles: definitely another disturbing and pathetic picture of a war-consumed man.

However, even when there is no actual fighting, thus in times of apparent ‘peace’, the American society still exhibits the Hobbesian condition of war, in the sense that people are still characterized by the disposition towards war, in the form of furthered and more intensified fear, returning to the fear which was only internally felt in the beginning, thus, creating a vicious cycle of the culture of fear. This state of paranoia is being asserted in the “Bowling” in many of its scenes. One was interview with the Michigan Militia, where its members rationalized gun ownership with the idea that “you can’t expect the police to protect you” and that “if you’re not armed, you’re not [being] responsible.” Self-defense was also the rationale behind the enactment of the law in Utah actually requiring its citizens to own guns; that is indeed paranoia at its worst. In the macro level, the US’ building of weapons of mass destruction effectively puts them in the position of the Columbine shooters and the six-year-old boy in Colorado who shot his classmate. However, even an official at an American missile manufacturing company was not able to see this turn of position, as he reasoned that “the missiles … were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us.” The Columbine shooters and the Michigan Militia would most probably give him a high-five for such thought. Unfortunately, the mass media did at all with its sensationalism encouraging the already panicked population. Nor did the capitalist economics and the consumerist behavior in the US: even rock artist Marilyn Manson shared that in the US, businesses capitalize on fear, “citing Colgate commercials that promise "people aren't going to talk to you [if you have bad breath]" and other commercials containing fear-based messages; "girls aren't going to fuck you [if you have acne.]” These seemingly insignificant factors actually exacerbate the paranoia in the country.

“Bowling” is indeed an effective medium for political socialization because it exposed that the cultivation of the cyclical and alarmingly escalating culture of fear in the United States is further propagated in the society by giving premium to competition, glory and even ruthless capitalistic ventures. Furthermore, it depicted that the different formal and informal institutions of the US all contributed to this paranoid mindset and even snowballed this effect, effectively leading to the acceptance of institutionalized violence as the solution to conflict. Indeed, as Michael Moore had intended, “Bowling” offers the viewers one of the many possible explanations as to this apparently suspicious and self-destructive behavior of the US as well as the American people in general. And as in the sport of bowling, this film has indeed made a strike.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. From Curtis, Michael (ed.) (1961), The Great Political Theories, Volume 1.

Wikipedia. (2007 September 13). Bowling for Columbine. Date retrieved: 18 September 2007. From:

Agpalo said...

Bowling for Columbine is one film that both tries to answer highly normative and objective questions and tries to educate and instill into its viewers values that are the synthesis of the films questions.
Bowling for Columbine deals with social issues. How do people resolve these issue? Or basically do people actually tries to resolve these issues?
In the film we see the interaction between different actors and institutions in a given society. The role of culture, human nature, political and social institutions, in shaping the behavior of a given group of people.
As we watch the documentary we are constantly bombarded with questions and half-answers to the questions that forces us, the viewers to reconsider our own perceptions and values regarding the issue. How can we then come up with the big answer to the question of what causes the the violent culture of the American people?
Culture being foreverly changing, the film examined the history of America and roots it basically to the answer that from the very beginning, because of social happenings and trauma, the ancestors of the Americans were paranoid. As the film bluntly suggests,this results in them killing almost anyone that poses as a threat.
Nature in this sense dictates the culture of the people.
Another aspect that the film examined are the different institutions in a society. Policies, programs and laws of the government also contributes and maintains this culture of violence. It reinforces current forces that give the condition for the American culture to breed violence. Another institution that the film highly focused on is the mass media. In this highly interconnected world where growing number of the population relies on mass media (primarily, television)for news and information, it has played one of the most inportant role in the socialization and shaping of the values and behavior of individuals in a society.
Bowling for Columbine is an exploratory film that poses a question. This question serves as the objective of the film. Bowling for Columbine asks a question and provides an answer in the end. This answer serves as the challenge for the viewers to do something about the issue.
The film for me is highly an effective medium for socialization. Both the content that constantly nags its audience as they view the film, and the form and means that they packaged this content makes the film effective in instilling values into its audience or at least in making them question the values that they hold dear.