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Monday, October 28, 2002

Bowling for Columbine
Urgh. I haven’t been this sick in years. I spent the night coughing and wheezing, and the day alternately napping and staring at the printed word. At least my stomach and my head were relatively unaffected. I actually read an entire book before 10 a.m. this morning (since I was wide awake at 5 and didn’t want to keep R away with my incessant hacking, I went into the living room and had at The Cheese Monkeys), though I’m not sure how well I’d do if someone quizzed me on its contents. It had me laughing out loud in places (fever laughs, the best!), though strictly speaking I think it’s more of an overlong short story or a treatise on design education than a novel.

I presume this hideous cold/flu is the result of a virus rather than my comeuppance for walking home from the movies in the drizzle last night. I made it to Bowling for Columbine, and overall I liked it. Although he seems to be hated by just as many lefties as righties in the U.S. (and that’s saying something), I feel like Michael Moore is “my people.”

The problem with the movie is that it’s propaganda—not that there’s anything wrong with that, unless it’s ineffective propaganda. Since I pretty much believe most of what he was propagandizing (we differ on Kosovo, and I think some of his connect-the-dots links were over-reaching), it’s hard for me to judge if Bowling for Columbine would change anyone’s opinion about America’s culture of fear (which, it seems, Moore believes is responsible for the stunningly high incidence of gun deaths in the United States compared to other Western countries), but I doubt it. Although he doesn’t hesitate to make fanciful connections between the bombing of the former Yugoslavia and the Columbine school massacre, he doesn’t really do a very good job of saying what is up with America, and he doesn’t offer any solutions for what can be done to change things. Much as I think Charlton Heston is an insensitive bastard who should’ve stayed away from towns that had suffered through school shootings and even as I was revolted by the “gotcha” moment when he suggested Americans shoot each other more than folks in any other Western country because of America’s mixture of ethnicities, I’d rather the time spent mocking him had been spent suggesting concrete steps that Americans could take to bring about the social changes that make Canadians more relaxed—national health insurance, a real welfare safety net, etc.

The fact is—and don’t ask me why, because I’ve never figured it out—most Americans don’t want Canadian-style health insurance, even though more than 40 million Americans don’t have any health insurance; they don’t care about welfare and unemployment, even if they’re worried about their own job security; and they must like the if-it-bleeds-it-leads approach to TV news or they wouldn’t watch it (there are alternatives, even for folks without cable), but they do—in large numbers.

And there’s something to be said for the underlying self-reliance that the “gun nuts” cite as their justification for owning and using guns: They want to be responsible for their families, rather than abdicating that task to someone else with a gun. Still, the 11,000+ gun deaths per year show that something’s wrong in America's responsibility cycle.

I still believe that if Britons had guns they’d use them with U.S.-style profligacy. In my years of wandering U.S. city centers (and as a non-driver, I’ve not been avoiding hot spots by getting in my little mobile isolation tank), I’ve never come across anything like the palpable mood of violence that descends on British towns after a night on the piss (or during the day given the right circumstances, like a football match). And talk about a culture of fear: These days on the street where I grew up, an underclass shit-hole if ever there was one, everybody has state-of-the-art alarm systems and more locks than a county jail, and if there’s anything worth stealing on the entire street I’d be surprised.