Documentaries and Propaganda
A documentary principally is a film story that expresses factual topics about the subject. Essentially, a documentary should be non-fictional and made with the intent of expressing aspects of reality. The aims of documenting an event or expressing a factual concern using films are varied yet their range serves solely for informing the viewers. However, documentaries might be conveying an opinion or creating public interest about a particular issue. The popularity of documentaries, today, has increased considerably. Therefore, due to this popularity, propagandists have exploited the power of documentaries to persuade to express non- true opinions and propaganda (O’Shaughnessy, 2004). Propaganda in documentary production refers to a biased selectivity in which the film-makers put together a documentary with the purpose of presenting a biased view to achieve a particular goal or objective. Historically, documentaries have been exploited to provide a biased view with the aim of persuading the public to feel or believe in a certain way. For instance, during the wartime, propagandists used documentaries to persuade the public into hating the enemy and supporting a country war agenda (O'shaughnessy, 2004).
Michael Moore is an American filmmaker who directed and produced a controversial film Fahrenheit 9/11. He is also an author, social critic, and political activist. In addition to Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore has made other awards winning and high-grossing documentaries including Bowling for Columbine, Slacker Uprising, and Sicko among other TV shows. His approach of using films to express an opinion, thought and view has resulted in widespread acclaim and critic, in equal measures. A nearly equal number of people view him as a propagandist and a producer of documentaries expressing factual events. For the sake of this article, Michael Moore’s documentaries Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko will be widely used to examine whether he is a propagandist or not (Bernstein, 2010).
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Qualities of a Documentary
The following are the qualities that reinforce a documentaries quality as a true representation or expression of facts and real events:
Actuality refers to the raw image of the real life events. A critical quality defines a documentary compared to other fictional films. A documentary should be a representation of actual events with explanations and commentaries (Berg, 2003).
Another quality that reinforces the quality of the documentary is interviews. Interviews are used to express real life experiences of events. It is worth noting that event propaganda films use interviews. However, the quality of the interviewee and his position about the event are treated as features of a distinguishing character (Berg, 2003).
Good documentaries are very open to criticism. For example, they present both perspectives of an argument and give the viewer the leeway to have his/her own perspective on the issues under discussion rather than merely imposing a perspective on the audience (Berg, 2003).
Use of Explanations
The filmmaker uses explanations in a film go a long way in differentiating between a propagandist film and a documentary. A documentary will restrict the interpretation of events strictly to what can be supported by the documentary rather than using explanation to distort the event in line with the maker’s perspective (Berg, 2003).
Propagandist films can be identified from true documentaries based on various characteristics and techniques used by propagandists. This article will examine the idea that Michael Moore is a propagandist rather than a documentary producer. To identify whether Michael Moore is a propagandist, this study will examine whether his documentaries fit the themes and history of documentary production and whether there are indefinable qualities of propagandist filmmakers within his documentaries (Combs & Combs, 2013).
Qualities of Propagandist Films
As mentioned earlier, there are many qualities inherent in documentaries or a film that make films more inclined for propaganda that set them apart from the non-biased documentaries. These qualities go against the primary aspect of a documentary of expressing aspects of reality and telling factual stories. The basic characteristic of propagandist film is the use of psychological techniques to persuade the public. The following are the qualities inherent in Michael Moore’s films that are thought as propagandist.
Omissions of Truths
One of the most obvious techniques used by propagandist, unlike true documentary makers, in order to persuade the public towards a certain aim or objective, is Omission or not presenting the whole truth. The fundamental quality of the documentary is the image of the whole truth example relevant in making a particular conclusion. Propagandist in making films omits some truth in order to favour a certain view or line of thinking. Michael Moore has been accused repeatedly of omitting truths in a number of his documentaries. For example, in Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore is accused of omitting the parts where the hijacked planes hit the Twin’s Tower buildings specifically to conceal the viewer’s anger and retribution towards the terrorists. In addition, by omitting this scenes in is film and instead showing the aftermaths, Michael Moore is also accused of seeking to provoke an emotion of sorrow among his audience - an emotion that set the mood for his perspective on the issue he is presenting (Mcenteer, 2006).
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Use of Cynicism
Cynicism refers to the portrayal of altruistic motivation in people’s own behaviour and selfish motivations in the behaviour of other people. Every person has a tendency to be cynical especially while interpreting the actions of other people. However, exploitation of cynicism in filmmaking can result in justification of a rather biased perspective or opinion. Propagandist uses cynicism while making films by questioning the motivation of a character in the film in order to make him/her look suspicious (Morris, 2011). Some of the people who accuse Michael Moore of being a propagandist cite the portrayal of bush reading a storybook to schoolchildren even after a security agent informed him of the incident. This portrayed him as either confused or ignorant. To the viewers, such a view is truly justified. However, his security agents control the president’s movements in all aspects. He may have been instructed by his security agents to continue reading to keep quiet as they thought or waited for instructions on what to do next. Still the action by Michael Moore to show the president calm reading a story to children does not necessarily mean that he intended to be malicious (Center, 2006).
Use of Paces and Distraction
The fundamental principles of documentary making dictate that all lines of arguments are given sufficient time within the film’s narration. It is good practice to offer adequate time to the perspectives that would criticize the filmmaker’s viewpoint, with the perspectives that the filmmaker is using to support his argument. Providing differing perspectives allows the filmmaker to create an open-minded audience - a factor that would give much credence to the documentary. However, propagandist filmmakers can overstate or understate an argument to achieve a set goal. Michael Moore is specifically accused of pacing through the points that are weak to his argument and even setting music to distract the audience at those instances and dedicate excessive time to the parts that reinforce his argument (Mcenteer, 2006).
Analysis "Is Michael Moore A Propagandist?"
Michael Moore’s films and movies are mostly set and timed to achieve a certain political goal. For example, his movie Slacker uprising was set to encourage people to vote. Similarly, Fahrenheit 9/11 was released just before the election and was apparently made to influence voting. From the points enumerated above, it is clear that Michael Moore’s films are specifically structured to achieve a certain objective. Their structure and the fact that he times them with political events is clear indication that his documentaries are not set to achieve the fundamental goal of expressing factual accounts of events. For instance, in Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore uses psychological techniques to influence his audience. Such techniques are clear indications that his films are not purely representation of truths. Based on this assessment, Michael Moore is more of a propagandist than a filmmaker.
Michael Moore’s documentaries have received equal measures of criticism and acclaim, -factors that have resulted in people terming him as a propagandist. From the assessment made based on the factors that are inherent in propagandist films enumerated above, Michael Moore has exhibited characteristics that are inherent in propagandist films and can, therefore, be assumed as a propagandist.