Michael Moore produced the film Bowling for Columbine with the intention of persuading the viewers that gun laws are too relaxed in the United States. He believes that these laws have both contributed and added to, what he describes as a state of perpetual paranoia and a culture of fear amongst all of America’s citizens. Although Moore himself is not against guns since he is actually a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
He does hold the opinion that the fear mongering and trepidation encouraged by both the media and politicians, intensifies the potential dangers of individual gun ownership, by reducing the nationwide threshold with regards to violence with firearms, and thus exposing many innocent people to violent attacks. Moore uses an array of persuasive techniques through the course of his polemic; with the most effective being irony and satirical humor, scene sequencing and sound effects and finally intelligent manipulation of background music.
The first key scene A Wonderful World rebuts the conception that the US is a benevolent force around the world and that it does not use its military strength to physically impose and cause deliberate harm. In confrontation to this view, Moore is attempting to show that the USA’s propensity for violence overseas contributes to the growing levels and intensities of violence in America. The scene is enclosed by sequences shot in Littleton, Colorado is compliant with Moore’s overall objective of the film: to expose America’s misguided love of guns and violence.
The preceding scene to this key scene is typical of Moore’s persuasive style and is a polemic in its own right, the direct paradox between supplier and victim along with the juxtaposing music is another example of satirical humor. The preceding scene is of the Lockheed Martin spokesman: Lockheed Martin is America’s largest producer of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The conversation between Moore and the spokesman is ironically positioned in front of an ICBM and the spokesman’s words undermining America’s proclivity for violence especially before the scene at hand is another example of ironic scene sequencing and irony.
The actual scene contains many emotive visuals, as it is a newsreel of many atrocities involving America in the previous fifty years. The effect of the posters displaying unity and the visuals allow us to humanely connect with the scene and the individuals as Moore allows the observer to come to their own conclusion on their stance. The irony of the Wonderful World song is another example of satirical humor and indirectly creates an eerily awkward tone, which magnifies the emotional impact on the observer, thus making the scene more effective.
The subtitles throughout make the scene appear more official: as it makes us interpret the statements as facts in our minds which is just a human tendency, again adding to the effectiveness as it describes the monstrosities that the pictures display. However emotive language is used in the subtitles instead of actual facts as they are more interesting to the audience: Moore distorts factual evidence with his own opinions of events but this is almost undetectable due to the speed at which the slides are changing which is again limiting the audience chance, indirectly, to think independently.
The vast flow of information throughout creates a negative impression of America as it shows the vastness of support for Moore’s motion, however it also allows very little time to actually think about the points he is making and any other in-depth attempts of analytical observation are barred by the repetitive sound of gunfire which is another persuasive technique. However, arguably the most affective technique in this scene is not what Moore includes but what he decides to selectively omit.
The scene appears to show historical accounts of what America has done in the years previously, however history is the story of both sides and rather than give information on presidential leaders they are immediately classed as dictators, this is very effective as it makes no room for sub-conscious objections. The scene itself starts with a picture of a frail leader with the caption Mossadeq overthrown again this is opinionative suggesting that it was not America’s duty to intervene.
Also the most emotive part of this scene is the visual itself as it depicts an old, frail man whilst the word overthrown is very strong and again indicative of unnecessary and disproportional violence. The following scene again uses emotive visuals and language as it shows the replacement that America subsequently installed. However the subtitles are biased in that they call Shah a dictator and display him and Iranian soldiers marching in a goosestep-esque fashion, essentially aligning the US with installing another Hitler into the Iranian system.
Repetition of this emotive visuals and language continues when it shows democratically elected Arbenz overthrown, which is again political bias and selective omission as it disregards the information that he became a tyrannical dictator that murdered his people. The use of Statistics when describing the 200000 civilians killed seems duly informed, as there is no source. However it is emotive in that statistics are always perceived to be true.
Even the statistics are used as a persuasive technique as they claim the casualties are civilians is more emotive as it connects with the audience it aligns with Moore’s message that America is ruthless in international conflicts. When the scene comes to Diem being assassinated is yet another example of selective omission as it fails to mention that this was at a time of extreme international tension after the second world war the ‘red scare’ or the fear of communism was rife amongst the western world.
However the portrayal of the corpse with the subtitle is again manipulative as it prevents the audience from coming up with an impartial decision, as it is impossible to regard a corpse as humane. Another important section of this scene was the element on The Vietnam war that still plays in the hearts and minds of many Americans today and would be very familiar to many Americans perhaps unlike all the other scenes scripted earlier in this scene. The limited use of statistics before this point emphasizes and stresses the disproportional use of force where 4 million people were killed.
Again the word killed is very harsh and displays no remorse and reinforces Michael Moore’s view. The rest of the other scenes are repetitive in response as they again use emotive visuals and language as well as selective omission to make them more emotive. The pictures often display weak and powerless individuals being ‘slain’ however information is selectively omitted to make these killings seem irrational but in many cases many of these situations required intervention and disregarded the human rights of the citizens.
However Moore does stress that 4 American Nuns were killed in violence in El Salvador, this again harbors Moore’s motion that oversea violence is returning to America in the form of violent crimes, the fact that the victims were Americans would convince many Americans of irrationality especially with the innocence associated with nuns. Another particularly emotive element of this scene is when it claims the US trained Osama Bin Laden during the war between Afghanistan and Russia this would be very alarming to many Americans whilst it is another example where selective omission and irony are the basis of the argument.
The contextual reference of this scene is that Bin Laden and other Afghans were fighting to stop the spread of Communism in the region which is why the US supported them and indeed not to train terrorists. A similar section of this scene is when it claims US funds Saddam again playing on the minds of the audience as contextual information is lacking for persuasive purposes. This then directly links into the points of the Iraq war which many Americans now question the motives for, whilst adding any further information about the deaths and casualties involved in the war angering the general population into Moore’s perspective.
However the lasts two sections of the scene are the most important in that they are the US funds Taliban in ‘aid’ the greatest irony thus far and the sum of the aid is a significant $245million and is likely to anger the general population who are fully aware of the nature of the Taliban. Especially with the nature of the aid being inferred by all as weapons. This is instrumental as it is integral to Michael Moore’s view that it is the US actions with regards to foreign affairs that have caused violence on the ‘home-front.
The final section is 911 footage, this is very satirical and is deeply imbedded in the hearts of Americans however due to the sequencing Moore essentially allows the blame for the attacks to fall back on the US both in the preceding scenes by funding the Taliban and training Bin Laden and this would be very emotive. Ironically the wonderful world song finishes just as the second plane strikes the shorter tower as the scene reaches its climax this is exceptionally persuasive as the real life footage changes the mood and tone to deeply remorseful ones.
One of Moore’s primary techniques is the positioning of clips: he often edits in a manner to make a highly emotive scene next to one that is factual or another that is a complete paradox. Thus, manipulating the viewers’ emotions to make them more receptive to his argument. The films early sections are short and almost entirely humorous ridiculing the opposition in the face of arguments. Moore targets respected figures of authority and pro-gun groups and ridicules them with pre-prepared difficult questions.
Moore uses a sarcastic and satirical approach serves to undermine the view that personal gun ownership is questionable and its function, hunting, has become a cover for the ever-growing sense of fear within society. This tactic which Moore utilises throughout the beginning and mid-section of the film, it is designed to create the impression that the reader is ‘choosing’ to side with Michael Moore, however his techniques only allow for one line of thought. Through humor he allows you to side with him against his opposition, implicitly aligning yourself with his beliefs.
The second scene based on the school shooting at Columbine High School marks a change in tone as the documentary takes a more serious tone. Much of Moore’s ability to persuade hinges on the emotional impact of seeing two cold-blooded teenage boys gunning down other children with automatic weapons and explosives is the cornerstone of Moore’s rhetoric: the implied question is that why does America allow things like this too keep happening? Following the Columbine massacre, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held a rally only a few days after, and Moore shows this in the film.
Moore cleverly cuts extracts from previous speeches made by Charlton Heston – ‘from my cold dead hands’ – and makes it seem as though he said it immediately after the Columbine massacre. This is very effective as it persuades the viewer that even an event such as the one at Columbine, has no effect on people and the way they view a gun despite the fact that it has just claimed 12 innocent lives. The use of powerful imagery is also very effective within this scene and Moore cleverly edits and selects the clips which will have the desired effect on the viewer.
Moore selects the video footage in a way so that the action gets more dramatic and there is more panic as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold undergo their butchery. This manipulates the viewer into thinking that the events had an even bigger effect on people and that it caused an extreme level of fear, worry and panic. The quality of the image is quite poor and this makes it seem even more realistic for the viewer. This, combined with the fact that they see the two students open fire, make the footage very harrowing and disturbing for the viewer and exaggerate the problem of gun crime in the US.
In the footage, Moore highlights Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold by shining a light on them. This makes it easier for the viewer to see exactly what they are doing, but it also makes them look like ‘angels of death. ‘ This illustrates how the criminals have so much power and have the ability to take the life of other people if they choose to. During the footage, Moore plays the audio of an emergency call which was made during the events which makes the footage seem even more realistic and it means that it has a bigger impact on the viewer as they can hear the emotion and fear in the voices of the victims.
This persuades the viewer that gun laws are too lax, as firearms have caused people to be put in such a state of panic and fear and that is not something that is desired. Following the CCTV footage, Moore reads out some statistics about the massacre such as the fact that ‘over 900 rounds of ammunition were fired’ and that all of the weapons and ammunition was ‘legally purchased. ‘ This is incredibly shocking for the viewer to hear and it persuades them to think that there needs to be a change in the gun laws, because it cannot be this easy to purchase and use firearms and cause such carnage.
Overall, this sequence has a very big impact on the viewer and is very effective at persuading them to think that the gun laws in the US need to be changed and made stricter so that such events cannot repeat themselves. The impression is cleverly created by Moore, who uses techniques such as powerful imagery of the massacre, the editing of Charlton Heston’s speech, positioning within the film as well as audio from recorded emergency calls. All of these combine to create a profound effect on the reader and Moore is very successful in manipulating the mind of the reader by using such techniques.
The final key sequence within this film is the ‘Brief History of the United States’ cartoon. This is an animation which simplifies some of the key events throughout American history in an attempt to find out why the USA has such high rates of gun crime. The purpose of this sequence is to mock and point out the nature of American culture and the fact that live in a society of constant fear and this is why there are such high gun crime rates. In this sequence, Moore uses techniques such as statistics, positioning, audio and imagery to persuade the viewer that the reason for the high gun crime is the culture of fear that America live in.
This cartoon is positioned at the end of the film and that is very effective at persuading the viewer because this cartoon deals with the reason for the high gun crime, i. e. the reason why for the Columbine massacre and 9/11 attacks and this means that the viewer will be more likely to agree with it as they have seen the effects of firearms. Prior to the cartoon, Moore shows the statistics about the number of deaths caused by guns in several countries and this shows the US to be far higher than other countries: ‘Japan 39’ and ‘USA 11,127.
Moore shows the high figures of the US just after the low figures of Japan and this huge difference highlights how lax the gun laws are in the US. This makes it more effective as it makes the US seem worse and the problem seem greater and therefore that there is a greater need for there to be a change in gun laws. Moore uses simple cartons and basic drawings throughout this illustration and this means that it is appropriate for people of all ages, and even young children, which highlights how the problem affects everyone and not just adults.
The fact that the narrator of the cartoon is a bullet which is constantly smiling and friendly encourages people to use guns and they are not dangerous, even though they clearly are. The cartoon format which Moore chose for this sequence is very sarcastic and jovial, which illustrates how the issue is not being taken seriously enough and this persuades the viewer that there needs to be a change in attitude and laws in the US.
Moore cleverly omits certain periods of American history in order to show the US in a bad light; Moore only shows the parts of history in which American have been violent and used guns and they never mentioned any of the good deeds which America has done. This is very effective as it manipulates the viewer into thinking that America is all bad, when that is not necessarily the case. This is effective at persuading the viewer as they believe that change has to be taken in order for America to stop committing such bad behaviours such as burning witches and slavery.