Column

Michael Moore, You Used to Be My Hero

By Glenn Sacks

Michael Moore, you used to be my hero.

Back in the days of your pro-worker documentary Roger & Me (1989), I was working construction at a power plant in the South and you were the one public figure who seemed to speak for working men. The one who questioned the right of a business to take what it wants from a community and then pull out in search of cheaper labor, leaving a trail of unemployment and broken lives behind. The one who opposed union busting and corporate plunder.

Spending every day hanging by my hook belt off the side of a rebar skeleton 50 feet up in the air, my life seemed to be out of a Michael Moore documentary. I remember one time a journeyman electrician with a rope in one hand and his tool box in the other called me down to help him. We walked over to a large room filled with immense electrical panels. He told me to stand 10 feet behind him and hold the rope. He then made the other part of the rope into a harness, put it on, and said "I’m gonna work on these wires, and some of them are live. If I hit the wrong one and start to fry, you pull me out."

I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t.

"Why don’t they turn off the power so you can do this without being in danger?" I asked.

"Company won’t do it. Too expensive."

"More expensive than your life?"

"To them."

On our job the pay rate for new construction was significantly higher than for repairs, so the company chiseled us by classifying everything as repairs. We built a backup generator on an empty plot of land absolutely from scratch yet were paid substantially less because the company classified it as a repair job. I remember thinking "this would be perfect for a Michael Moore documentary."

According to a recent New York Times investigative series by David Barstow, there have been over 170,000 workplace deaths in the United States since 1982. Working at the power plant I could believe it. Over lunch every man had a horror story to tell, either about what happened to him or what happened to his buddy on this job or at another. The guy who repaired power lines and hit a live wire while working 20 feet up and is only alive today because his buddy kicked him off the pole. The guy who shot his nailgun into a knot in wood and the nail glanced off and nailed his hand to the wall–just before his ladder came out from under him. The guy who got his leg jammed in a threading device, and who ended up with a threaded stump of a leg which looked like a large bloody screw. These stories, as well as the powerful brotherhood between the men, would fit well into a Michael Moore documentary.

Once we saw a standard safety film which depicted all kinds of workplace maimings, most of which are too gory to describe. I sat in the back of the room but after a few minutes I couldn’t watch any more and put my head down. A few minutes later I looked up and realized that everyone in the room was turned around looking at me. The instructor tried to be polite, but one worker barked "Nothin’ in that film that we ain’t seen up close before."

Michael, I can’t say that I ever agreed that corporate CEOs were devils–I saw them as being more misguided and out of touch than evil–but you more than anybody articulated the feelings and views of working class men. The men who put their bodies on the line on construction sites and in factories, mines, and refineries so their wives and children can live in safety and comfort. The millions of men who have been killed or maimed since the industrialization of this country on what early trade unionists called the "battlefield of labor." All of these men have been edited out of our past and present because nobody wants to remember or acknowledge them. The Right doesn’t dwell on struggling blue collar workers and the Left is beholden to the feminists, for whom any mention of men as special contributors or as victims is forbidden.

But Michael, you have betrayed those whose cause you once championed. Once the voice of the unappreciated working man, I have watched in amazement and dismay as you have degenerated into one of the all too common scourges of our society–the low rent man-basher who pours derision upon the last remaining politically correct target of bigotry: men.

Men are a target in both your recent book Dude, Where’s My Country? and your mega bestseller Stupid White Men. In Dude you criticize the Democratic Party for "watering down their beliefs to appeal to all of the dumb white guys out there"–I guess you mean the guys at the power plant–and you imply that the Democrats should simply write them off in 2004.

In your view these are the guys who "long for the days of Strom Thurmond and legally accepted date rape," and who oppose abortion because they are male chauvinists who want to control women. You even compare opposition to abortion to opposing women’s right to vote. These claims don’t square with reality, since polls, including a CBS poll conducted last year around the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, have shown that men and women support choice at equal rates.

In your chapter "The End of Men" from Stupid White Men you cite declining male birthrates as evidence that "Nature is trying to kill us off" and that men have done "plenty" to "deserve this." Men have "made a mess of our world. Women? They deserve none of the blame. They continued to bring life into this world; we continued to destroy it whenever we could…how many women have spilled oil into oceans, dumped toxins in our food supply, or insisted that the new SUV designs had to be bigger, bigger, bigger?…[Men] are working overtime to wipe out this beautiful, wonderful home we were given free of charge…no wonder Nature is getting rid of us."

On Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher you asked "how many women have created factories that have polluted this environment?…most of the crap in this world came from a guy" and said "[It’s not] female fishermen doing all that extra fishing, ruining the oceans. It’s the men ruining the oceans. Name a woman who’s ruined the oceans."

The central flaw in all of these statements is so obvious I wouldn’t bother pointing it out except that it seems nobody else has. Yes, Michael, few women have created factories which have polluted the environment, just as few women have created factories which have produced the staples of modern civilization. You vilify men for large SUV designs without giving them credit for the miracle of modern transportation. You blame men for "spilled oil into oceans" without giving them credit for the millions of metric tons of oil which are transported by sea each year, almost all of it without incident.

You also enthusiastically try to sell many of the standard modern canards about men. For example, you hammer on men for the largely mythical "wage gap," a gap created by male sacrifice more than by male privilege. Men work the longest hours at the most demanding and dangerous jobs–how could they not earn more money? Do you really believe that the secretaries at the power plant should have earned as much for working in a safe, air conditioned office as we did for braving hazards and working in the 100 degree heat? If demanding and dangerous jobs didn’t pay more than safe jobs of an equal skill level, how would companies get anybody to do them?

Studies that compare men and women working the same hours at the same jobs at the same experience level found little if any wage discrimination against women, and herein lies one more contradiction in your thinking. You have criticized the greedy capitalists for breaking unions, leveling entire industries, and throwing men out of work to shift jobs to cheap labor havens. Do you really believe that these same capitalists, out of the pure kindness of their philanthropic hearts, voluntarily choose to pay male workers more than females?

You tell us that "a woman is five times more likely to be killed by a husband or boyfriend than a man is likely to be murdered by his wife or girlfriend." Actually, official statistics put it at two or three to one, not five to one, and when poisonings, hired killers, and unsolved murders are properly accounted for, domestic homicide rates may actually be about even. Let’s hope that your female readers understand that your section instructing men on how they can survive their beds being set on fire by their angry wives as they sleep is just a joke. Which it is. I think.

You top off your chapter with an asinine semi-endorsement of fatherlessness at a time when the costs of fatherlessness couldn’t be clearer or more devastating. I doubt many fatherless children will thank you for it.

What’s even more amazing, Michael is that you’ve gotten away with all of this. With thousands of conservative pundits, talk show hosts, and web-based commentators looking for sticks to beat you with, few if any have cited your anti-male bigotry. To the limited extent that reviewers (such as CNN’s Robert Nebel) have commented on "The End of Men," it has not been to criticize its bigotry but to praise it. With your help, Michael, our society has become so desensitized to man-bashing, man-blaming, and man-mocking that apparently nobody even noticed.

Needless to say, your friends at the National Organization for Women ate it up. NOW’s Communications Director Lisa Bennett said ‘The End of Men’ "should warm the hearts of feminists" and gleefully noted that it "details the havoc that men have wreaked on women, government, and the planet."

And Michael, don’t try to dismiss this despicable chapter as being a joke or an attempt at satire. After your mother’s death you expressed your grief to the Guardian and said "…she was reading it and when we came back to the house after she died, it was sitting out there with the page marked where she had left off, and she was on the chapter about the end of men…and I’m sure she loved that."

How wonderful–your dying mother’s last connection with the work and beliefs of her now famous son was to revel in his man-bashing. Sticking the knife in men’s backs warmed mommy’s heart in her final days. You’ve previously described your upbringing as being decidedly matriarchal, with your mother and your two angry feminist sisters calling the shots. It must have been some childhood.

Interesting too that while you have so often emphasized a class based analysis of society, you seem happy to chuck all that stuff overboard when speaking about men. In your words and writing the men who run a Fortune 500 company are indistinguishable from the common blue collar worker. They’re all men, so they’re all "in control," have all the power, and are united in one large, extremely profitable conspiracy against women. Michael, you’re the socialist, not me, but even I know that Marx, Lenin, Trotsky & Co. always held social class to be a vastly greater determinant of privilege in capitalist society than gender.

More importantly, is it any wonder that men, including working class men, spurn the political party you shill for? According to a recently released ABC/Washington Post poll, white men (pardon me, Michael, stupid white men) preferred Bush over an unnamed Democrat in 2004 by a staggering 33 points.

Some of the pro-Bush sentiment may stem from a sense that many of the left-wing attacks on George Bush–particularly yours, Michael–seem more rooted in a personal animus than a disagreement over policies. I suspect that if tomorrow Bush instituted free universal health care, nationalized industry, and declared the dictatorship of the proletariat, you still wouldn’t have a kind word to say about him.

But the biggest reason men have turned away from your party is simple–why should men support a party which doesn’t support them? Why go to a party nobody invited you to? Why go where you’re clearly not welcome?

Michael, it saddens me that the beleaguered men at that power plant have lost a valuable friend and gained one more enemy. It saddens me to watch you and your party marginalize yourselves and slowly commit political suicide by spitting on those who once admired and supported you. And when your party gets trounced among male voters in 2004, I know what explanation you’ll give. In fact, you’ve already written it in Stupid White Men: "men are just not as smart as women."

 

 

 

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