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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Which side are you on?
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

US film-maker Michael Moore's conflict with his country's government has led to suggestions that he is unpatriotic. He is not the first American artist to face the charge.

Michael Moore
Moore has been an outspoken critic of President Bush
Moore says the White House tried to block his film Fahrenheit 9/11, which is critical of the Bush administration and its role in foreign affairs after 11 September.

Moore's allegation in front of the world's media at Cannes - which has received no response from the White House - has renewed the ire of his opponents who say he is anti-American.

In being critical of the government of the day, he belongs to a long tradition of US writers, directors, musicians and comics who have been castigated for a perceived lack of patriotism.

During the early 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, a host of Hollywood actors directors, producers and writers were hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).

The so-called witch-hunt, part of Senator Joseph McCarthy's crusade against alleged communists in government and public life, became known as McCarthyism.

Its targets included On The Waterfront director Elia Kazan, who gave eight names to the committee, and screenwriter Arthur Miller, who was blacklisted by Hollywood when he refused to testify.

Chaplin probe

As far back as the 1920s, British-born comic acting legend Charlie Chaplin was under investigation by the FBI seeking evidence of his supposed Communist sympathies, although none was ever found.

In the 1960s, Barbarella actor Jane Fonda led Hollywood's contingent of left-leaning liberal artists who openly opposed the Vietnam war, earning herself the nickname Hanoi Jane.

Dixie Chicks
The Dixie Chicks outraged some US citizens with an anti-Bush comment
The anti-war tradition in Hollywood has remained, with outspoken opposition against US involvement in Iraq from actors such as Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen and Danny Glover.

Musicians have also had their say. Folk singer Woody Guthrie's most famous song, This Land Is Your Land, written in 1940, was inspired in part by his dislike of Irving Berlin's God Bless America, which he considered an unrealistic portrayal of US life.

Guthrie, an ardent political activist born of the Depression, was blacklisted in the 1950s, and declared: "I ain't a Communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life."

John Lennon was reputedly put under government surveillance over his political activism after his move to New York in 1971.

His efforts to become a US citizen were allegedly hampered as the authorities repeatedly sought his deportation.

Country dispute

Two years ago, country artist Steve Earle was attacked for his song John Walker's Blues, about John Walker Lindh, a converted US Muslim who pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
John Lennon was reputedly investigated by the FBI during the 1970s
In one verse Earle sings, "I'm just an American boy, raised on MTV, And I've seen all the kids in the soda pop bands, but none of them look like me".

Some commentators in Nashville, the traditional home of country, branded the song unpatriotic. Nashville radio talk show host Steve Gill said "it celebrates and glorifies a traitor to this country".

More recently, country music stations pulled the Dixie Chicks' music after singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed that President Bush hailed from Texas.


Stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, who died in 1994 aged 32, became a fierce critic of the first US-led war in the Gulf war, as well as America's growing corporate influence on the world economy.

Thirty years earlier, comic Lenny Bruce became the subject of FBI scrutiny for his revolutionary style of humour which satirised the hypocrisies of American life.

Dr Joanne Mancini, lecturer in American history at Sussex University, said unlike many other anti-government US artists, Michael Moore was promoting the idea of citizenship.

"He seems to be bringing back a 19th Century tradition in American culture," she said, "fusing the idea of citizenship with the need to criticise the failures of government.

"In a way he is part of a much longer tradition of the US of defining patriotism in terms of the willingness to look into the dark side of American politics, and to confront it and pursue a different path."

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