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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 15:17 GMT
Michael Moore: Baseball-capped crusader
Michael Moore
With his off-beat, angry humour, the creator of TV Nation has already stuck many a thorn in the side of America's most resilient corporations. Michael Moore casts his gaze on his country's Stupid White Men in general, and one leader in particular. By Caroline Frost of the BBC News Profiles Unit.

Michael Moore is still in despair over the fiasco of the last US presidential election. He calls President Bush "a thief-in-chief, a trespasser on federal land, a squatter at the Oval Office". He is talking about one of the most popular American leaders in history, at a time when the States are especially United. Is Moore just asking for trouble?

Well, what he's got is a huge literary hit. His new book Stupid White Men has this week gone to the top of the best-seller lists across America. A good-humoured rant against the state of the nation, it's been on the shelves for less than a month and is already on its ninth print.
The cover of Michael Moore's Stupid White Men
Moore's book has become a best-seller

This being Michael Moore, the book's release did not escape controversy. With many new titles suddenly scheduled for release in the weeks following 11 September last year, publishers HarperCollins delayed shipping copies of Moore's volume to stores, believing the content to be insensitive.

Moore had planned to contribute extra material, but was angered by the publishers' request to soften his tone and contribute to printing costs. "They wanted me to censor myself and then pay for the right to censor myself," he declared.

Stupid White Men finally hit the shops in its original form this month. Moore remains convinced that Bush should not be in the White House and explains: "I felt exactly the same about him on 12th September as I had on the 10th."

Family concern

Such Goliath-bashing is nothing new for this guerrilla-journalist. With such shows as TV Nation - shown in the UK on BBC Two - Moore swung his satirical spotlight on the political arena, and sought to expose the hypocrisy and corruption of big-bucks America.


Old white men wielding martinis and wearing dickies have occupied our nation's capital

Moore's analysis of the current US political landscape

And Moore also launched the career of Britain's very own celebrity iconoclast Louis Theroux, who first came to fame on TV Nation.

Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, Michael Moore was propelled on to screen by the decision of General Motors to close the factory that employed most of his family. Moore "just got mad" and tracked down company chairman Roger Smith, to confront him.

He also decided to make a film of his experience. He was 35 years old, "had seen lots of movies, and just thought, well, how difficult could it be?"

Diverse appeal

The end result, the light-hearted but moving Roger and Me won a host of international awards, became one of America's most successful ever documentaries and made Moore a multi-millionaire.

Moore's first film Roger & Me
Moore's first film made him a millionaire
Since then his shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth have successfully conveyed a spirit of dark humour and disbelief at the reality behind the American dream.

Unlike most liberal dissenters, Moore has found his niche. He enjoys his "very wide, broad audience that goes deep into mainstream America". Variety magazine called The Awful Truth "the most daring show on television," and Moore enjoys a high approval rating with students.

His speciality has been to undercut the obvious poignancy of his stories with a mischievous streak. When major health organisation HMO refused to fund the life-saving operation of cancer sufferer Chris Donahue, Moore took him to their offices.

Stunt man

He asked their PR chief to help him choose a coffin. He staged a funeral on the company's well-tended lawns. Asked for a final wish, Donahue even chirped up, "I just want a pancreas". Before long, HMO had agreed to pay for any treatment.

Louis Theroux
TV Nation gave Louis Theroux his big break
On another occasion, the film-maker gathered a crowd of carol-singers onto the porch of a tobacco company. But with a typical Moore twist, the sound was a cacophony of voice-boxes. The whole group had lost their larynxes due to smoking.

Moore just tells the stories and trusts his viewers to make judgements. He says: "I trust the intelligence of the audience, that they'll get it and know where we're coming from."

His gadfly approach has enjoyed results. Nike chief Phil Knight quailed under Moore's forensic examination of his company's employment practices. Nike subsequently announced an increase in the minimum age of its Indonesian factory workers.

Everyone wins

Of course, the irony is that the major players Moore seeks to humble are the same big spenders who sponsor his television programmes and books. The more successful his form of guerrilla journalism, the more money they all make

Michael Moore
Pitching to the people: Perennially capped Moore
Moore waits for the day his audiences take on the struggle themselves, saying, "One day there'll be no need for me. I'm actually hoping to put myself out of business".

In the meantime, he's content to exploit his financial appeal. Of these hungry corporate animals, he explains: "One of the wonderful flaws of capitalists is that they will actually help me produce something against their interests, if they can make a dime out of it."

Stupid they may be, but not that stupid.


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27 Feb 02 | Entertainment
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