Guerrilla video

The sharpest critic of any prophecy is time. And "the revolution will not be televised" is shaping up as a keeper. Despite its many telegenic flashpoints of violence and mayhem, history is an evolutionary, not revolutionary, force. For every dream of a new tomorrow like the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is a nightmare of yesterday’s evil waiting in Kosovo.

For that very reason, those of us who refuse to believe that capitalism is now the undisputed heavyweight champion of ideologies can take comfort. The bigger it gets, the more blind spots, the more contradictions it produces. No doubt there are plenty of Serb ethnic cleansers, togged out in Nike T-shirts underneath their fatigues, pining for a Big Mac after a long day of rack and rape.

Clearly, Michael Moore sees opportunity for dissent. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made the effort to bring us "The Awful Truth," a new 12-part series appearing on Bravo, of all places.

The debut episode featured two exposés of wildly varying quality. After a rather lame stand-up routine by Moore – no George Carlin is he – in front of an audience not unlike Conan O’Brien’s, he tags along with a crew of actors dolled up as Salem witchhunters. They lay siege to Capitol Hill where they confront various House managers of the Clinton impeachment, all of whom look very uncomfortable.

"Fornicator," yells the preacher as maidens fall faint to the ground. It’s funny – for about five minutes. Then it’s not. Larry Flynt did a much better job of showing up the hypocrisy of Bob Barr and his ilk. And you couldn’t cook up a more barbed vignette than Bob Livingston being taunted just before he announced his resignation right on the floor of Congress.

The second exposé is far superior. Moore introduces us to Chris, a gent who looks not unlike Moore – beefy and scruffy in a noble, working-class way. We learn that Chris is a diabetic whose health care provider has denied him the pancreas transplant he needs if he is to continue being a good father to his two little girls. With glib outrage, Moore spirits Chris to the headquarters of Humana Inc., the enormous health care providers. They are greeted by yet another pudgy white man, Greg Donaldson, who instead of either giggling – which would have defused Moore’s smart-ass indignation – or just tossing him out, equivocates with plenty of corporate PR bullshit. The camera eats it up.

Down in the lobby, Moore and Chris hand out invitations to Chris’ imminent funeral. And I do mean imminent. Within moments, a hearse pulls up and a mock funeral procession gets under way. Humana employees are seen glumly watching the spectacle through the glass of their po-mo citadel. Victory is at hand. Not only does Humana agree to pay for Chris’ transplant, but they change their entire transplant policy.

As much as one admires Moore for his pluck, the limitations of his gig are woefully apparent. For all his progressive credentials, Moore embraces a Pat Buchananesque nostalgia, right down to his blue-collar attire and dumpy, working-stiff posturing. He began Roger & Me with an ode to the heyday of union life in Flint, when generations toiled for General Motors, believing that the good times and good money would never end. They did, and Moore wanted to know why. But that’s the essence of capitalism, baby. When companies can afford it, they’re compassionate. When they can’t, competition wins out. Just like evolution. Governments can try to civilize the market, but the siren song of cheap labor will always beckon from afar.

Moore’s other problem is the nature of television. Calling this "guerrilla video" is pretty big talk. Doesn’t that better describe clandestine documentaries made by Solidarity in Poland during the 1980s than a production, even with a strategically low-budget aesthetic, deemed "mainstream" enough for Bravo. If the demographics are what I think, Moore will be preaching to an upscale choir, even as he proclaims that the show broadcasts from the "People’s Democratic Republic of Television."

Wishful thinking. Really, in all honesty, how many of the working poor and lower middle class, the ones most fucked over by corporate skulduggery, will tune in Bravo? Sunday night belongs to Fox and "Touched by an Angel." No doubt advertisers, knowing the audience, are lining up for spots. Just as stars fight tooth and nail for cameos in anti-Hollywood films such as The Player, corporations want to be in on radical chic like "The Awful Truth." Nothing sells like the appearance of dissent.

If I sound cynical, I am. How can one put the ghost of dissent into a machine that is so adept at ghostbusting? How does one even preach to the choir when the choir drives SUVs and dies a thousand deaths every time the stock market hiccups?

Still, television offers an inviting mirage to people like Moore. It seems both democratic and banal, ripe for subversion. Alas, it is hardly such. Television’s surf of sham pitches and glossy illusions is so loud that the contrarian ripples of Moore’s exposés disappear quickly under the waves. Perhaps in a month or two, Humana will once again deny transplants, betting the public’s memory is as short as its attention span.

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