Michael Moore’s “Slacker Uprising” (2008)

You won’t find Michael Moore’s new movie in your local movie theater, but you can watch it for free.  Slacker Uprising, the sixth feature-length documentary from the well-known political filmmaker, is premiering online for free.  The film can be downloaded or streamed via http://slackeruprising.com/ as well as other outlets.

In the film, Moore describes his work as the “antipropaganda” to the media-led Bush propaganda machine.  He laments, however, that people have to pay money to encounter his work while they can access the news media for free.  Moore and company found the solution in making Slacker as widely accessible as possible.  In addition to the free online access, free DVD copies can be requested for schools and libraries and, for those who want their own, DVDs can be purchased online.

The film chronicles Moore’s fall 2004 tour in advance of that year’s presidential contest.  Moore visited 60 cities in 20 battleground states in an attempt to get the 50 million nonvoters to get off their butts and vote.  The film begins with extended samples of Moore’s public addresses and a smattering of everyday American’s views before deferring to those everyday Americans–in particular veterans and relatives of Iraq war casualties. Most of the “last reel” of the documentary focuses on Moore, spotlighting Republican attempts to cancel his speaking tour.

The film features an all-star cast of celebrities appearing and/or performing around Moore while on tour.  There is a memorable number from Eddie Vedder (performing Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy”) as well as an always amazing performance by Steve Earle.  Michale Stipes, Rosanne Barr, Viggo Mortensen, Joan Baez, and  Tom Morelo also appear.

At its best, Slacker provides an entry into some of the groundswell political changes among youth culture in the early 21st century United States.  As a college professor who has spent the last 18 years of his life on numerous campuses, I have been struck at the kinds of political certitude you see among young people today.  Most of the students I encounter are passionately and fervently behind their political candidate and sure of their opposition to “the other guy.”  (Most of that support is directed at Obama, but McCain has his disciples as well.)  That this kind of passion and certainty is the seeming majority of the college-age population is a HUGE difference from what I saw statewide in California during the 1990s.

My generation (“Gen X”) was legendary for its so-called “apathy.”  I never found that to be the case, but I did find a dominant current of skepticism and lack of willingness to trust large institutions.  That cultural tendency spilled over into the political realm, too.  I don’t pretend to be the guy whose life experience is charateristic of everyone in his generation, but I do feel I can say with some authority that this was something of the pattern in higher education in this state.

But the trend seems to be changing, and Slacker Uprising is reflective of the shift.  While Moore sees this as an apathetic population becoming active, I would view it as a much broader shift of youth become more specific and certain in their political commitments.  (In my mind, I figure this is how it was during the Regan years, without all the pro-Reagan kind of stuff.)  Moore is masterful and showing some of the public events he creates as being a hybrid of political revival, rock concert, and impending revolution.

Slacker is not as strong or durable as Moore’s other work, often falling into a self-referrential posture.  Moore is the story of his movie now and, in a wierd way, so is his film.  For these reasons, I’m not sure it would have worked as anything other than a widely available form of self-conscious political propaganda.  Especially after Fahrenheit 9/11, he would have had a hard time getting this released in a traditional sense since it seems like another issue of the same magazine, not to mention the concern about becoming a one-note kind of critic.

That said, it is a worthwhile film as a snapshot of the current state of college-campus politics, as well as for Moore’s organized critique of the political setting.  If he’s a bit too heavy handed here–as he just might be–well, Vedder’s performance comes in the first third of the film, so you get some good stuff quick enough; and if you stick around, Rosanne is ball-buster toward the end.

Slacker Uprising.  Directed by Michael Moore, Dog Eat Dog Films (2008).  Running time 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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