This election year, with stakes and tempers high, a potent non-fiction genre is emerging: the agit-doc, dealing with high-octane political issues, often in a confrontational tone, Corliss writes. Trailing on Moore’s box office clout, they are surging into the mainstream. One agit-doc, The Hunting of the President, co-directed by Clinton pal Harry Thomason, was originally to go to 30 theaters; now its distributor has revved the number to 125, and has put the film’s trailer on many screens showing Fahrenheit 9/11. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which books films to be shown on military bases around the world, has contacted Fahrenheit’s distributor to book the film, TIME reports.
“We’ve underestimated the audience’s desire to see (political) material,” says Robert Greenwald, director of Uncovered: The War on Iraq, a sober and devastating critique of Bush foreign policy. “I don’t think it’s about hating the President. It’s that politics has been brought home to the deepest part of ourselves. People now feel ‘Politics is Me’.”
Today people get their news and, just as important, their attitudes from more rambunctious sources: from the polarized polemicists on talk radio and cable news channels, from comedians and webmasters. That’s poli-tainment, and as practiced by Rush Limbaugh and a host of right-wing radio hosts, and by Matt Drudge on the internet, it hounded Bill Clinton’s presidency while spicing and coarsening the standards of political discourse, Corliss writes.
Fahrenheit 9/11 may be the watershed event that demonstrates whether the empire of poli-tainment can have decisive influence on a presidential campaign, Corliss writes. If it does, we may come to look back on its hugely successful first week the way we now think of the televised presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, as a moment when we grasped for the first time the potential of a mass medium to affect American politics in new ways. In which case, expect the next generation of campaign strategists to precede every major election not only with the traditional TV ad buys but also with a scheme for the rollout of some thermonuclear book or movie or CD or even video game, all designed to tilt the political balance just in time, Corliss writes.
Andrew Sullivan asks: Is Michael Moore Actually Mel Gibson’s Alter Ego? In a related essay, Sullivan writes, “There are times when the far right and the far left are so close in methodology as to be indistinguishable. And both movies are not just terrible as movies—crude, boring, gratuitous; they are also deeply corrosive of the possibility of real debate and reason in our culture. They replace argument with feeling, reasoned persuasion with the rawest of group loyalties.”
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Contact: Ty Trippet,TIME,212-522-3640