Shooting ironic: Bang, bang-- you're dead

The people who say irony is dead probably tried to kill it with a handgun, but the post-ironic age will never arrive while Michael Moore (Roger & Me) draws breath.

With a lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association for cred, Moore takes on the gun people in Bowling for Columbine, a Moore-ish documentary that tries to get at the root of gun violence, which claims over 10,000 lives a year in the US– as opposed to mere double-digit figures in the UK, Australia, and Japan, and triple digits in our Northern neighbor, Canada.

With his depressed hometown of Flint, Michigan, as the center of his universe, Moore finds local angles with a zeal any media person would envy. One of the boys who shot up Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, had spent part of his childhood in Flint when his father was stationed at an Air Force base across the river. Closer to home, a six-year-old boy shot a six-year-old girl in first grade at Buell Elementary in Flint.

Because Moore is the kind of "journalist" who thinks getting a door slammed in his face is news, he tries to interview Dick Clark. The connection (try to follow this): The six-year-old shooter's single mother was in a county-mandated "work-for-welfare" program (of which Moore disapproves). Every day she traveled 40 miles each way by bus to a "rich people's mall" where she worked two jobs, one of them in a franchise restaurant: Dick Clark's American Bandstand. (Clark's lucky he wasn't tried as an accessory!)

More to the point are an at-home interview with NRA president Charlton Heston, another Michigan native, who says nothing unexpected; and an assault on K-mart headquarters, where Moore brings two disabled survivors of Columbine "to return the merchandise"– bullets embedded in their bodies which may have been purchased at K-mart. The result of this ambush surprises even Moore.

The film sends up and shoots down various theories about why the US has so many gun killings compared to other "civilized" countries. Our government's international relations are obliquely blamed in a montage (to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World") showing 50 years of interfering in other countries' affairs, usually by replacing democratically elected officials with dictators.

The theory that seems to stick is that we're a paranoid nation, with TV news focused on making us afraid of things, especially by emphasizing violence. Rocker Marilyn Manson, who was scape-goated in the Columbine killings, describes a newscast as alternately pushing fear and consumption.

Clips are shown to scare viewers about everything from sharks and killer bees to escalators and Halloween apples. Moore accuses a former producer of Cops of spreading fear by "demonizing" blacks and Hispanics.

Matt Stone, co-creator of South Park, tells of growing up in Colorado and describes how he and Trey Parker took out their aggressions through cartooning rather than shooting. He says students' attitudes can be traced to the message they receive from sixth grade on: "Don't f*ck up. If you do, you're gonna be losers forever."

Although he manages to be solemn and respectful in the presence of extreme grief, Moore's tongue spends most of its time in his cheek, finding humor in all but the grimmest situations. When you think about what's going on in the world, you've got to laugh or cry, and he chooses to laugh.

I feel the same way and share most of Moore's political views, so I enjoy the hell out of his films and TV shows. I don't think I'd want to hang with him for an extended period of time, but I appreciate his message and the way he puts it across.