Thursday, April 29, 2004

Dude, Where’s My Country, By Michael Moore, Read by David D. Morin, Time Warner AudioBooks, 2003

As someone who has voted for Dennis Kucinich in each election he and I have both, in our separate ways, participated in save the Presidential primary, I have come to hear his name rather regularly. As one of the ten Democrats who ran in the primary season, his name was on television with a fair amount of frequency. You would expect that David D. Morin, the narrator of Michael Moore’s newest polemic, Dude, Where’s My Country, would probably have heard of him as well. Or Ann Coulter for that matter. But you would be wrong.

Perhaps it is unfair to expect the narrator of certain audiobooks to be familiar with the subject matter presented herein. One suspects that book narrators have political views just like everyone else and that if you disagreed with the work’s content, then you’d neither volunteer to read the work nor accept the assignment. One hardly imagines Elie Wiesel saying, “Oh, you want me to read an audio version of The Turner Diaries? Sure, no problem.”

Instead, Morin pronounces Coulter’s name, which sounds like it looks like it sounds, as Coal-tair. Kucinich comes in for the worst of it with his name being rendered Coo-cynich, accent on the Coo and the cynich following in a murmur. (For the record, Dennis’ name is pronounced Kə-Sin-Itch.) This sounds like nitpicking probably and it’s not as if the book’s main subject matter is either of these two public figures, but it’s distracting when it does happen. It’s one of those small things that make you inwardly rank the whole project a little lower.

Which is a shame, because Moore’s latest work has some real good moments where he really gets going and buries you under an avalanche of things to be outraged about.

Ever heard of “dead peasants’ insurance”? If not, don’t be surprised. It’s a dirty little secret of some companies (like the terminally evil shitsucks at Wal-Mart and Enron). Apparently, they buy insurance policies on employees that they don’t tell the employees about, hold on to it for years, then when the employee croaks, they get a nice fat payout the relatives have no legal leg to address. Pretty disgusting, huh?

And there’s plenty more. At some points the information overload made me wish I was in fact reading the book instead of listening as the sometimes byzantine web of corporations with ties inside the Bush Administration may become hard to follow. Granted, very little of this was stuff I didn’t know as I had become addicted to political blogs since about the date the Supreme Court installed President Shit-For-Brains, but I tried to imagine people like my sister or mother reading this, people who are generally far more aware of the names of the finalists on any given reality show than their local representatives. I imagined jaws hitting the floor.

The book’s strengths are its relative ease of reading (or listening). Moore is an entertaining character and he manages to give the medicine that spoonful of sugar to make it go down a little easier. His humor, while oftentimes being a little too broad of the mark for my tastes, is fun and biting without being despairingly bleak or too rah-rah-pep talk depending on circumstances. Oftentimes he can be a bit sloppy in his writing and in his marshalling of the facts, but overall he manages to compress the voluminous instances of corruption into a finely argued essay form. His “Draft Oprah” movement is particularly clever. I think, regardless of whether or not she’d be a good President, she’d be a tough opponent to run against. Who is going to run an attack ad on Oprah—and more importantly, who is going to believe it?

Moore, despite being hyper-partisan, devotes a lengthy portion of the book to listing the left’s mistakes over the past year and suggests that if liberals admitted those mistakes in their personal arguments with conservatives, they’d have an easier time swaying them to the liberal positions. A few of these are cringe inducing (he’s right, damn it!) and some are shuddersome (never in a million years will I give Nixon credit for being the most liberal of our last few Presidents).

The weaknesses of the book are those you see in people who were never very cool to begin with when they try to be Mr. Life and Soul of the Party. Moore can be a bit dorky and can wear his ideals a little too on his sleeve for a cynic like me, so at points I sat there listening with a bit of embarrassment, the kind you feel for people who are making asses of themselves but don’t know it. The chapter in which Moore purports to be God interrupting the book to make a few points is stupid, and Moore tries to shoehorn too many liberal talking points into it. (For the record, Al Franken does a similar thing in the introduction to his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and the two prose pieces could be laid side by side for a Do and Do Not Do comparison.) I won’t belabor philosophizing in this review, but Moore seems to demonstrate the belief that God is just like him, exactly issue for issue. An example of Moore’s somewhat illogical stance comes from this section.

GodMoore mocks George Bush for saying that he will rid the world of evildoers. GodMoore says this is a ridiculous goal, dredging up that tired old chestnut about how evil is necessary to define good, etc. etc. Then GodMoore suggests that you, the reader, should go out and rid the world of evil yourself by being nice to people and helping the downtrodden. But GodMoore, isn’t this evil necessary—like you’ve just told us?

A much finer example of Moore’s powers and abilities comes in his own letter to Bush the chapter “Woo Hoo! I Got Me a Tax Cut!” Here the kind of schleppy Everyman slob talking back to the powers-that-be, as in his debut film Roger & Me, comes to the fore. Here Moore plays to his strengths. He skewers the fallacious tax reasoning and spending habits of Bush and ends with the promise to spend every last dime of his tax refund to oust Bush from office. This is by far the strongest chapter in the book. A close second is the chapter on the liberal paradise you can visit or move to, if you like. (I won’t tell you where it is.)

The book ends with a set of “marching orders” regarding things like how to get out the vote, how to in just ten minutes a day help to defeat Bush and how to improve the country and your part of it in general. Dude, Where’s My Country is a surprisingly optimistic book and leaves a smile on your face after you’re done listening.

As the book is chock-a-block full of facts, Moore suggests that the listener visit his website for the footnotes to each chapter. This is weak. I’m sure after penning the number one nonfiction book of the year the year previous (Stupid White Men), Moore could have dictated his terms to his publishers. The lack of footnotes is simply a ploy to get you on to his website, which spills over with a million different links, graphics, contacts, etc. etc. The helpfulness factor of having the footnotes online, though, is that you can link the reader to all kinds of facts, fact-checking, and other points of interest. Perhaps Moore’s goal all along here is to get you off your ass (metaphorically) and on to his site where you’ll find enough connections to get off your ass (literally).

The reader of the book is passable, but little else. His voice is fair if nasal, yet he lacks the kind of enthusiasm you can hear in the word choices of Moore. He renders every usage of “Dude” with a flat barely emphatic surfer twang but little else. Based on all the voice over work Moore’s done with his own films, it surprised me that he didn’t read his own book. A quick check through Amazon shows he hasn’t read any of his own books. Curious. Perhaps with making movies, making enemies, and updating his site, the man is just a hair too busy. At least until November, I want the man to be busy.

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