Bowling for Columbine: Critically Interrogating the Industry of Fear

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... the monopoly of legitimate symbolic violence [is] the power to impose the arbitrary instruments of knowledge and expressions of social reality ... (cited in Bourdieu, 1991: 168).

THE LEGITIMIZATION OF VIOLENCE, BOTH MATERIAL AND SYMBOLIC, VIA THE manufacturing and perpetuation of fear, appears to be rampant and examples are abundant. Beware of SARS. (1) Cancel travel plans to the Far East or Toronto. In fact, think twice about eating at your favorite Chinese restaurant since we are told to be afraid that Asian immigrants, who might be infected, could be eating next to you. While you address those fears, be sure to protect yourself and your family from street gangs. The media, politicians, and corporate interests--"in the everlasting battle for the minds of men" (cited in Chomsky, 1996: 17)--constantly tell us that youth crime is widespread, even in the suburbs. Of course, there is the greatest fear of all: terrorism. We are warned that sleeper cells among us can strike anywhere, anytime. Every day, attempting to infiltrate our collective minds are images of dark-skinned terrorists with strange names who stand ready to poison our drinking water, bring lethal weapons to our seaports, blow up our nuclear power plants, and detonate radiological devices. Since "old Europe" is clearly not willing to help, we Americans better pay attention to our government's new "orange alert": "Don't panic, but don't trust, beware of unusual (or foreign-looking, dark-skinned) people doing unusual things; don't worry, but don't relax either."

Leaving the lobby of the theatre where we viewed Michael Moore's film, Bowling for Columbine, it seems that the poignant images of collective fear and the paranoia of armed self-protection explored in the movie, despite its recent release, are already outdated. New waves of fear and social alienation are penetrating the collective psyche, happily exacerbated by the corporate media.

Moore's film explores issues of violence and fear in U.S. society, particularly surrounding the Columbine tragedy of the morning of April 20, 1999, when 12 high school students and one teacher were killed, and dozens of others were wounded, by two fellow classmates. However, Bowling for Columbine does not stop there as it analyzes with irony and poignancy the corporate, media, and government involvement in creating a climate of pervasive paranoia, exacerbating threats, while glorifying, justifying, or trivializing violence here and abroad.

Exploring Domestic and International Violence

In Bowling, Michael Moore seeks to understand how the violence at Columbine may be what interviewee Evan McCallum (the spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the largest weapons-builder in the nation) describes as the "microcosm of what happens throughout the world." Although the movie provides only a partial account of intervention abroad, it offers a painful reminder of the violent record of the United States around the world: the overthrow of Iran's Mossadegh government and the imposition of the Shah (1953), our involvement and war in Vietnam (1963 to 1975), the overthrow and assassination of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende (1973), our funding, training, and support of death-squad governments in El Salvador (1977 to 1991), the Contra war in Nicaragua (1981 to 1990), our involvement and funding of both sides of the Iraq-Iran war (1980 to 1988), the bloody invasion of Panama (1989), our involvement in the invasion of Kuwait and its aftermath, the Gulf War against Iraq (1990 to 1991), the Yugoslavia-Kosovo war (1999), and, finally, our initial support for and later destruction of the Taliban government in Afghanistan (2001 to 2002). The disturbing actual footage of the violence and death caused by U.S. foreign policy are portrayed as acts of international violence. (2)

Since its release, the film has won international acclaim, receiving awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards, among others. …