The Intellectual Context
At a Variety magazine conference at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2004, film producer Lawrence Bender responded dramatically to a question about media censorship in the United States. Censorship had increased suddenly in February 2004 after the inopportune exposure of singer Janet Jackson's breast at the live televised Superbowl from Houston, Texas, and Bender's response was biting: Ί feel like I'm going back to the fifties here…the conservatives are taking over the country'.1 This unease about censorship was shared by many directors, writers and producers in Cannes 2004, with the rise of the Right on American network television and talk radio, and the threat of the Federal Communications Commission imposing large fines on networks, making it increasingly difficult to debate issues freely or to offer oppositional views to George W. Bush's Republican administration.
Given the widespread dissent from the film industry to Bush's presidency, it was not surprising that in the last year of Bush's first term the satirist and filmmaker Michael Moore won the Palme d'Or for Fahrenheit 9/11, his documentary attempt to topple the Republicans. The film received rapturous applause at its Cannes premiere, was seen by over 20 million people in 2004, and was the most discussed film of the year. Fahrenheit 9/11 argued polemically for the existence of a global conspiracy in which the US government and big corporations did little to prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001. It makes the claim that the government had hoodwinked the American public into believing that the preemptive strikes on Iraq represented a just war when the underlying motives were economic ones. Moore champions ordinary people grieving mothers, reluctant young soldiers, and peace-loving citizens against the greed of power groups, in his attempt to loosen what liberals see as the corporate stranglehold over the American media.