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    pretty persuasion

    I'm remaking my syllabus for this fall semester, throwing a lot of old stuff out. This makes room for some new stuff.

    Usually I show a movie once or twice during the semester, a way to break up the monotony of lecturing and to give us a hefty chunk of material to talk about / pick apart. This year, it looks like the movie slot will line up neatly with the unit on persuasive strategies. So what I'm looking for, then, is a movie that is overtly designed to make an argument. This probably means a documentary, since, although all fictional films convey a certain ideology, they don't usually do so by making use of traditional modes of argumentation.

    I've thought about some of the Michael Moore films, with the most didactic of the bunch probably being Fahrenheit 9/11. This would allow for some interesting discussion, such as talking about why Moore used some strategies that some commentators have called out (accurately, to my mind) as racist... it would also allow me to draw upon a thoughtful body of secondary literature about the film (I'm thinking particularly of this astute piece at N+1). But I'm wary of Fahrenheit 9/11 for two reasons.

    One, its overall argument seems oddly diffuse. Exactly what is Fahrenheit 9/11 arguing? "Bush is bad" obviously is the broadest banner being flown here, but, beyond that, "the 2000 election was stolen" and "the Iraq war is/was a bad idea" seem to get more-or-less equal attention, with the James Bath/House of Saud stuff forming a third distinct axis. Taking each of these individually is a task that I could maybe walk my students through, but I'd ultimately prefer something that was more focused.

    The second concern, of course, is that Michael Moore now serves so strongly as a representative of "the Left" and the film is so markedly anti-Bush that I'd worry that including his film in a syllabus would automatically alienate the more conservative students. I could frame it, of course, by saying that screening the film isn't an endorsement of Moore's argument, but merely a way to provide us with a handy example of polemic—if students thought that some of Moore's arguments were fallacious, manipulative, or unfair (some are), that would be useful to look at in a discussion of effective vs. ineffective rhetorical strategies. But perhaps this argument is glib: I'd look cautiously at an instructor who screened something like Islam: What the West Needs to Know and made the same argument.

    Something like An Inconvenient Truth seems better: the argument is more coherent and singular, and although Gore is obviously a partisan figure (and the movie contains a partisan message), the argument is less easy to dismiss as mere "bashing." But I doubt it'll make it out on DVD in the next five months. (Aside: the alternate Inconvenient Truth trailer featuring Futurama's Bender is worth a viewing.)

    A movie like Supersize Me is possibly even better, given that the topic is not one that will easily slot into a standard left/right dichotomy (for students). I haven't seen it, unfortunately, so I'm not sure how much the movie relies on tools of traditional argumentation. I'm also a little irked by the underlying fat-phobic message, which I'd just as soon avoid.

    Any other suggestions for movies that are overtly didactic?


    Saturday, July 08, 2006
    12:41 PM


    If you haven't seen Supersize me, how do you know it has an underlying fat-phobic message?

    The movie is about the connection between diet, health, and economy, not fat phobia. Let's not close our minds based on hearsay or other people's opinions.

    See the movie. Then have an opinion.
    If you haven't seen Supersize me, how do you know it has an underlying fat-phobic message?

    I'd start with the title.
    Have you seen The Corporation? It actually comes in an
    "educational" version which includes extras to guide discussions (although I haven't checked out the extras).
    No-- good suggestion, though! (That reminds me: I signed Ghostwritten out from the library)
    The Thin Blue Line?

    It'll be interesting to see what Linklater does with Fast Food Nation, since he's turning into a narrative.
    Oohh - another good one! I second that rec.
    Linklater is making a Fast Food Nation movie?
    Show them Lawerence of Arabia, or Jaws, or Raiders of the Lost Arc, or The Bicycle Theif, or 8 1/2, or christ, anything with some aesthetic virtue. Even Police Academy has more enduring worth than any of Michael Moore's films. LoA can spark a discussion on western meddling in the middle east. Jaws is an environmentalist inquiry. Raiders of the Lost Arc raises ethical questions about historical relics and their totemic power. The Bicycle Theif is about decency. 8 1/2 explores fidelity, love, art and memory. These movies are didactic.

    What's the point of showing a Michael Moore movie just to demonstrate that it's overly didactic? The problem with the films you've listed isn't that they're overly didactic--that would suggest that they teach something new, and they don't. What they do is affirm for an audience what the audience members knew when they bought the ticket or rented the DVD. Bush is Bad. Fast food makes you fat. Corporations don't care. This gives them warm gushy feelings of superiority, and allows them in a white liberal way, to shout out "AMEN BROTHER!" as the credits roll.

    PS: The fat phobic message of Supersize me is A-okay. Ten year olds are getting type-2 diabetes now. This is terrible for their health and for the rest of society. Plus they look like shit in a bikini and are totally unfuckable.
    Oh! You should show them The Battle of Algiers!


    This movie makes some goddamn arguments.
    "Ten year olds are getting type-2 diabetes now. This is terrible for their health and for the rest of society. Plus they look like shit in a bikini and are totally unfuckable."

    I would hope that most would consider ten year olds totally unfuckable.
    How about the abortion movie with Laura Dern--Citizen Ruth. Has all sorts of things undergrads think they can make great dichotomous arguments about but which, after viewing the movie, don't seem so black and white. Easy to talk about traditional argumentation even though this is fictional. Something like Supersize Me (whic I've seen) would be harder to analyze, although it is always interesting to try to get students to see what the unstated argument/premise is. Also, not really fat-phobic, FYI.
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