Bowling for Columbine: An open letter to Michael Moore
by Amy Winter Off Our Backs, Jan/Feb 2003
Dear Michael: I saw “Bowling for Columbine” last night. I thought it was excellent. I was really impressed with it and I want to thank you for taking on a very controversial topic-many controversial topics, in fact. I thought your analysis of the role of fear, and how the media participate in creating or exacerbating our fear, was very insightful. I was amused, shocked, and confounded by the continual statements of the militia, for example, that they had to protect their families. Protect their families from what? Black people? The government-whom they see as betraying them by affirmative action programs or welfare? I think the points made in the film about media characterizations and white perceptions of African Americans were pointed and accurate. I would have liked to see similar observations about men’s characterizations and perceptions of women, and what role this plays in violence. Rape-like drownings and smog– rarely makes the news. The majority of this violence is perpetrated against us in our homes-the very place white men claim they need guns to protect. (And how many of these manly family protectors are beating their wives or molesting their daughters?) Despite this, as your film points out, it is not primarily women, or black people, who are arming themselves. Bowling for Columbine suggests that white men’s fear, exacerbated by the media, stems from their suspicion that their privileged lifestyle is illegitimate, morally indefensible, and that those they have wronged will rise up in retribution. On some level most white men in the U.S. know that any real solution to domestic and international problems would require giving up some of what they have, but they can’t face the insecurity that thought causes, so they build up more barricades in the form of guns, weapons, rhetoric about constitutional rights, missiles, and Star Wars defense systems. But I also think it’s important to understand that women and people of color have very good reasons to be afraid. Violence against us exists on a daily basis in a way that it does not for white men in the U.S. I think the answers to the following questions could be very telling and provide pieces of the larger puzzle, of which gun violence is only one part: * What is the gender breakdown of the over 11,000 gun murders in the U.S.? How many of the gun users/murderers are male; how many of the victims are female? How many of them are spousal murders? When the murderer is female, how often is there a history of battering, stalking, or other violent and aggressive behavior against her on the part of the man she kills? In other words, if she is killing out of fear, is this fear founded on experience? How do the rates of violence other than gun murder, particularly violence against women such as battering and rape, compare in the different countries you focused on, like Germany, U.S., Canada, U.K.? What is the gender breakdown in school shootings? Of the Columbine victims, how many were female? I have heard that at one of the other shootings the story was initially reported as male shooters) specifically targeting a female teacher and female classmates, but subsequent reports on the incident neglected to make this connection. (One of the young women interviewed about the Columbine shootings says that a black person was shot “because he was black,” but she does not say that the woman who was shot in the head in front of her, was shot because she was a woman.) What are the specific details of the Flint shooting? Your film failed to mention that the little boy brought the gun to school with the intention of shooting Kyla. Did male dominance have anything to do with this murder? You reject the idea that violent video games, movies, etc. contribute to fear and violence. But there are lots of studies showing that even “nonviolent” porn increases aggressive behavior in males. If it didn’t, why would the military show it to soldiers and pilots before they are sent out to fight, as happened in the Gulf War? And what are the chances that this contributes to rape in war-which is commonplace, so commonplace your film neglects to even mention it? How is the “right” to have a gun related to the historical “right” of men to use violence like battering and rape against the women and children in their family? How are these “rights” linked and maintained by the artificial separation of public and private life? I think the root of gun violence is the same as the root of other kinds of violence, and this is the creation of masculinity. Violence is an inevitable result of creating a class of people whose role is to rule others-who are in fact encouraged to see others as objects and as means to their own ends– who are not supposed to feel or show tenderness, compassion, or empathy. Dominance and fear are inextricably linked, and the questions Bowling for Columbine is raising cannot be answered without an analysis and assessment of what dominating does to the dominator. I think this is a fuller answer which brings together many separate threads from your film: In the U.S. we have a bunch of rich white people who are hell-bent on protecting their ill-gotten gains and on keeping down those they have historically subordinated-not just people of color, but also women. Those of us who have been historically subordinated have no social safety net, no right to health care; no right to safe shelter to escape violent households or violent streets; no right to safe public housing complexes like those your film showed in Canada. Combine this with a media that reflects white men’s fears of Blacks, the poor, and others who are “out to get them”– how can this not be a recipe for unbridled violence? Thanks again for your film. Maybe you should consider collaborating with radical feminists on a piece that would encompass your concerns about guns and corporate crime and the connection between masculinity, violence, and the pathology of dominance. It would undoubtedly be awesome.