Charlton Heston and me 

The film ended and I

The film ended and I stood up, gathering my children, my wife and the other adults we"d come with. But I paused in the aisle to talk with them for a moment, and found myself turning to the screen and shouting at it. I have applauded films, I have danced in the aisles (Stop Making Sense), but never, in my many years of going to the cinema, have I been inspired to shout at the screen. What I said to the screen should not necessarily be written here. Though the "F" word is spoken a half-dozen times in Bowling for Columbine, my words, though laced with such invectives, were between me and Charlton Heston. Michael Moore"s documentary opened a week and a half ago in Indianapolis, and is currently screening at Castleton Arts Cinema. Reviews have been positive, if cautious. My colleague, Ed Johnson-Ott, gave the film a whopping four stars, but he also expressed his concerns about the film. I support Ed"s pause about Michael Moore"s storytelling strategy, though I"m sure it came about as no surprise to any of us who know Moore"s work (Downsize This, Kill Whitey, Roger and Me). Moore is an emotionally-driven writer and filmmaker, and sometimes his tactics remind us of a hard-copy, to-hell-with-objectivity type of pundit. However, these days, we need it. We need someone with courage to confront the NRA, the politicians (Republican and Democrat), the media itself - especially the "lead if it bleeds" television news. We need this level of dramatic discourse because the United States of America has the largest civilian casualty rate for First World nations on the planet. We need it because NBC saw fit on election night to employ Rush Limbaugh as a commentator. We need it because, as Moore makes abundantly clear, we live in a culture of fear: Despite the fact that violent crime has decreased by 20 percent over the past few years, media coverage of violence has increased by 600 percent. The razor blade in the Halloween apple never happened; you CAN safely walk down the street in South Central L.A. We need it because our government continues to arm itself, finding all sorts of justifications to ply those weapons - and the humans who wield them. We need it because the election once again revealed an apathetic public. The winners, by and large, supported a president who traffics in fear. Sex used to be the best way to sell things. Now it"s fear. We need Michael Moore and Bowling for Columbine because the voices of dissent have largely been quieted. One such voice just descended to his death from the skies of Minnesota. So. Why was I shouting at Charlton Heston? One motif in Bowling for Columbine is that soon after the Columbine massacre, the NRA held a rally, with Mr. Moses at its helm, smack in the broken heart of the community. Later, in Flint, Mich., where a 6-year-old girl was shot and killed by a 6-year-old boy, Heston and the NRA held another rally. The pattern is clear: Whenever any gun-delivered tragedy takes place, the NRA convenes the forces for gun rights. Don"t give the NRA members and their supporters time to ponder the victims and the implications. It"s one thing to have a belief system and an agenda, it"s arrogance to take your show into the epicenter of grief. What Michael Moore didn"t know as he filmed his documentary was this: During the recent sniper shootings in the D.C. area, Heston was back at it, challenging the liberals and the pacifists to pry a gun "from my cold dead hands." I saw little challenge in the media. No, they were once again letting Ben-Hur have his bully pulpit. Bowling for Columbine attempts the almost impossible task of explaining why this culture is so violent. Consider that question at every level: the small-scale militias that reside throughout the country, the culture that manifests violence and loathing in its entertainment products, the government that possesses the largest arsenal of death on the planet. This film should be required viewing for every high school student in the nation. After all, its core subject is Columbine High School. It should be encouraged viewing for members of the NRA, whose constituents might be swayed - not to give up their rifles or handguns - to at least consider their stance on semi-automatic and automatic weapons, as well as their resistance to the tracking of guns and bullets. If you don"t agree with Michael Moore, if his premise offends you, you, too, should shout at the screen. I say: Let the shouting begin. That"s how we can get to the talking part, the dialogue, the truth-seeking. If we do not learn the truth, all we have are ideologies to go by. Without a society that encourages this truth-seeking dialogue, we"ll never really know what"s right and what"s not. Instead, we"ll sit home, lock the doors and suck the tube, with its lies, blood and fear. If interested, Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence can be found at or call (317) 377-0700.

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Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser is Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, a statewide organization that was one of over two dozen nonprofit partners in Greening the Statehouse. A former managing editor of NUVO, he won HEC’s Environmentalist of the Year Award in 2013.

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