Overhearing what people say as they walk out of a documentary viewing is always interesting to me. I’m amazed how people take what they have just watched as gospel truth just because it’s a documentary. Last night I watched a documentary called ‘Manufacturing Dissent‘ at the Encounters Documentary Festival. It was about Michael Moore and the techniques he uses in documentaries. The fact that he skews time frames, takes comments out of context and fabricates entire aspects in his documentaries was not what surprised me as I already knew all that. What surprised me was that everyone who walked out of there was 1) shocked to find that out and 2) was now of the opinion that Michael Moore documentaries are a waste of time.

People should understand that just like a book or movie, a documentary is just putting forward one point of view. You can often find a documentary on the same topic, giving the exact opposite perspective. I believe there are always 2 sides to a story and then there is the truth. I make a point of trying to expose myself to both sides of the story while realising that the truth will probably be somewhere in the middle. I quite liked Fahrenheit 9/11, and am looking forward to his new doccie, ‘Sicko‘ (as much for the good things it says about Cuba as the bad things it says about the USA), but I made an effort to watch this documentary about him last night to help me keep a balanced perspective.

People generally expose themselves to things which reinforce what they believe or what they want to believe about something. So they will watch documentaries they agree with and read books they agree with and even conciously or subconciously surround themselves with people who agree with them. This can be a very dangerous thing, it’s the opposite of open-mindedness and can lead to some extreme outcomes such as racism, homophobia and other forms of intolerance.

It’s important to have opinions on things, but you should be able to defend your opinions by understanding all the aspects that affect it. This is something that develops over time as you are exposed to more information and different points of view. I enjoy discussing things with people who disagree with me, because they help me to see the other side of the story. Sometimes my opinion is reinforced, sometimes I adjust them slighty and occasionally I change them completely.

As an example, take a look at my post on the soccer world cup. I was of the opinion that the World Cup was not going to be a good thing for Cape Town and that Greenpoint was a bad choice for the stadium location. But I put it out there to see what other people had to say and I received some interesting and informative responses which resulted in me changing my opinion (not completely though, I still believe that FIFFA will put their interests ahead of ours when necessary).


5 responses to “Objectivity”

  1. Currio

    What examples of taking peoples’ comments out of context did the film present?

  2. There were several examples, the two I remember were:

    In Fahrenheit 9/11, Bush is shown saying “This is an impressive crowd of the haves and have mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.” Bush is not saying this to a secret gathering of Republican donors, but to attendees at a non-partisan fund-raiser for charities run by the Archdiocese of New York.

    In Bowling for Columbine, Heston’s “cold dead hands” speech, which leads off Moore’s depiction of the Denver meeting, was not given at Denver after Columbine. It was given a year later in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    There is a lot of info on this stuff on the internet, just do searches on the movie titles with a keyword like context, lies, etc and you will find more than you need.

  3. Currio

    “This is an impressive crowd of the haves and have mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.”

    They are over-stretching with that one, aren’t they? I mean, we can clearly hear the laughter. Many a true word is spoken in jest. Isn’t that Michael Moore’s reasonable assumption?

    I accept the second example entirely.

  4. I can’t really remember the details from F911, the point remains that you can’t trust what Moore says 100%. All that means is that you need to do some more investigation before getting too excited about what you learn.

    I’m not saying that his documentaries don’t have a lot of truth in them, in fact I think they have enough truth that he probably doesn’t need to use these sneaky tricks to get his point across.

  5. I agree with you on this… it’s disturbing how quickly people are ready to write off dissenting voices. We do tend to accept what reinforces our already-held opinions so that new information doesn’t threaten our comfort zone. It’s too hard, I guess, for us to interrogate facts and adjust our behaviour accordingly. However it surely is the only logical thing to do? Ah well.