Film Review: Slacker Uprising
(Optimum Home Entertainment)
DVD on release
By Guy Sangster Adams
Predominantly due to the reputation smearing advertisements organised by the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth (a coalition of Vietnam veterans formed entirely with that objective) and John Kerry’s delay in responding to their allegations, the lead in the opinion polls that he had enjoyed over George W. Bush throughout the campaign for the 2004 US presidential elections had been completely eroded in the closing months. With five weeks left before polling day filmmaker Michael Moore, fearing four more years of the Bush administration, set off on the Slacker Uprising Tour. Through which, with events on college campuses in 60 cities across 20 key battleground states, he aimed to motivate as many of the 50% of the electorate who do not normally vote to register to do so, and in particular 18 to 29 year old Slackers.
With his well judged promotional tool of giving out packs of Ramen Noodles (Slacker sustenance) and Fruit of the Loom underwear (for Slackers too slack to do laundry) to anyone registering to vote, Moore’s tour not only quickly hit the headlines but also lead the Republican party in Michigan to attempt legal action against him, alleging that he was attempting to bribe voters; a lawsuit that was thrown out by the District Attorney’s office as they decided Moore was encouraging people to vote, not telling them who to vote for.
But the serious heart of the tour, and by extension this film, is Moore’s desire to reaffirm, reassert, and protect the rights enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution – freedom of belief, of the press, of speech, and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Which he felt that in the wake of 9/11 the Bush administration had seriously undermined, not least with the Patriot Act, as he evocatively explored in Fahrenheit 9/11: The Temperature at Which Freedom Burns. As Moore passionately declares in Slacker Uprising, there is a “reason why the founders of this country called it the First Amendment, because without an informed public the democracy ceases to exist.”
In seeking to redress the balance, Slacker Uprising is also rich in impassioned and poignant erudition from the array of musicians and actors (including Steve Earle, Eddie Vedder, REM, Joan Baez, and Roseanne Barr), diplomats, military personnel returning from Iraq, and the families of those who did not return, who joined the tour. As the tour gathered momentum it is fascinating to see just how troubled the Republican Party became by it (but then the Bush administration had been stung by Farenheit 9/11); Republican businessmen in various states attempted to inhibit the tour by offering colleges anything from $25,000 to $100,000 to cancel Moore’s events.
Watching Slacker Uprising now, even though one knows that as Moore says it “is the story of one filmmaker’s failed attempt to turn things around,” it is impossible not to get caught up in the momentum of the battle – to really believe that Bush would be voted out of office in 2004. Though undoubtedly some of the ability to relax whilst watching the film stems from it now being less than a year since Obama ousted Bush, and hope reignited remains largely intact. Equally it is clear that although Moore terms it a failed attempt, the Slacker Uprising Tour played a large part in engendering the beginning of the end by motivating disillusioned sectors of the electorate, and highlighting that change was achievable; 54 of the 62 stops on the tour went to Kerry, a record 21 million young people voted, and the Republican victory was the smallest in US history: one state (Ohio) and one hundred thousand votes.
But Slacker Uprising carries a message that should be borne in mind not only across US politics, but also by other nations, most eloquently expressed in the film by actor Viggo Mortensen: “When we as Americans see ourselves as different and superior to peoples from other nations as George W Bush with his go it alone agenda would have us do, we are not freeing ourselves or anyone else, we are not respecting ourselves or anyone else, we are rather enslaving ourselves by willing building the wall of our own prison one ignorant brick after another. It’s not a question of being liked by the world, it’s a question of belonging in the world.”