Bowling for Columbine

Occasionally, cinema is used as a tool for probing a social malady. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine. Strictly a documentary, Moore combines both pathos and humor, applying it to the issue of gun control.

Like other wedge issues in America, gun control is a deeply pitched battle between two vocal and active opponents. NRA activists and anti-gun advocates both have compelling arguments and it was the tragic loss of life at Columbine that brought forth the shattering clash of the two sides.

Columbine High School was forever changed on April 20, 1999 when two senior students, embarked on a killing spree, murdering 12 students and one teacher. 21 other students were injured on site and another three as they tried to flee. The two students then committed suicide and Columbine became the deadliest massacre on an American high school campus.

Michael Moore doesn’t try to condemn gun ownership in his film, just the senseless and needless loss of life. While the mass media debated gun control laws, bullying and violence amongst youth, subcultures and high school cliques, Michael Moore brought his populist rabble-rousing, homespun radicalism and an unflinching eye to the epidemic of violence in America. Moore is no stranger to guns, as a former firearms instructor and NRA member. However, it is important to realize that it is not the gun ownership but the horrific killing statistics of America that he decries.

He does this seamlessly in Bowling for Columbine, mining the grotesque and the absurd for answers. Interviewing the local teen who grouses about being number two on a terrorist list, chatting with employees in the bank that gives free guns to people opening new accounts, and in a poignant scenario, returning bullets to K-Mart with teenagers injured at Columbine and requesting a refund for the 17 cent purchase price.

Living in a nation of million of handguns, the question is "Why do we in America keep shooting each other?" Canada, which has a ratio of guns to people the same as in America, has only 10 percent of the shooting deaths. The movie probes the cavity of violence through media coverage and notes that even though the murder rate is down 20 percent in America, the media outlet reports are up 600 percent. Not only does this lead to an increase in the average American's fear factor, it makes a trigger response more likely.

There is no single villain in the piece and Moore treads softly on the massacre at Columbine where two seemingly American kids went bowling and then off to murder their schoolmates. He trounces all over the need to hoard guns and shoot people, not out of strength but out of fear.

Bowling for Columbine is both an indictment and tribute to the culture feed that exists in the late 20th and 21 century, fixing a bull-eye’s directly on guns, violence and wedge issues used as hype in political arenas. The question is not “Why do we have guns?” but rather “Why do we kill each other with guns?”


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