What, you may ask, is the point of a movie about Michael Moore trying to get out the vote back in 2004? Didn’t his side lose? What would such a movie offer besides a feeling of impotence — a feeling that, despite the enthusiasm and best efforts of so many people, the bastards got in again? Slacker Uprising, Moore’s new film, which he has made available for free download at a variety of online outlets, is a bit more than that.
In the weeks before the 2004 election, Moore tours the battleground states, hitting more than sixty cities in a crusade to get the fabled disaffected youth off their couches and into booths. Everywhere he goes, no matter how conservative a place would seem to outsiders, he gets a rock-star welcome, standing-Os, women asking him to sign their boobs. It’s a college tour, of course, so a lot of the crowds are predisposed to be in his corner; Moore isn’t appearing at NASCAR races or NRA rallies. But the point is made: anyplace you go, you’ll find hidebound old rubes and you’ll find smart young people. Moore goes to the smart young people to exhort them to get their asses in gear.
Slacker Uprising sort of takes the form of a concert film like The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, the Amnesty International-sponsored charity event studded with comedians and musicians. Moore brings in folks like Steve Earle, Eddie Vedder, Tom Morello, REM, Joan Baez, Viggo Mortensen, and Roseanne Barr (who, in the film’s possible highlight, delivers a gloriously pissy routine dripping with irony). A lot of the time, these performers are surprise guests, so it’s not as if Moore lures his crowds with the promise of hearing Eddie Vedder cover Cat Stevens. But the focus always swings back to Moore, the right’s favorite baseball-cap-wearing punching bag, as he gets the audience riled up with call-and-response. (I don’t remember his being this aggressive a speaker when I saw him at a local college in 2003; but then, we’re not a battleground state and it wasn’t election time.)
Make no mistake: Slacker Uprising — previously titled Captain Mike Across America, in case you were wondering what happened to that project — will not win over Moore-haters. As he himself says, it’s one for the fans. (Now that I think about it, it’s a bit like Kevin Smith’s three-and-counting An Evening With… DVDs.) If you’re on the fence about him as an onscreen persona, if you don’t disagree with his general message but find him a self-aggrandizing bloviator, you should probably give this one a pass. But I can’t deny there’s something heartening about seeing thousands of people responding so happily to Moore’s sane, actually unremarkable themes. Moore really only looks like a radical in oppressive times. He’s not saying anything that anyone with a brain and a conscience can’t get behind on some level: Hey, Americans deserve health care! Say, shouldn’t we make sure that putting our soldiers in harm’s way is absolutely necessary before we start a war? Hell, why is that small percent of people getting all the money you’re not making?
You could look at Slacker Uprising as the record of a failure: The slackers rose up, and Bush still won. But not by much. And, as we’re told at the end, a record 21 million young voters turned out. Kerry only lost by a hair, and he was the most boring candidate the Dems have had since Dukakis. Obama gives young Democrats something to vote for instead of just vote-the-shrub-out motivation, and a lot of kids who were 14 last time turned 18 this year. If that sounds like an Obama endorsement, so be it. Enough is enough. A good chunk of the country said that last time. Maybe this time there’ll be a bigger chunk. [Post-election update: There was.]