||Issue No. 142||28 June 2002|
Interview: Safe as Houses
Safety: Ten Steps to Safety
History: Staying Alive
Unions: Choose Life
International: Seoul Destroyers
Corporate: Crash Landing
Activists: The Refusenik
Review: Dumb Nation
Poetry: Helping Out The Rich
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Good News from the Pilbara
Go Mark, Go
Imagine waking up one morning and finding that the entire world had gone mad. There's an imposter in the seat of government and having a social conscience is out of vogue. What would you do, fight back? Can one person really change the world?
There's an old saying that goes something like this, 'If you can't manage to laugh about a bad situation, you'll probably end up crying'. Professional shit stirrer Michael 'The Awful Truth' Moore has taken this idea one step further. He's decided to take the piss: out of everything. Stupid White Men is a call to arms from a man who no longer recognises the world in which he lives. While many conservative critics profess to love their country, Mike goes beyond spouting the empty rhetoric of truth, justice and free speech, he lives it.
For over a decade, Mike has been a thorn in the side of conservative hypocrites, religious bigots and corporate bullies of all types. His only weapons in this holiest of crusades have been the truth and a large dose of irreverent humour. In Stupid White Men Mike again applies this winning formula with great success as he attempts to unravel the bizarre state in which he find's his beloved homeland. Mike starts his expose with a stunning secret, the world's problems can be traced directly to one group of obnoxious troublemakers: stupid white men.
Now before I go any further I need to explain a few things to those of you unfamiliar with Mr Moore. Mike's no dummy, and he doesn't really hate those of us who were unfortunate enough to be born as household variety white guys (Moore himself is one I might add). By pointing his rather chubby finger straight in the mirror, Mike is making the point that all of us are responsible for fighting for social and economic justice. His real beef is the hypocrisy and vested interest of governments and corporations who exist for themselves and not the community. The fact that these institutions are more often than not run by a common demographic, middle aged conservative white men, just shows how far the malaise has penetrated society.
In Stupid White Men, Mike questions almost every aspect of contemporary society. He begins with the hypocrisy of George W Bush's illegitimate presidency before offering chapters on tackling the corporate assault on conditions and wages, the cancer of racism, a failing education sector, environmental irresponsibility, foreign policy lunacy and repressive law and order campaigns.
The real beauty of this work is how Mike deals with these serious and exceedingly complex issues. The method is bait and switch, with the aim to get the reader thinking about issues he/she may never have considered.
The bait is biting wit, which is the perfect tool to engage an apolitical reader. In 'Kill Whitey', a chapter dealing with the injustices faced by African American citizens, Mike offers his 'Survival tips for black people'. These include placing a life-sized inflatable white doll on your passenger seat to avoid racial profiling while driving and shopping exclusively on the Internet to avoid shopkeepers who will immediately suspect you are going to rob their store. Mike also offers some unique ideas for improving relations in international hotspots. In the case of Northern Ireland, he suggests converting all Protestants to Catholicism (the benefits include more sex, a greater number of religious holidays and free wine on Sundays). For North Korea, he suggests bringing movie buff and repressive dictator Kim Jong II to Hollywood in order to keep him busy while his country climbs its way out of its economic slump.
But Mike is not all fluff; his outrageous humour is designed only to open the eyes of the politically unaware. I mean imagine a person reading Mike's book that had never thought about racism. They sure won't be forgetting it exists after reading 'Survival Tips For Black People'. Sometimes preaching isn't the best way to get your message across.
So Mike now has the reader rolling in the eyes, what does he do next? Simple, he backs up his arguments with cold hard facts and eye opening personal anecdotes that also serve to expose the lunacy of conservative ideology. And these aren't boring statistics that will send readers to sleep. These are more titbits of information that will have you questioning what kind of world we actually live in. One of the most powerful anecdotes is Mike's chance meeting with an airline pilot. Here he learns that many new pilots only earn (US) $13,000 a year. And that's before expenses are deducted. For me, that one piece of information provides a more powerful example of corporate greed than any well meaning academic work on corporate globalisation could hope to offer.
And it doesn't stop there, in Stupid White Men the hits just keep coming. For example, did you know that?
- In terms of temperature change, the earth is halfway towards a major natural catastrophe? Keep in mind that the last Ice Age was caused by a temperature shift of only 9 degrees;
- Are you aware that since 1979 the richest 1 per cent of the American population have seen their wages increase by 157 per cent, while the bottom 20 per cent are now making $100 a year less (adjusted for inflation) than they were at the beginning of the Reagan era;
- Maybe you'd also like to know that since 1985 the world's richest 200 companies have seen their profits grow by 362.4%. Their combined sales are now higher than the combined GDP of all but 10 nations on earth.
I could go on for ever, but I think you get the point. And as if anticipating the rage his expose of a corporately controlled world would create, Mike has made sure to include positive ways in which ordinary workers can fight back. Stupid White Men includes a veritable library of contact details that will allow his fellow Americans to lobby till their hearts are content.
Stupid White Men ends with an exploration of an issue highly relevant to Australian trade unionism today: the creation of a third political force. In an effort to explain why he supported maverick Greens candidate Ralph Nader is the 2000 Presidential election, Mike argues that the Democrats have failed to offer a truly progressive alternative to the Republicans, and therefore no longer deserve the support of progressive people and organisations. He argues for the creation of a third political force that will represent ordinary people and not the puppet masters of the corporate world.
As someone who believes that pissing out of the tent is preferable to pissing in, I'm not totally convinced by Mike's plea for the creation of a new progressive political force. In fact, it sometimes sounds like Mike is trying to convince himself that he did the right thing in supporting Nader now that George W. Bush is causing havoc from the oval office.
I do however have to admit that his methodical destruction of the myth that Clinton was a progressive president is impressive and thorough. In showing that slick Willy was no better than George W Bush in areas such as the environment and job protection, Mike asks a very poignant question. 'What's worse, getting blatantly screwed by conservatives or having a knife stuck in your ribs from so called progressives who mouth social justice but ape the Tory opposition?'
With a vigorous debate raging in trade union circles over the policy direction of the ALP, Mike's comments are just as relevant to readers here as they are to Democrat voters in the States. So whatever your position on this contentious issue, Stupid White Men will provide you with much food for thought.
There's no doubting that Stupid White Men is a great read for any trade union activist. This said, it is not aimed at the politically aware. So here's what to do to ensure Stupid White Men reaches its real target. After you've read and enjoyed Mike's book, pass it on to a friend or family member who has no interest in politics. After they've read this hilarious tome, you'll have recruited another believer to the cause.
Mark Hebblewhite is an MEAA member from Sydney.
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