(Note: This column is about Michael Moore’s upcoming visit to Utah, which is a very volatile topic. I will attempt to discuss all of the pertinent issues in a rational and mature manner. However, I will probably also make a lot of fat jokes. I regret this in advance.)
Utah Valley State College has booked liberal filmmaker Michael Moore to speak on campus next month, thus inviting far more attention than the hilarious almost-a-university is capable of handling. At times like this, I can almost hear the “Dukes of Hazzard” narrator:
“Well, friends, looks like ol’ UVSC has got itself into a pickle again. Shoot, when will those boys ever learn?”
Thanks, “Dukes of Hazzard” narrator. You can go back to being dead now.
Moore’s visit to Orem is controversial for a number of reasons. First, he is a known Bush-hater and an accused America-hater, and Orem is, for want of a better term, Bush country. Second, the student government spent its speaking budget for the entire year — some $50,000 — on this one speaker, and that doesn’t even include the catering costs. Third, everything that everyone does in Utah Valley is controversial in some way, because nobody ever wants anybody to do anything other than what they themselves would do.
Now that the student government has made the commitment, UVSC authorities are scrambling to put a good spin on it, all the while cursing themselves for letting students — UVSC students, at that! — be in charge of booking speakers. (Apparently, last year’s visit from SpongeBob SquarePants taught them nothing.) Seeking to placate the angry conservative masses of Utah Valley, UVSC eventually booked conservative commentator Sean Hannity to speak on campus a week before Moore arrives, to provide “balance,” though Hannity has some catching up to do if he really wants to balance Michael Moore. (That was a fat joke, by the way.)
Much of the uproar surrounding Moore’s visit is predictable and dismissable: He’s soooo left-wing, and soooo argumentative, we don’t want him in our community, blah blah blah whine whine whine. But one of the purposes of college — even a daycare center college like UVSC — is to expose students to new ideas, to make them consider points of view that are different from their own. Above all, college is supposed to mean sitting through boring lectures by people you don’t like. What’s the problem here?
A slightly better argument against Moore’s visit, though one I still disagree with, is that the $50,000 came from student fees, and why should students (or their parents, more likely) have to pay for a speech they don’t want, and one that so violently contradicts their political views? Well, boo-hoo, you big babies. I’d guess about 90 percent of any given student’s fees go to things he or she doesn’t need or want. The art majors’ fees help build the science building, and the art majors will never enter it. Everyone pays for athletic equipment, but not everyone uses it. You pay the salary of the “provost,” but what does a “provost” even DO?
Look at it this way: One semester’s tuition at UVSC is about $1,000. That means only 50 students actually paid for Michael Moore to visit, and with 30,000 students total, odds are, you weren’t one of them.
I don’t think the controversy should be over spending $50,000 on a speaker. I think the controversy should be over the fact that Moore apparently believes he is WORTH $50,000. (Sean Hannity charges $100,000 for his speeches, though he waived the fee for this appearance. Um, yeah. Hey, I charge $100,000 for my public appearances, too, just so you know. But sometimes I waive the fee, cuz I’m cool like that. But I totally charge $100,000 normally.)
Do you suppose Moore will dress nicely, or shave his big sweaty face when he shows up to address UVSC for $50,000? No, he’ll probably look like he always does, like one of those sweepstakes winners you see on TV who were caught off-guard by the Prize Patrol van. He always looks like he didn’t know he was going to be out in public that day, like he only wore his grubbies because he thought he would just be out working in the yard, and then somehow he accidentally wound up at the Academy Awards. I swear, he makes Peter Jackson look like Cary Grant.
Anyway, the money’s spent, and Moore is coming, and you can’t stop it. That doesn’t prevent people from trying, though, and if I owned a hat, it would be off to anyone who feels strongly enough about an issue, even a futile one, to get involved. For example, there is a UVSC senior named Sean Vreeland, a soldier who fought in Afghanistan last year, who told The Salt Lake Tribune, “For this uneducated, sophomoric-level guy, this fascist coming to speak to these students … the priorities are definitely skewed.”
Now, it only takes a dictionary and a modicum of common sense to know Michael Moore is not a “fascist.” I’m pretty sure he is NOT in favor of having a dictator, nor does he think America ought to have policies reflecting belligerent nationalism and racism. In fact, those are the things he accuses Bush of, and you know how he feels about Bush. But, you know, sometimes the newspaper reporter is asking you questions, and you have to say SOMETHING, and so you just use the first negative-sounding word that comes to mind. I suspect that’s what happened to Sean Vreeland.
Vreeland soon became the de facto leader of the anti-Moore movement at UVSC, being quoted in several news outlets. He had this very smart thing to say on Channel 4 in Salt Lake City:
“Controversy is not what we need at a public university. He’s going to bring no educational value to UVSC…. Michael Moore’s views are based on untruths and lies and are anti-government.”
OK, first of all, UVSC isn’t a public university, it’s a public college, and it’s only barely one of those. More to the point, controversy is defined as “a dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views.” Isn’t that exactly what IS needed at an institution of higher learning? How are you going to learn anything useful without hearing all sides of it? (There is little controversy in advanced math. Also, advanced math is not useful. You see my point.)
Whether Michael Moore’s films are “based on untruths and lies” (what, BOTH?!) is open for discussion, of course. I doubt he’s “anti-government,” though he may be opposed to the current administration of our government. “Anti-government” is sort of the opposite of “fascist,” though, so he’s definitely not both.
At any rate, Vreeland has launched a Web site, www.RecallUVSC.org, whose aims are twofold: prevent Michael Moore from appearing at UVSC (even if it means forfeiting the $50,000), and remove from office the student government leaders who booked him.
I think this is adorable. Pretending it matters who your student council representatives are! Practicing all these grown-up things like “petitions” and “recall elections”! I say kudos! (Not often, but sometimes.) Why, one day these kids will be out in the real world, maybe even dealing with real politics, and they’ll be able to say they’ve had a dry run. It’s like when law students have moot court, or when journalism students write for school newspapers. What they’re doing doesn’t really matter, but it’s good practice to act like it does. So again, kudos!
The Michael Moore appearance is sold out, so I probably won’t be in attendance, though I am curious to hear what his presentation is like. Does he just yell a lot? Does he tell jokes? Is his breathing labored? Is there choreography? If you go, please report back on the proceedings, and let me know whether UVSC can get itself out of this li’l predicament without losin’ a tire or wakin’ up Roscoe.
When Michael Moore gets booked to speak in Utah Valley, "Snide Remarks" becomes very easy to write.
The "Dukes of Hazzard" narrator was country singer Waylon Jennings, and he died in 2002. He had 16 No. 1 hits, including the theme song from "The Dukes of Hazzard." He was supposed to be on the plane that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in 1959, but he gave up his seat to the Big Bopper. (Jennings was in Holly's band at the time.) Isn't that CRAZY?!
The RecallUVSC.org Web site didn't stay up very long, and in fact was down by the time this column was posted.
This entire brouhaha was the subject of a very compelling documentary called "This Divided State."