Gadfly slams the conventional wisdom

Perhaps documentary filmmaker/television producer/professional gadfly Michael Moore was unaware that he was not speaking to a group of journalists-to-be.

No matter. The latest graduating class of the Annenberg School for Communication nearly split its collective seams laughing at Moore’s graduation address May 22, in which he lit into the news media, the American education system and the conventional wisdom about the current state of the economy.

Moore, whose acclaimed documentary “Roger & Me” called General Motors to account for closing a plant in Flint, Mich., opened his remarks by admitting to a bit of anxiety on the way to Penn from 30th Street Station. But, he said, “Once I saw that there was a grocery bag on the stage” — which had been used to hold student, faculty and staff awards — “ and that the flag [backdrop] was put up with black duct tape, I began to relax. So this is what the Ivy League is all about.”

Much of his speech criticized the nation’s schools. “Instead of teaching the three R’s, schools teach the three C’s — complacency, consistency and conformity,” said the self-confessed student slacker.

He also criticized the herd mentality that leads reporters to miss important details that call the conventional wisdom into question. For instance, regarding the current economic boom, he asked, “If the buying power of the consumer is up only 3 percent” in the last decade, “how does the [corporate] profit go up 100 percent?” The answer, he said, is that consumers have gone heavily into debt.

The two-party political system, he said, also shuts out most Americans, but when voters are given a real alternative, like Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, they respond. “They didn’t vote for him because they loved professional wrestlers,” he said. “He represented the ‘*#&$! you’ vote.”

Moore’s own political career — in which he rode the votes of his fellow 18-year-olds to a seat on the Flint school board — illustrated another of his speech’s themes — the ability of one person to shake things up, as he also did with “Roger & Me.”

“Twenty days of work over a three-year period resulted in General Motors being unable to close another plant in Flint for the next three years,” he said.


Originally published on June 1, 2000