Michael Moore’s Here Comes Trouble has done more than give me a great deal of pleasure. It has reminded me, in a manner that’s both witty and perspicacious, of the kind of life I all too often wish I’d been brave enough to live myself.
A critic reviewing the book in the Guardian wrote that it resembled a saint’s life — how its subject was miraculously conceived, exhibited a precocious talent to the astonishment of his elders, and so on. This hostile description, however, omits one huge fact: Michael Moore is extremely funny. Not only are saints’ lives rarely funny, the humor also protects Moore from the self-promotion the critic was implicitly accusing him of.
Moore calls this book “short stories based on events that took place in the early years of my life.” The events narrated are clearly true, and the “short stories” line is merely a formula to account for the quotations re-created in direct speech, a device many writers resort to in the interests of freshness and comic effect.
I’m a great fan of Moore because his values are values I share, and because his disarming frankness is something I instinctively admire. It no doubt takes a country like the US, where the behavior of the political right is so outrageous and causes so much suffering, to produce a phenomenon like him. He’s a real David, nonetheless, who routinely stands up and confronts some of the biggest Goliaths on his home stage.
He’s also valuable because he speaks a satiric language that ordinary people can understand. These are often people who before Moore came along were all too willing to swallow the soft-spoken lies put out by the big corporations — even more frequently the targets of Moore’s exposures than US politicians. Early on he resolves to “never, ever believe at face value anything a government or corporation tells you.”
HERE COMES TROUBLE: Stories From My Life
By Michael Moore
The essence of Moore’s effectiveness is that he’s both a social activist and a comedian. There are many activists, and there are many comedians, but when the two skills combine the effect is stupendous. This is especially apparent in print, where Moore is much funnier than he manages to be in his films.
What this fine book also demonstrates is that men like Moore have often been battling away for a long time before they come to the attention of the general public. Thus we see that Moore showed his true colors early, giving an inflammatory and prize-winning speech at a summer camp for students when he was only 17.
A prize had been offered by a society called the Elks for the best address on Abraham Lincoln. But Moore remembered that these same Elks ran a golf club near his hometown that his father had refused to join because it was for “Caucasians only.” How hypocritical for such people to run a competition for speeches on, of all people, Lincoln! So protested the young Moore, to the cheers of his fellow students, and with the chief Elk sitting red-faced behind him on the platform.
Another message of this book is that a few people can often cause a stir, both in politics and in life in general. Reading this, I was reminded of a friend who, in the UK in the 1970s, teamed up with a colleague and started an organization opposing the dumping of nuclear waste at sea. Only months after their group had been in existence, the two of them noticed that their car was being followed as they drove up to London for a rally on nuclear issues in Hyde Park.