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The Use of Manipulation Techniques in The Documentary Bowling for Columbine

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Violence is the driving force that instils fear in every society. It’s then no surprise that America, one of the most patriotic, greediest and powerful countries in the world, is experiencing a constant inner turmoil for the monopoly of fear culture. Filmmaker Michael Moore, in his ground-breaking documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’ explores this entrenched culture of America’s fearful, bigotry and violent nature. Moore’s documentary following the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, endeavours to answer the question of ‘why are guns so accessible in the United States?’. Bowling for Columbine challenges audiences to interpret cultural assumptions on gun violence and discusses the fear entrenched into American society leading to a gun derived nation. The film meritoriously enlightens audiences to perceive issues that are direct representations of Moore’s own attitudes and beliefs, propaganda. Michael Moore’s manipulation of propaganda techniques engrains a negative representation of gun control that reflects his personal values. Moore’s manipulation is evident through his use of editing, juxtaposition and oversimplification.

Moore highlights and isolates selective scenes using propaganda techniques of editing and interviews to manipulate audiences. He excludes sections of interviews that may contain legitimate counter-arguments and edits them in favour to represent his negative beliefs of gun violence. Moore’s most apparent example of editing is his cleverly versed questions posed to speakers. In interviews, Moore frequently poses ‘yes or no’ questions for speakers to answer, then cuts to clips degrading their response and not showing their elaborated answer. Evidently, at thirteen minutes into the documentary, Michael Moore poses a question to James Nichols, Oklahoma City Bombing suspect of 1995, pro-guns. “Why not use Gandhi’s way, he didn’t have any guns and he beat the British Empire?” Moore purposely questions Nichols knowing he won’t have a response. “I’m not familiar with that” Nichols hesitantly answers. Moore then cuts to a resident who answers, “Oscoda has a bad habit of raising psychos”. Moore’s positioning of questions shapes the audience’s perception to favour his negative beliefs on gun control. By editing, Moore excludes sections of interviews that may contain legitimate arguments and edits scenes selectively to mock and satirise the answer of speakers. Purposely editing another a clip after the interview, degrades the speaker’s argument and positions audiences to view the speaker as not credible and Moore as a trustworthy source. He effectively conveys his point without having to verbally interact with audiences, he allows them to compose their own opinion using the biased nature of interviews and editing. Equally, the selective manipulation of footage in this interview brands Nichols as manic and unstable. By editing the interview to have a speaker after, Moore disregards Nichols credibility so audiences are then positioned to agree with Moore. Moore’s successful use of editing in ‘Bowling for Columbine’ manipulates audiences to view Michael Moore’s arguments trustworthy and the speakers unreliable.

Arguably, Moore’s effective use of juxtaposition manipulates a negative representation of gun control to audiences. Michael Moore ingeniously contradicts an idea explained in a prior clip, mocking it, to express an idea that is a direct representation of his negative beliefs and values towards guns. Moore uses juxtaposition to his advantage as he successfully conveys an idea to audiences without verbally saying it, and lets the clips speak for themselves. Evidently, at twenty-four minutes in, Moore uses juxtaposition through a montage of Louis Armstrong’s ’What a Wonderful World’. Moore uses ‘What a Wonderful World’, an optimistic song about all the beautiful things in life, edited over a montage of murders and wars caused by the United States. This comparative difference, juxtaposition, emphasises America’s entrenched culture of violence and poses the question to viewers, what a wonderful world? Moore effectively conveys his point without having to say a word he lets the audience compose their own opinion using the biased nature of Juxtaposition. Moore positions audiences to feel sad, anger, disgust and ashamed of the violent history of America, depicting America as the villains. Having audiences in such an emotional state makes them susceptible to accept Moore’s manipulation into his beliefs and values. Moore effectively leads audiences to this conclusion without physically standing in front of the camera verbally expressing his opinion to audiences, the clips speak for themselves and Moore. Moore’s manipulation of juxtaposition in ‘Bowling for Columbine’ lead audiences to perceive his negative opinion on gun violence without having to verbally say it.

Michael Moore’s manipulation is evident through his use of oversimplification to convey to audiences his negative perception of gun control in America. Moore oversimplifies the problems of race to audience’s bigotry about American culture. Moore uses deductive reasoning in each of his arguments to portray logical fallacies to support his claims. This comprises of the hasty generalisation, prejudicial language, mockery and satire, the fundamental nature of oversimplification. Moore’s most apparent example of editing is his oversimplification of ideas and concepts about the history of America. At fifty minutes into the documentary, Moore uses a three-minute cartoon animation to lightly address America’s history. The montage is used by Moore to criticise the American government, conveying his belief to audiences that it’s a culture built on fear damaging American citizens. This cartoon animation oversimplifies concepts that provide audiences with a hasty generalisation of American history. For example, the cartoon links the KKK, a national terrorist organisation, and the NRA, organisation of ‘patriotism’, as similar in their purpose. This comparison influences audiences to view the NRA in equivalence to terrorism, furthering Moore’s beliefs and attitudes of anti-guns. The animation caricatures the reasons for America’s fearful culture. Its satirical nature mocks American history and effectively mocks how entrenched gun violence is instilled into American history. Moore could have chosen a stereotypical, monotone history video although he ingeniously chose to use a captivating cartoon knowing its humorous nature. Using a cartoon to tell the story of American history conveys to audiences that it should be perceived as a joke. The satirical nature of oversimplification positions audiences to view the animation of American history as hectic, unreasonable, injudicious, irresponsible and laughable, that is a direct reflection of Moore’s personal values and beliefs. The effective manipulation of oversimplification through the film shapes audiences’ representations and perceptions of gun control to match Moore’s beliefs and values.

With this being said, Moore has a durable conviction in his beliefs and values, he successfully manipulates audiences to adeptly convey these beliefs and values. Moore is successful in his pursuit to answer the question of ‘why are guns so accessible in the United States?’. Moore’s manipulation of these propaganda techniques of editing, juxtaposition and oversimplification, engrains a negative representation of gun control reflective of his personal values. 

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The Use Of Manipulation Techniques In The Documentary Bowling For Columbine. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from
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