Michael Moore set the record for the highest-grossing documentary of all time (1989’s “Roger & Me”). Then he broke his own record (2002’s “Bowling for Columbine”). Then he broke it again, with what remains the highest-grossing doc in US history, 2004’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Along the way he won an Oscar and predicted Donald Trump’s presidential victory when no one else saw it coming.
That was then. These days Moore’s IRS-reported income is (according to legal papers filed by his ex-wife, Kathleen Glynn) negative-$350,862 (in 2014) and negative-$221,025 (in 2016). He’s still making movies, but America is yawning. Already there have been two Trump-bashing ones, and each failed spectacularly. “Michael Moore in TrumpLand,” released in hopes that it would sway the 2016 vote against The Donald, grossed $149,000 two years ago. This fall, his latest Trump takedown, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” has grossed barely $6 million despite being rolled out nationwide in some 1,700 theaters while Moore was undertaking a media blitz that included appearances on Bill Maher and a one-hour special with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. “Where to Invade Next,” a 2016 movie praising Euro-socialism, grossed $3.8 million that same year.
A piece on IndieWire compared Moore to Trump, noting with regret “the sense that he manipulates his facts, edits his films sometimes unfairly and can be an oversized presence. Sound like anyone?” Ouch. In a piece for Variety called “How Michael Moore Lost His Audience,” Owen Gleiberman (who calls himself a “fan” and a “Moore believer”) writes that “what he’s doing now is not, in the fullest sense, working.”
It’s a sad reality for the man who once considered himself General Motors’ greatest scourge, but, to steal a phrase, General Motors is alive and Michael Moore is dead. That his hometown of Flint, Mich., once again made national headlines a couple of years ago during a water scare should have provided a boost to his career, but Moore’s usual grandstanding on the subject attracted little attention. He simply doesn’t matter anymore.
So what happened? Moore’s brand of mixing comedy with tendentious far-left takes on current events was once rare. Now it’s everywhere. When Moore was in his heyday, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien were apolitical and David Letterman was all about Stupid Human Tricks instead of recycling Democratic Party propaganda as jokes. Now, the comic landscape is awash with strident leftism, from Samantha Bee to Trevor Noah to Stephen Colbert. Jimmy Kimmel, formerly the cheerful lout of “The Man Show,” these days coordinates his messaging on health care with Chuck Schumer’s office. Even Jimmy Fallon is wading into political humor. Many of these comics routinely plot the kind of performance-art stunts that were once Moore’s stock in trade, as when Kimmel sent comic “Jake Byrd” (Tony Barbieri) to crash President Trump’s inauguration and to troll supporters of former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in a church parking lot. These guys share Moore’s politics but an important difference is: They’re comedians. Moore isn’t funny enough to be even a passable stand-up, as he proved in his weak “TrumpLand” movie and his equally tepid Broadway show last year.
Moore spent years as an outlier on the left, willing to go much further into wackadoodle territory than others when he, for instance, blamed the military-industrial complex for the Columbine shootings at the end of “Bowling for Columbine” or hinted that the 9/11 attacks caused a suspiciously convenient reversal of sagging poll numbers for President George W. Bush in “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Today, when an avowed socialist is the spiritual leader of the Democratic Party and leading party figures support such loony-tunes ideas as abolishing ICE or putting everyone on Medicare, Moore’s persona no longer stands out.
Moore’s extremist commentary — extolling the virtues of Iraqi terrorists as “Minutemen” for attacking US troops, wishing Karl Marx a happy 200th birthday on Twitter — is just routine idiocy of the kind that you can easily find on the homepage of the Huffington Post. Anyone with a Twitter feed or a Facebook post can get attention (and a lot of huzzahs) with far-left sentiments. Moore is no longer a voice in the wilderness, just a voice in the crowd.