Bowling for Columbine

From Academic Kids

Bowling for Columbine is a film directed by and starring Michael Moore. It won an Academy Award in the category of documentary film and has received both praise and criticism, both for the genre which it occupies (creative documentary), as well as what it claims. The film opened on October 11, 2002, and internationalized Moore's previously cultish American status.

The film won the 55th Anniversary Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and received a 13-minute standing ovation at the end of its screening at the festival.

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Movie Poster for Bowling for Columbine


The film's purpose is to explore what Moore suggests are the reasons and causes for the Columbine High School massacre, and other acts of violence with guns. Moore focuses on the background and environment in which the massacre took place, and some common public opinions and assumptions about different particular points. The film takes an informal, artistic and up-close-and-personal look into the nature of violence in the United States, focusing on guns as the controversial symbol of both American "Freedom" and its paradoxical self-destruction.

It also looks at the claims and beliefs attributed by some to the perpetrators, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and their ideological associations, as well as the progress of the surviving victims and relatives in dealing with their personal tragedy. Aside from the political points and jabs, the film is about the healing of the nation in the wake of "Columbine" in coming to an understanding of the event and its meaning for the culture at large.

The film draws heavily from self-incriminating clips from gun advertisements, corporate training videos, news clips, and political speeches. Depending on perspective, the clips chosen either represent disastrously common American archetypes, or they simply catch a few people unexpectedly. For example various talking heads who carelessly spouted out their verdicts for why the massacre was the fault of everything from "Satan" (Jerry Falwell), to South Park (Byron Dorgan), eventually many agreeing to villainize heavy metal music, and Marilyn Manson's music in particular, which some claimed was an influence (though reportedly Harris and Klebold disliked Manson's music). Another clip shows a local Michigan TV journalist reporting on the death of a child by gun violence, who seems more concerned with his cosmetic appearance and being syndicated on national networks. The apparent dichotomy between those who care about common people and those who do not, and how these categories tend to line up with socio-economic status, is a central focus in Moore's films.

There are three parts in the movie when Michael Moore goes up to a person to take an interview but they walk away. The first person was a cop in LA (who when asked about the pollution didn't say anything), the second was Dick Clark (who was in a car leaving when Michael Moore came up to him and asked him about welfare problems. Dick Clark told others to shut the door and then the car drove away.) The third person was Charlton Heston, the head of the NRA, who let Michael Moore take an interview with him because Michael Moore at first sounded like an NRA fan (he told Heston that he was a member, which is true), but when the interview started and Moore started asking about Columbine-related events, Heston got up and walked away (bizarrely, in his own home).

Bowling for Columbine also features what is intended as a simplified satirical cartoon about North American history and Moore's discussions with various people, including South Park co-creator Matt Stone; the National Rifle Association's president, Charlton Heston, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and was allegedly interviewed under false pretenses; and musician Marilyn Manson. Moore seeks to answer, in his own unique style, the questions of why the Columbine massacre occurred, and why the United States then had higher rates of violent crimes (especially crimes involving guns) than other developed nations, in particular Germany, France, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and especially Canada. (Note: crime rates change from year-to-year)

Culture of fear

The film explores the idea of a "culture of fear", in which citizens are kept frightened about the world around them and thus turn to guns and other weapons for security. He specifically pillories the media for excessive and overly dramatic coverage of violent crime as a leading cause of this culture.

He argues this is an important difference between US and other cultures. For instance, he shows that many Canadians leave their doors unlocked when they are at home. The film includes footage of him testing some doors and finding them unlocked.

Gun homicide

Moore argues that the higher gun-related homicide rate in the United States is not due to the number of guns there, since, Moore states, Canada also has the same number of gun per capita and yet has fewer gun related homicides. Moore then inquires, if it is not the number of guns in American society, what else could the cause be? He makes suggestions, such as the nation's violent past in subjugating the Native Americans, but he argues that other nations with violent histories, such as Germany and Japan, nevertheless have many fewer murders than the United States does. He also examines American militarism, and takes a personal look at the ways that American society has a smaller "social safety net" to take care of its citizens, compared to other countries. He also suggests a relationship between America's supposed fear of its Black population and the rate of gun ownership and violence.


The film title originates from the early myth that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, attended their regularly scheduled bowling class early that morning, at 6am, before they committed the attacks at school starting at 11:18 am. However, that assertion has been thoroughly debunked. (External link below.) Moore suggests that it is no more unreasonable to blame their actions on bowling than to blame them on violent video games, movies, and music (during the aftermath of the shooting, many used the opportunity to denounce Marilyn Manson and The Matrix, claiming a connection between violence in the media and violence in schools).

"What a wonderful world" segment

In one particularly controversial segment of the film, Michael Moore lists a series of military, clandestine, and diplomatic actions by the United States (set to "What a Wonderful World," by Louis Armstrong).

Moore's critics state that he deceptively exaggerates historical facts and dispute some of his claims [1] (, while defenders argue that he describes well-established historical facts in colorful language. On the website accompanying the film, Moore provides additional background information. [2] (

The following is an exact transcript of the claims Moore makes in the Wonderful World segment (text appears onscreen):

  1. 1953: U.S. overthrows Prime Minister Mossadegh of Iran. U.S. installs the Shah as dictator.
  2. 1954: U.S. overthrows democratically elected President Arbenz of Guatemala. 200,000 civilians are killed.
  3. 1963: U.S. backs assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem.
  4. 1963-1975: The Vietnam War, supported by the U.S. military, kills an est. 4 million people in Southeast Asia.
  5. September 11, 1973: U.S. stages a military coup in Chile. Democratically elected president Salvador Allende died. Dictator General Augusto Pinochet is installed leading to the disappearance and death of 3,500 Chileans.
  6. 1977: U.S. backs military rulers of El Salvador. 7,000 Salvadorans and four American nuns are killed.
  7. 1980s: U.S. trains Osama bin Laden and fellow Muslim terrorists to kill Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan War. CIA gives them $3 billion.
  8. 1981: Reagan administration trains and funds Contras to fight communist government. 30,000 Nicaraguans die.
  9. 1982: U.S. provides billions in aid to Saddam Hussein for weapons to kill Iranians.
  10. 1983: The White House secretly and illegally gives Iran weapons to kill Iraqis.
  11. 1989: CIA agent Manuel Noriega (also serving as president of Panama) disobeys orders from Washington. U.S. invades Panama and removes Noriega.
  12. 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait with weapons from U.S.
  13. 1991: U.S. enters Iraq. Bush reinstates dictator of Kuwait.
  14. 1998: U.S. bombs “weapons factory” in Sudan. The factory turns out to be making aspirin.
  15. 1991-date of the film: U.S. planes bomb Iraq on a weekly basis. The United Nations estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children die from bombing and sanctions.
  16. 2000-2001: U.S. gives Taliban-ruled Afghanistan $245 million in aid.
  17. The final instance in the montage depicts the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, with a title card alleging that Osama bin Laden received CIA training that helped him plan the attack.


In the end he makes no definitive statements, but after exploring various possible answers to his question "why?", he draws connections between Columbine and the larger world. By demonstrating the hollowness of popular prejudice, he demonstrates the ease by which public figures will echo these similar misconceptions. He leaves it up to the viewer to judge the words (and the character) of the individuals featured; the viewers themselves will determine if the subjects are wise or foolish, ignorant or aware, good-natured or deceitful, emotionally healthy or withering on the vine.


The film is highly controversial, and some of its critics have gone so far to call for a revocation of the Academy Award because they do not consider Bowling for Columbine a legitimate documentary. Some of the film's defenders, on the other hand, view these criticisms as symptomatic of the emotionality that characterizes the gun rights debate. Criticism has been made by both pro-gun and anti-gun groups.

Criticism from pro-gun groups

The gun-rights lobby thinks that Moore unfairly portrayed lawful gun-owners in the USA as a violence-prone group. While few argue that the gunshot homicide rate is higher in the US than in other countries, it has been shown that Moore's statistics as presented in the montage of other countries sequence are ambiguous [3] ( on two counts: first, the statistics are not adjusted for smaller population of other countries; second, most of the other countries' numbers do not include accidental deaths and shootings performed in self-defense, while the US figure does include these. Finally, it has been argued that other types of violent crime (such as assault with knives or other deadly weapons) were not mentioned, which tend to take the place of gun violence in countries where guns are not prevalent.

In the film, Moore berates the American media for creating a culture of fear in the American public. Many of his detractors argue that his own movie is geared towards creating fear of gun owners and of the government, and accuse him of hypocrisy on those grounds.

Critics also claim that Moore makes misleading statements in the movie. For example, Moore conducted an interview with Evan McCollum, Director of Communications at a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine, and asked him, "So you don't think our kids say to themselves, gee, dad goes off to the factory every day - he builds missiles. These are weapons of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?" McCollum responded: "I guess I don't see that specific connection because the missiles that you're talking about were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us." The comment then cuts to a montage of questionable American foreign policy decisions, with the intent to contradict McCollum's statement, and cite examples of how the United States has, in Moore's view, frequently been the aggressor nation.

McCollum has later clarified that the plant he works for does not still produce missiles (the plant manufactured parts for intercontinental ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead in the mid-1980s), but rockets used for launching satellites which Aviation Week & Space Technology describes as being used "for the rapid targeting of Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles involved in Iraqi strikes". (Cruise missiles are, of course, a potential weapon of mass destruction). Indeed, the plant was also used to take former nuclear missiles out of service, converting decommissioned Titan missiles into launch vehicles for these targeting satellites. Since the interview was conducted in the plant, and on the backdrop of these rockets, critics charge that Moore was misleading his viewers by implying (without saying so) that this particular plant still produced missiles. Some critics have also incorrectly claimed that Moore actually makes that statement. However, he does not, which is why McCollum does not balk at his statement in the interview.

Criticism from anti-gun groups

Moore argues that high gun ownership is not the problem, but rather something about the American psyche. Gun control advocates argue that it is the higher rates of gun ownership, especially handgun ownership, that are to blame for the higher gunshot homicide rate in the US.

In support of his claims, Moore argues that Canadian gun ownership levels are as high as the U.S. However, it has been pointed out that high gun ownership in Canada and some other countries is mainly related to hunting rifles, which are stringently regulated by the government, and mostly owned by people in small towns and rural areas. By contrast, gun deaths in the U.S. are generally related to handguns in inner cities. Of all industrialized nations, it is the easiest to legally purchase a handgun in the United States. In Bowling for Columbine, Moore claims that it is easy to buy guns in Canada too, and "proves" this by buying some ammunition; in reality, the purchase of a hunting rifle is well regulated in Canada, and obtaining a handgun is substantially more difficult.


In addition to gun ownership, Moore's other comparisons of the United States and Canada have also been criticized. In attempting to depict Canada as a more equitable society, he describes a Toronto housing cooperative as the nearest Canadian equivalent to a "slum". In fact, Canadian cities can and do have slum-like areas; several neighbourhoods in Toronto, including Jane and Finch, Regent Park and St. James Town, are significantly less safe and clean than a housing cooperative.

When comparing American and Canadian television news, Moore contrasts American local 6 p.m. newscasts with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The National, which is essentially the Canadian equivalent of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. Canadian television stations do in fact have local newscasts which closely resemble American local newscasts in their focus on crime and violence.

Media critics have also pointed out that leaving the front door unlocked is not, in fact, the norm in Toronto which Moore portrays it as being, and that at the time Moore was in Toronto, the province of Ontario had a work-for-welfare program similar to the one he blames in the film for a shooting in Michigan.

Awards and nominations


With a budget of only $4,000,000, Bowling for Columbine grossed $40,000,000 worldwide, including $21,575,207 in the United States. The documentary also broke box office records internationally, becoming the highest-grossing documentary of all time in the U.K., Australia, and Austria. These records were later eclipsed by Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

See also


External links

Critical views

es:Bowling for Columbine fr:Bowling for Columbine it:Bowling a Columbine nl:Bowling for Colombine ja:ボウリング・フォー・コロンバイン sv:Bowling for Columbine


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