America's culture of fear

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by Thanatoast, Jul 19, 2004.

  1. Thanatoast macrumors 6502a

    Thanatoast

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    #1
    Preface: so this post turned out so long that it needed a preface. jeezus. i apologize for the length. i welcome challenges, and want to respond to arguments against my commentary. knowing your enemy is just as important as knowing yourself. i've ended up covering a lot of ground (or blathering, you decide), but my theme is clear (and will probably become severely annoying by the time you reach the end). there also may be a fair bit of soapbox preaching in there, so if it gets too bad, um, tough. the country needs to be preached at. you'll see my reasons why.


    So the pattern I've noticed is this: Americans always have to be freaked out about something. There has to be a new crisis every five minutes. During the quiet Clinton years it was "road rage", then "talking on cell phones while driving", any number of basically inconsequential things that could be hyped up to make into headlines.

    And we've gotten worse. We're no longer afraid of things that may actually hurt us, we're afraid of things that have astonomical odds of actually affecting our lives. If you think about it, how many Americans have died from terrorism in the last twenty years, all over the world? Maybe, (generously) 6-7 thousand? Out of 270 million Americans? You have a better chance of winning the powerball than getting killed by a terrorist!

    And yet, millions of people line up every day and diligently remove their shoes in order to feel "safe". The truth is, they're no more safe now than they were before, and now they've got no shoes on. But it makes them feel better, so they do it.

    We are also afraid of life itself, it seems. Every other commercial I see is for a drug that promises to make you thinner, happier, more outgoing, more actractive, sleep better, be more awake, give you raging hard-ons and have great sex. When did people decide that life could no longer have ups *and* downs? How do you appreciate the ups without the downs? And none of these drugs really *solves* any problem. It only treats the symptoms, and gives you a temporary sense of feeling better about yourself.

    We've become sheep, frightened by the flash of lightning, and herded by corporations and the government. We've not only convinced ourselves that our way of life is the best and only way, we're convinced everyone else should be grateful to join us in our neuroses. (Although I'm sure this particular trait isn't solely perpetuated by us, we're just some of the most vocal)

    If anything, we're more isolationist now than we ever have been. But we've chosen a new and scarier way of being isolationist. A hundred and seventy-five years ago we wanted nothing to do with the rest of the world, let them solve their own problems. Now we are afraid of the rest of the world. Imagine, George W Bush, leader of the most powerfull nation in the history of mankind, afraid of Iraq! Whatever for? And we were so afraid of Saddam Hussein that we toppled his government and occupied his entire country just to assuage our irrational fears! Does that make sense?

    And if Bush wasn't *afraid* of Saddam, if he didn't truly fear Saddam's capability to attack and hurt us, then what *did* he fear? Has he acted like the most powerful man on Earth should? How should the most powerful man on Earth act? Should he crush every foe before he becomes strong enough to attack? That sounds like a unwinnable proposal to me. Should he be generous, kind (yes, kind! Imagine a president known for being kind! It boggles the mind, doesn't it? WHY!?) and set an example the rest of the world can look up to, rather than down upon? I can only speak for myself, but the latter option sounds better to me.

    So here we are at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and what have we acheived? We've got petty drivers on the highway, pulling petty stunts to keep the people behind them there, just to make themselves feel better. We've got petty men leading our country, whose first thought is to prove how strong they are, to make everyone fear their might so that their enemies might not find out how small in stature and mind they truly are. We've got corporations who feed us our fears, and we lap them up and ask for seconds. Where are we now, and more importantly, where do we want to be?

    If we want a world ruled by fear and greed, where people escape their problems rather than confront them, where people would rather be on top than right or honorable, then we are on the right path. If we want something else, then something must change.

    Remember the clerk behind the counter who snapped at you the other day? You know the best way to deal with them? Be the nicest person you can be. Smile at them, ask them if it's been a long day. Wish them luck for the rest of the afternoon. Why get pissed at them? What exactly does it accomplish? Congradulations, there are now two pissed off peolple instead of one happy person and one person stunned that you actually cared or thought to ask.

    Treat people like you know them.

    Our drug-addled, image-concious, me-first attitude in the United States has finally put us in a position where we have stepped beyond the bounds of good sense and good behaviour. We've begun to look down at the rest of the world while ironically being afraid of it at the same time. What are we afraid of? We are the strongest nation, militarily. We are the strongest nation economically. We are the richest nation on the face of the planet. We have great institutions to keep us in balance. We have a populace that wants to be generous and help, if we can just tear our eyes from our mirrors for a second to look around us. Let's be the best we can be, rather than letting our fears and our prejudices blind us to the good in others, and the failings in ourselves.

    Life isn't perfect. Life isn't always great. In fact, sometimes it sucks. But don't take it out on others. Why should we let our anger and fear decide our fate, the course of our day, or the policies of our nation? Why should let our leaders be proponents of greed, fear and paranoia? I don't advocate tea and biscuits, but neither do I advocate "shock and awe". How about something few Americans do well - listening. Not just hearing, but understanding. When the time comes for action, the people will know. Playing on fear and avarice will rile them up, but when the need truly arrives for definitive response, riling them up will be unnecessary.

    As the richest, the most powerful, the most influential nation on Earth, we should make it a point to follow our "better" instincts. We have the money, the power, and the will (if we choose to use it) to accomplish our goals using nothing more than those three tools. Choosing our fights, and promoting peace rather than war will not be the easiest way to do things. It never is. But noboby ever said it was easy being the good guys. Our unending war will never truly solve any problems, just like popping a pill will not really make your life better or happier, and taking off your shoes at the airport will not make you any safer.

    I'm sorry this has taken so long, but I feel like there's a lot to get across, and I don't want you to think that I see the world in the same monochrome as those I'm condemning. I just want you all to try and see that there is a better way, one that no one believes could actually work, because they say it is naive or unrealistic. I say it has never been tried. Some will point out that we did nothing to al-Qeada, and coddling them wouldn't solve our problems. I would ask them to think about what motivation they had to attack us. No human action occurs in a vacuum. There is always a reason, no matter how buried, or irrational, or unwarranted. Let's look at our actions as a nation, at our lifestyle as a society, at our goals as a people, and decide what we want. And let's decide to be the best we can be. Let's make ourselves a nation worthy of respect, instead of fear. Let's be a nation of leaders rather than dictators. Let's lead they way forward, rather than fall back on old, destructive habits. The future is waiting, what will you make of it?
     
  2. SPG macrumors 65816

    SPG

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    #2
    You should read about Barry Glasner and his book The Culture of Fear which was mentioned in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine which actually touches on a lot of what you're writing about here.
     
  3. blackfox macrumors 65816

    blackfox

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    #3
    Thanatoast, your frustration and idealism are warranted, but the examples you give are just the product of a sophisticated capitalist system (media and marketing) further exploiting basic human tendencies that have been documented since The Old Testament (and before).

    Fear is a powerful emotion, and was hard-wired into our species to protect us from harm, and perhaps from our other more impulsive tendencies...it is natural to be fearful, but only a certain degree or amount of fear is allowed for it to be pragmatic, otherwise it floods our decision making process, making it difficult to judge things correctly.

    This fear is largely tied to the unknown, because once we know something we can control it...and that is tied into power. These are universal human tendencies/relationships throughout history. This also ties into another human tendency...laziness, or sloth, going by the Cardinal Sins...

    Many Americans (or people in general, but especially Americans) are caught in this bind. We are bombarded by convenience, either in our physical activities (driving, shopping, food-gathering, social outlets,exercise) and mental ones (critical thought, information gathering, socializing, emotional outlets,), which has simplified our threshold for meaningful excursions in either category...we have TV and soundbites for News, we have Cars and expressways for work, we have TV dinners and Internet dating)...this has made us lazier.

    Now, we are also made fearful, because the potential for danger is riviting to the human psyche (for instinctual reasons) and that attention is worth a lot of money, and has a great potential for control, becuase it often supplants rational thought, if only for a short-while. So you have nightly news distorting the safety of your locale,gaining advertising dollars. You have the government distorting the safety of the world, often to garner support for their aims...which also probably have to do with money (power/control), control (overt) and power (control again)...you get the idea. So people are frightened.

    You add this up, and you get the real problem...a lack of courage. Courage, of course, is doing what needs to be done, despite fear. Doing the right thing even when you are scared out of your wits...at something concrete, or imagined. All the great people of history have this trait in common. It is also inspiring, and contagious...it lessens fear, it is a balancer and one of the noble traits/vehicles that have move humanity forward. It may explain why Bush has been so popular with his Crappy Foreign Policy, because it seemed as he was being courageous against a common fear. However, he was not, because he was being lazy, he did not have the nerve to understand the problem and make the difficult choices despite the costs, despite his fears...courageousness is closely related to selflessness...which is why Jesus and MLK were courageous individuals. Americans are also rather self-centered, which may be a root of such a lack of courage in this country. Lack of courage to think hard,critically, and independently...and the lack of courage to act on those convictions. Lack of courage to question, to look outside comfortable platitudes or systems...so we whine, and we are petty.

    I do not want to go on and on, I may reply more later...but that's enough for now...I hope it was constructive. I was, of course, generalizing w/ regards to the above for the sake of argument, there are of course many courageous people every day in America...but courage is lost as a cultural imperative...
    my 2 cents...

    *EDIT* Although I am too tired to elaborate much, some attention must be brought to the difference between "rational" fears, such as not wanting to go in the ocean if you can't swim, and "irrational" fears, such as the little spider in the bathroom is going to kill you, or a terrorist is going to jump out of the bushes of your apt. block...the former do us a service, the latter often do not.
    Also, I am not sure if I mentioned (or implied enough) that to be fearful is a choice - although much has been done in our culture to give us good reason (perceptually speaking) to be fearful, it is always within our power to choose to be or not. The same with laziness and self-centeredness. Why it is correct imo to lament the tendencies for our Culture to encourage these traits, this does not absolve us as individuals from making the choice, however hard it might be...in fact, much of the courageousness you see today seems rather unremarkable until you consider the context, what forces they are fighting against...so why I depore the "culture of fear" in this country (which is also a "culture of apathy" btw), I do have great hope when I see those who fight for what they believe is right against great odds, and with great fear...
    ok...enough for now.
     
  4. takao macrumors 68040

    takao

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    #4
    interesting topic...

    what i found interesting are those warning signs.. the family of a friend bought a american car 2 years ago (it was a jeep) and the thing was nearly plastered inside with warning signs..my guess that being bombarded with warnings here and there whereever you go,completly destroys the natural human sense of rating dangers accordingly (anybody remembers the Y2K-the-world-will-collapse hype ?)

    but it's only a guess
    with me being afraid that the same irrational fear (perhaps similiar to 'Angst' but i'm not sure) thing taking over even more
     
  5. Desertrat macrumors newbie

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    #5
    Well, Ralph Nader has made a career from promoting fear. To me, his efforts coupled with TV advertising represent a point on a curve where the slope increases. He started getting publicity with "Unsafe At Any Speed", and went on to consumer protection: Fear this! We need laws to protect us from ourselves! and we got labels atop stepladders.

    "If you're afraid you won't get laid, use our "Special Underarm Destinkum", but don't be afraid it'll burn your pits." It'll help if you drive the right car, of course, and that helps reduce fears--as do airbags.

    Government itself uses fear to promote its power. That is, if people worry about some plight of whatever sort, a government program can be set up to deal with it: Environment, civil rights, jobs, education, etc. Each has a budget and there is power to those who control that budget and write the regulations.

    (I'm not saying all fears are unjustified. But: Bureaucrats* don't care whether the fears justified or not, so long as a budgeted amount of money is available and they have the power to write regulations.)

    Fear? We had the 1930s equivalent of Michael Moore producing "Reefer Madness", which became a documentary and training film for what became the DEA. We've been paying--due to fear--for that madness ever since. And I read where some prosecutor in one of the Carolinas used provisions of the Patriot Act against a drug peddler who'd threatened a witness: Terrorized the witness.

    Rant mode off, for a while...

    :), 'Rat
     
  6. tristan macrumors 6502a

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    #6
    I think it's just the news - they've learned that they get higher ratings through fear, conflict, and just overall negativity. Why talk about what a good job the Mayor's done on crime overall when you can focus on a sniper or a serial killer. Or why talk about serious political issues when you can show people screaming with each other about gay marriage or whether Harry Potter is satanic. Why have reasonable people on TV when you can put two extremists on and have them fight.

    News overseas is really much better - if you get BBC World on PBS it's worth watching. They botched their war coverage (they had the US losing at the beginning), but overall it's pretty good.

    I hope some news organization takes the high road at some point and gains viwers - it'll probably be seen as "the next big trend in news". :)
     
  7. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #7
    We come now to the dark side of elected governance.

    I'm going to say some things that will frighten and offend you. Please think carefully before responding. This post is designed to illicit that effect and to make you think. Please keep arms and legs inside the ride at all times. ;)

    American society has become an excellent example of short-term motivational techniques used on a massive scale. Because our public officials don't have lifetime contracts, they have no interest in the long term welfare of the people. I'm not advocating lifetime Governance at all, I'm just stating an observation: Without the ability to have popular "no confidence" votes and the like Politicians are free to have very short attention spans. Likewise Businesses can have short attention spans because turnover of staff and sheer volume of advertising that forces workers and buyers to make short-term, often ill-advised decisions.

    When you look at the various motivational methods Fear produces the best short term productivity (negative re-enforcement) but has a high psychological cost. The use of Fear over the long term requires a constant diversification of the source of the Fear. The cost is expressed in various forms: Apathy, sociopathy, violence, cinnicism, suicide. The side effects add up to PTSD in one form or another. Now, you can recover some of the productivity that is lost to burnout by not only introducing new sources of Fear but also adding short term compensation devices to the mix that distort comfort level; enter the drugs. The stress level of a society can be measured fairly accurately by it's substance abuse (both legal and illegal).

    Over the long term the best motivator is Uncertainty (random re-enforcement). If a population is kept stressed as in the above but is also given a small, randomly distributed set of rewards they will push harder over the long term and burnout time is extended and tolerated longer at a given level of mental dammage.

    Now we get to the scary part: These measures of motivation are measured in isolation from tracking the health and mental/emotional well being of the subject populations. If either above method is used over multiple generations without significant pause or relief the pattern exaggerates to a point where rational decisions are almost completely lost in the noise of fear/confusion.

    It's important to note that this sort of system requires a regular turnover of population. Warfare, population expansion and the constant shifting of the ballance of personal wealth serve to keep the population "fresh" in their response to stress-based stimuli.

    The American identity has been receptive to this technique for a very long time. The basic tennets of hard work and moralism make fear motivation quite easy to apply. When the average citizen has it firmly in their subconcious that only the hardest working and most ethical get any rewards in life it's very easy to eploit positions of power and authority through the constant application of Fear motivation.

    All of this is quite well published. Though Government, Big Business and religious institutions using it for centuries before it was all quantified by folks like B F Skinner.

    If you keep a population increasingly isolated, ignorant and fearful you can get them to quite literally work themselves to death without a second's thought to the reasons or outcome of what they're doing or how screwed they've been. After all, they'll get their reward for their hard work and moralism after death right?
     
  8. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #8
    Sounds like Machiavelli processed through George Orwell.
     
  9. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #9
    Nope.

    I'm not implying conspiracy. I'm observing a pattern that's easily described by power and stress based motivational techniques. Go research Positive, Negative and random re-enforecement, then come back and tell me that I'm NOT seeing what I stated above.

    The pattern is embedded in the American identity. Without tremendous effort and change it will only continue to exaggerate until this society collapses quite suddenly.
     
  10. krimson macrumors 65816

    krimson

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    #10
    i blame religion and lawyers for this culture of fear.
     
  11. Desertrat macrumors newbie

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    #11
    Aw, c'mon crimson. Who's afraid of Gaia?

    mischief, my agreement with your comments does include a caveat that (IMO) there is not as much deliberate and knowlegeable effort involved as many would have us think...

    I've always been rather sneering at the sales pitches of both government and Madison Avenue at the use of fear in order that laws be enacted or that I buy some doofus product. As near as I can tell, I've just never had the fears that seem so commonplace.

    'Rat
     
  12. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #12
    I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just referencing the sources. I suspect Machiavelli would be pleased with the 21st century, knowing his ideas proved so durable, and Orwell horrified to see us living in his satire.
     
  13. Ugg macrumors 68000

    Ugg

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    #13
    Link

    An interesting article on conspiracy theories and fear in the US by a Brit in Seattle.

     
  14. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #14
    My bad.

    I guess the effort of trying to express my perspective effectively in the Ahnold thread got me a bit snippy.

    Oops.
     
  15. jayb2000 macrumors 6502a

    jayb2000

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    #15
    Reefer Madness??

    Um, except Reefer Madness was outright lies. Nothing Michael Moore did in f911 or his other movies has been shown to be a lie.
    He did not fake Bush sitting in a class for 7+ minutes after the WTC was attacked a second time.
    He did not fake the video footage.
    Sure, he espouses his opinion in there, but he clearly has said that it is his opinion. However, everything claimed as factual, so far, has been.

    For anyone's personal amusement, here are few articles that detail some of the history of making pot illegal and the continuing drug war.

    http://blogs.salon.com/0002762/stories/2003/12/22/whyIsMarijuanaIllegal.html

    http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97apr/reef.htm

    And maybe how they got the name? http://www.onlinepot.org/reefermadness/hearstessay1937.htm


    As for the "fear thing", I still like "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself."
     
  16. IIvan macrumors regular

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    #16
    This is an extraordinary moment in American history. Half the country - including all the people I know best - believes it is trembling on the very lip of outright tyranny, while the other half believes that only the Bush administration stands between it and national collapse into atheism, socialism, black helicopters, and gay marriage.

    wow- pretty amazing, and kinda true...

    who wants to start a peaceful self contained communist villiage on a remote tropical island? :D ;)
     
  17. Desertrat macrumors newbie

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    #17
    Aw, Ilvan, a bunch of us are quite happy with our little entrepreneurial village in the middle of a desert...

    Sorry, jayb2000, but the "Columbine" dreck was as big a batch of spin as has ever come down the pike. Purely an emotion-driven anti-gun propaganda piece that's almost worthy of Dr. Goebbels...Anybody believes it was in any way a documentary readily believes what's in government press releases.

    'Rat

    PS: Sorry about the hit-and-run, but I'm off to the highway for a couple of days.
     
  18. groovebuster macrumors 65816

    groovebuster

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    #18
    And I think to compare Moore with Göbbels considering their different motivations and goals is competely ignorant...

    Greetings from Berlin

    groovebuster
     
  19. mactastic macrumors 68040

    mactastic

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    #19
    Ahh yes, it's ok to compare Moore to Goebbels, and Moore and Kerry to Hitler, yet it's not ok for MoveOn.org to have recieved an ad comparing Bush to Hitler. The double standards keep on coming....
     
  20. osiris macrumors newbie

    osiris

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    #20
    I haven't read the whole thing yet because I can't stop laughing about the shoes thing.
     
  21. osiris macrumors newbie

    osiris

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    #21
    Columbine wasn't anti-gun it was anti the fear culture being promoted in the US, which ironically, is also what this thread is about.
    Moore uses Canada as an example of gun ownership being responsible and as a society that doesn't use fear as a tool unlike the US and I'm sorry to say the UK.
     
  22. mischief macrumors 68030

    mischief

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    #22
    To JB2K

    I reiterate.... Re: Bowling for Columbine.

    Video doesn't lie... until you edit the hell out of it and use multiple unrelated clips, soundbites out of context and outright LIE about what's being shown.

    A few tidbits:

    The NRA meetings shown "At Columbine" were compiled from video tape of NRA meetings in various cities over a six month period. The clip/quote of Mr. Heston (for example) saying "From my cold dead hands!" was from a speech in Philidelphia where he was presented with an antique Musket.

    The "Lockheed Nuclear Weapons Factory" was, in fact engaged in DECOMMISSIONING nuclear-equipped rockets and refitting them to carry non-millitary payloads.

    Several of the NRA meetings that Mr. Moore implied were "Right after" gun deaths were, in fact either moved back out of respect, involved a long moment of silence, a month or more later or otherwise misrepresented.

    Mr. Moore's correlation between the NRA and the KKK is not only inaccurate but diametrically contrary to facts. The facts line up alright but the boost in NRA memberships were due to African Americans banding together under the NRA for mutual protection in the face of a now (theoretically) prosecutable KKK with the new option of gun ownership lobby protection.

    Google: bowling for colimbine debunk
     
  23. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #23
    No NRA meetings were shown as having occurred "at Columbine." Two clips of Heston's appearances at NRA meetings were used in this sequence, the one with the musket (where it was taken isn't relevant, because Moore never implies and there'd be no reason to infer that it was in Columbine), and the second at the NRA meeting in Denver, which the voiceover clearly identifies as having occurred in Denver, ten days after the Columbine killings. In that clip, Heston defiantly responds to the mayor of Denver's plea to the NRA to not come to city at that time, and to those who were protesting their meeting.

    Google: bowling for columbine missing the point
     
  24. Daveman Deluxe macrumors 68000

    Daveman Deluxe

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    #24
    IJ Reilly:

    Mayor Webb of Denver had solicited the NRA convention to come to Denver for YEARS before hand. After the Columbine shooting, he asked Heston not to come to Denver, but by New York state law (where the NRA has its non-profit charter), cancellation was illegal. Furthermore, even if it would have been legal to do so, it was an annual meeting that was scheduled years in advance. How do you get the word out to four million people, many of whom have already made their travel arrangements, that the convention to be held in ten days is being moved? And then how do you find a place to go in that short of a time?

    Furthermore, Heston cancelled all of the fun and merriment (usually there are several days of committee meetings, sporting events, dinners, and rallies) and only held the annual members' meeting in the afternoon session shown in BFC.

    Going on, the part where Heston said in his speech, "I said to the mayor: As Americans, we are free to travel wherever we want in our broad land. Don't come here? We're already here!" was heavily edited. "I said to the mayor" and "As Americans..." were separated by several paragraphs. He actually said,

    Sure sounds defiant to me. :rolleyes:
     
  25. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #25
    This is how it plays in the film. I've used ellipses where I can't be certain if Moore edited.

    I also want to applaud your courage in coming here today...

    ...I have a message from the mayor, Mr. Wellington Webb, the mayor of Denver (boos from audience). He sent me this, and it says, "don't come here, we don't want you here." ...

    I say to the mayor, this is our country, as Americans we're free to travel wherever we want in our broad land. ...

    Don't come here? We're already here.​

    Yes, Moore edited to make his point stronger, but he didn't add or subtract anything that fundamentally altered the tone and content of Heston's remarks. Whatever else may have occurred, everyone, including Heston, seemed to be fully aware that the mayor and many others wanted the NRA to stay away from Denver at that moment. Heston even congratulated the attendees on their courage.

    But this is mostly beside the point. What I've shown here is that the so-called "debunking" of this scene in the movie was mainly bunk itself.
     

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