Perils of Song Selection: A Michael Moore TV Ad


For a commercial promoting the release of Michael Moore's new film Capitalism: A Love Story, the television-watching public is told that Moore was "right about health care" with Sicko, "right about the war" with Fahrenheit 9/11, and "right on the money" with his new work. But the ad doesn't say anything about Moore being "right about guns" in Bowling for Columbine. What gives? That docuscreed won the Best Documentary Oscar, was super-popular, laid the groundwork for Moore's conquering of the far-left wingnuts, and totally put that old geezer Charlton Heston in his place.

It's just as well that Bowling for Columbine was left out of the ad for Capitalism considering the song chosen as the soundtrack for the ad. MIA's "Paper Planes" is played over shots from Capitalism, chosen, it seems, because of the cash register jangles in the song and how well they coordinate with black-and-white stock footage of old cash registers. You know, because the movie is about money and stuff. But there's another sound effect in the song, that of gun shots. "Paper Planes" has been used in numerous ways since it was released as a single in 2008 off of MIA's 2007 album Kala, most notably in the trailer for Pineapple Express. In the context of promoting that David Gordon Green film, which follows a drug dealer and his customer as they avoid gangsters and drug lords, the song worked as an excellent musical representation of the movie's sensibility: acerbic and fun with more than a hint of danger.

In the context of this new Michael Moore movie, the use of the song connotes a desperate attempt at hipness. "It's hip hop, right? And the kids love hip hop, right? Especially hip hop with gun sounds, right?" That last point is where the problem arises. Moore made a whole movie about the danger of guns, how ridiculous their proliferation in our society is, and why the pervasive gun culture in America should be scrapped. Then he turns around and uses a song with gun shots to promote his movie about taking down the tools of capitalism that crippled the economy. Sure "Paper Planes" makes cutting and watching a commercial more enjoyable, but the semiotics on display in this case reek of total misunderstanding of the interaction of sound and image. The song was used because the cash register noises cued up well with the Capitalism's stock images, but the gun shots also imply that Moore might use violent means to achieve his goals with the movie.

Obviously, that's not the case. But that's the impression left when the commercial ends. If that was the goal of the movie's marketing team, they are as misguided as they are oblivious. But if it wasn't, and the song was innocently chosen because of his implied hipness, shame on Michael Moore for not calling foul. The song can be interpreted in many ways, one being anti-gun according to MIA, but in this context it plays contrary to Moore's supposed angry-man take-down of America's gun club and makes it sound like he's about to take up arms himself against the people who did so much damage to America's poor and middle-class population.

I guess it's good that he didn't claim to be "right about guns," after all.