The backlash against Fahrenheit 9/11

In the lead up to the recent US presidential elections, the outspoken film-maker Michael Moore was campaigning against George Bush’s re-election. Moore’s primary weapon in his fight against Bush was his documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 – a film heavily critical of Bush and his presidency.

Back in September before the elections, Dr Kelton Rhoads, expert in the psychology of persuasion, produced a fascinating analysis of Fahrenheit 9/11. In it he showed that Moore had used many of the classic propaganda techniques in his attempt to persuade voters. [Go to my summary of his paper]

Now, after Bush’s victory, the effect of Moore’s film appears much weaker than many people expected. After all, the film grossed $157 million at the US box office so millions of Americans saw it and still voted for Bush – what went wrong?

In a new article on his site Dr Rhoads suggests there has been a backlash against Michael Moore and his ‘propaganda':

“Why do influence attempts backlash? I can think of three reasons: 1) the message repulses the audience as inappropriate or extreme…2) the message is recognized as an attempt to manipulate, so the messenger loses credibility while the audience raises their cognitive defences…or 3) the message energizes the opposition…”

It appears that Moore’s biggest mistake was in misunderstanding the psychology of influence. He used the right techniques, but he failed to use them subtly.
> From Working Psychology

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 21 November 2004

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