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The Persuasive Techniques Used “In Bowling for Columbine” Essay

The movie “Bowling for Columbine” was made after the shooting in Columbine high school and tries to explore the reasons for America’s violent nature. Moore believes that there is one main reason for this, the fact that there are relaxed gun laws in America. Therefore, Moore uses a number of different persuasive techniques in order to try and persuade the viewer to believe that this is the case. He uses certain visuals, music, sequences the scenes in a specific order and uses facts and opinions to achieve this.

The first scene that shows persuasive techniques is “The Wonderful World” sequence. In this sequence, it shows horrible images of dead people, with various facts and figures shown at the bottom of the screen. In the background, the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong is being played. There are many persuasive techniques used in this sequence, being the visuals, the camera movement and editing, the sequencing, the audio and uses of facts and opinions.

The visuals used in this scene are very persuasive as they are very striking and are horrible images. We see images of suffering and death which are shocking and appeal to the emotions which, in turn generates sympathy. The images used are of suffering or death of real people which makes the reader feel very disgusted and shocked at how the USA was linked to this and would side with the viewpoint of Moore, that the USA is very insensitive.

The camera movement and editing of the sequence is also very persuasive. The main way in which Michael Moore persuades the viewer is by only showing one side of the argument. By introducing this element of bias, the viewer only has one view to believe and by doing this, the viewer believes this viewpoint to be true, as it does not know of any other. The viewpoint that Michael Moore is showing is that the USA is very insensitive. Moore makes the government seem insensitive by displaying pictures of dead corpses caused by US government-funded wars. He then amplifies this by juxtaposing the images of guns and gore with those of peace which makes the horrific images of corpses seem even more horrible.

The trust between citizen and government is broken down even further due to the way Moore has structured The Wonderful World sequence. We first see the image of the way things were before and non-violent images are used, for example a man throwing flowers. Next it cuts to what happens after the US get involved and then images of war and death are used, which gives the viewer the impression the government do nothing except make a negative difference to the world. The editing of this scene coupled with the camera movement means that Moore can only show selective images which would persuade the viewer.

The sequencing is another very important persuasive technique. To gain the maximum effect possible from “The Wonderful World” sequence Moore positions it immediately after the interview with Lockheed Martin’s press officer. The officer says the weapons they develop are solely for defensive purposes and then goes on to say alternative methods to violence should be used to settle conflicts between countries.

Moore then cuts to “The Wonderful World” sequence where we see the weapons being used for aggressive purposes and excessive violence used to settle conflicts – a heavily ironic statement from Moore. Here Moore’s depiction of opinion against fact helps the reader see their naivety in believing the government and helps support Moore’s belief that they should not be trusted. However this use of editing to create a one-sided argument may prove to be too much like propaganda to the more cynical of viewers. By structuring the scenes in this specific way, Moore can highlight that the USA is insensitive which is a persuasive technique.

The audio of the scene proves to be a very powerful persuasive technique. There is a deep irony in the music, as the music is positive sounding, whereas the pictures that are being displayed are very negative. This use of sarcasm is a very powerful persuasive technique as the viewer begins to side with Moore. Furthermore, the fact that the audio dovetails with the images seen on screen is also a persuasive technique. Where Noriega throws flowers out to the crowd, the corresponding words in the song are; “I love You”. By using sarcasm and dovetailing it with the music, a powerful persuasive technique is effective.

The use of facts and statistics is also a persuasive technique; “UN estimates 500,000 Iraqi children die from bombing and sanctions”. Facts are a very
powerful persuasive technique as there is no room for argument. If opinion was used, for example, by Michael Moore, then the viewer may not trust what he is saying as it is his viewpoint. However, as it is a fact, it is true and cannot be argued with. Furthermore, the fact that the source of the fact is from the UN, means that it is more persuasive as the UN is a trusted organisation and would not state any misleading facts. The facts displayed at the bottom of the screen are displayed in a crude militaristic font.

From this, the viewer gets the impression that killing is part of the US government’s agenda, thus detracting from the viewer’s trust in them. The viewers are made even more cynical of the government when they describe an aspirin factory as a’ “weapons factory” ‘. The use of the inverted commas gives the caption a sarcastic tone, helps make the reader more aware of how the government has made too many costly mistakes and makes them seem obtuse. By using facts and statistics, it means that they are true and means that the viewer must believe them which is a persuasive technique Moore uses.

Another persuasive technique that Moore uses is repetition; “Dictator”, “Massacre”, “Assassinated”. Moore has specifically used emotive words here, which is persuasive as it appeals directly to the emotions. Moore could have used other language such as ‘killed’ instead of “assassinated”, however this would have not been emotive language and the scene would not have the same persuasive effect that it does. Repetition is a very powerful persuasive technique which Moore uses effectively.

The second scene which was examined was the CCTV footage. In this scene, it shows the footage from the CCTV cameras in the lunch hall of Columbine high school. It shows the pupils of the school hiding under the tables in the lunch hall while the two boys walk around in a very cavalier manner, whilst holding armed guns. In the background, we hear 911 calls from pupils at the school, and very sombre music. There are a number of persuasive techniques in this scene, such as the visuals, sequencing and audio.

The visuals are a persuasive technique in this scene. At the very start of this scene, we see a very ironic image, which is the sign for Columbine High School, with the motto; “Home of the rebels” along with a picture of a¬†soldier holding a gun. This is very ironic as the boys that committed the shooting thought of themselves as rebels. The visuals at the start of the scene are of the school, with the camera slowly moving around the school, which is empty. This is a persuasive technique as it shows the school to be lonely and sad, which appeals to the emotions of the viewer. The next part of the scene is the actual CCTV footage of the lunch hall as the pupils that committed the killings walk around.

This part of the scene is very emotive as it shocks the viewer. The scene shows complete panic by the children and the viewer is shocked and disgusted. The viewer also trusts the source of the CCTV footage, as there is a timestamp at the bottom of the screen showing the date and time. The viewer therefore trusts the source of the footage as they have to believe the footage to be true and not edited. Furthermore, if we study the times of the selective scenes Moore uses, we see that time code changes which is ambiguous and it generates panic in the viewer’s mind. The viewer is persuaded heavily to Moore’s viewpoint by using a number of persuasive techniques.

The sequencing used is very important in this scene in persuading the viewers. Immediately after the CCTV footage, we see a scene with interviews with young girls from the school. This is a very persuasive part of the sequence as it is very emotional. This is due to the fact we the see girls in a very emotional state. The viewer then sympathises with them and realises that Moore’s viewpoint, that guns should be controlled, is true. Moore specifically only chose the interviews with girls, as girls are much more emotional than boys, and this would have a greater emotional effect on the viewer. Immediately after the interview with the girls, the scene skips to a gun rally for the NRA.

This shows Charlton Heston saying “From my cold dead hands”. At first, to the viewer, this shows Charlton Heston as being very insensitive to the Columbine shootings and makes him look as though he has no heart. However, if we study Heston, we can see that the part where he says “From my cold dead hands” is not actually from the press conference after the Columbine shootings, as we can see that he is wearing different clothes. Moore specifically chose to use this scene from another press conference to make Heston seem very cold hearted and make the viewer hate him and the what he supports, which is allowing Americans to freely own guns.

The audio used in this scene is also another persuasive technique. The music in the background is a singular guitar, playing slow, mournful music. This music is a very subtle persuasive technique as it makes the viewer feel sad and serious. The other main audio used in this scene is the 911 calls. These are the real 911 calls that were made by the pupils of Columbine high school during the attack. These are very emotional, as they are very real and shocking to listen to. The viewer trusts the source as the 911 calls are grainy and sound authentic. The audio is a persuasive technique Moore uses.

The third scene which was examined was the cartoon scene on “A brief history of the United States”. In this scene, it begins to try and find a cause for America’s violent gun culture, and the cartoon puts this down to fear. The cartoon shows how the white people are scared of other cultures, for example Indians in America and black people. The main persuasive technique used in this scene is humour; however there are others such as the visuals, sequencing and altering of facts which help to sway the viewer’s viewpoint.

The visuals used in this scene are a persuasive technique as they are very comical, mainly because the scene is a cartoon. The actual people in the cartoon look ridiculous as they have been drawn with no noses and huge eyes, making the characters look very unintelligent. There is also a deep irony as the narrator of the scene is a bullet. The irony is present as the bullet is happy, which is not ordinary as bullets are made to kill people. The visuals used in the scene are humorous, which is a persuasive technique. By making the viewer laugh, Moore is making the viewers side with his viewpoint, which is a persuasive technique.

The sequencing is also a persuasive technique. The scene before the cartoon shows how many gun deaths there are per year in major countries across the world. The figures start high, with Germany having 381, and then decreasing until Japan which has 39. Finally, it gives the figure for America which is 11,127. This scene is persuasive as it highlights the fact that there is a problem in America, and Moore is conveying his viewpoint to the viewer.

Another persuasive technique that is used in this scene is the use of facts. In the cartoon, Moore only selects specific facts and makes changes to them in order to effectively convey his viewpoint to the viewer. For example, in the cartoon, it states that “the black people outnumbered the white people in many parts of the south” and that there were uprisings. This is not the entire truth as black people only outnumbered people in remote areas. Moore deliberately changes the facts to persuade the viewers to his viewpoint, that America should have stricter laws on gun control. By changing facts, it is a powerful persuasive technique that Moore uses to sway the viewer to his point of view.

In conclusion, I believe that Moore uses a number of persuasive techniques in order to make the viewer believe his viewpoint. This viewpoint is that America does not have strict enough laws on gun control. This was highlighted by the Columbine shootings at the ease two pupils of a school could purchase guns and attack their fellow pupils. Moore uses humour and sarcasm as the main way to persuade the viewer. By having a humorous scene, the viewer laughs along with what is being shown and sides with the viewpoint. Another main persuasive technique used is the use of emotive language. This is most apparent in the ‘Wonderful World’ scene, where images of dead people and specific words are used.

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