In 2004, the executive branch of the student government at Utah Valley State College made an insane, brash decision. Student leaders Joe Vogel and Jim Bassi did something so outrageous, so unthoughtful, so heinous that it brought a lawsuit on them, divided the school and caused an uproar in the community. What could they have done that brought on such devastating results? They booked Michael Moore to speak at their school. Stop and breathe good people. It’s all true. Two people actually had the gaul to book a liberal speaker in a conservative state. Oh, the humanity!
All sarcasm aside, “This Divided State” is an interesting and anger inducing documentary covering the aforementioned affairs at Utah Valley State College. It’s unclear if director Steven Greenstreet was just in the right place at the right time with a camera, but it’s a good thing he was. By being there, he captures a strange, almost backwards debate that truly gets at the heart of right-wing versus left-wing politics. However it also shows just how pointless logical debate is to people who are so firmly entrenched in their beliefs. American values like academic freedom and freedom of speech are apparently only O.K. if they fit the conservative agenda.
The booking of Michael Moore at UVSC is immediately met with disapproval from the conservative members of the student body. Ill informed petitions are drawn up by over zealous neo-con’s while free thinking students try to explain what freedom of speech means. However the plot thickens when a neighbor named Kay Anderson gets involved.
He, like over 70% of the population of Utah, is a Mormon and he feels having Moore come to the community is not only a disgrace, but it’s a breach of the rules. Without giving too much away, lets just say there’s nothing he won’t try to keep Moore from tarnishing the minds of America’s youth. Yet he’s so sure his views are right, it’s almost difficult to get angry at him. Almost. Several times in the film those who oppose Moore (including Anderson) basically state that they live in Utah so they don’t have to be exposed to the “evils” of the world. While it’s understandable to want to avoid bad things, it’s silly and sad when “evil” is perceived to be a portly liberal with a big mouth. Sticks and stones indeed.
As debate rages on, not once does the conservative community dare listen to the fact that for one, they don’t have to go to the event if they don’t want to. They also seem to forget (even when repeatedly reminded) that Utah was founded by a group of people who fled because they were being persecuted for their beliefs. That’s what makes the film and the liberal versus conservative debate so damn frustrating.
“This Divided State” also features several heavy doses of irony. The best of which is when the school counter books Sean Hannity who says he’ll come to the school for free, minus travel expenses. While his speaking engagement is much more hate filled, bullying and jingoistic than Moore’s, no one complains. No one marches against Hannity or calls the switchboard comparing him to Hitler. No one even makes a peep when it’s discovered Hannity’s travel expenses equal more than Moore’s paycheck. I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease in modern day America.
“This Divided State” does a great job of capturing the essence of our division, but it sometimes strays off course. A few scenes of people dressed in “Star Wars” garb waxing philosophical about the debate seems out of place. There’s also a few segments dedicated to a local Michael Moore look alike and lets face it, looking like Moore is nothing to be proud of let alone document. I also felt like Greensmith tips his hand too early with a patronizing look at the town of Orem, Utah as well as Mormons in general. It borderlines on cinematic name calling.
Even so, “This Divided State” captures a great debate that really parallels what’s happening in America today. It also shows just how large the divide has become. So large that there may be no going back.