Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My thoughts on Sicko

I saw Sicko a couple of days ago. Pretty much what I expected, only longer. I give Moore credit for his provocative spirit and sense of humor. The irony of taking 9-11 first responders to Gitmo for medical care was precious.
But the problem of healthcare in our country is too important to be reduced to oversimplications such as Moore’s. Here’s how I imagine the birth of Sicko:
MM: “I’m p*ssed off about the American health care system. My audience is p*ssed off, too, but they’re not too bright. They can understand good guys & bad guys, so that’s how we’ll frame the story. We’ll scare them and then soothe them with the balm of universal medical care.
We’ll ignore the changing nature of research and the effects of an aging population. We’ll ignore agricultural subsidies and the lasting impact of poverty on public health. We won't discuss profiteering – except by pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies. They’ll be the pirates and the government will be the big lazy ship with an evil crew that can’t get us out of harm’s way.”
As usual, Moore’s production style was ham-handed. Yes, patients say the darndest things, and an unscrupulous filmmaker could wring a lot of drama out of somebody’s suffering. “Uh-oh,” you and I and Mr and Mrs Audience all begin to think, “I could have a table saw accident some day, too!”

I’m not exactly suggesting that Moore actually exploited any of the people he interviewed. In my own experience, people who have been through trauma can find it therapeutic to tell their stories. But the context here was crudely crafted, leaving behind images of people without full identities, reduced to their misery.

Or maybe, in the service of the greater good, the fine people who were part of Sicko are fine with the results. Even I think Sicko is better than the usual silence on the issue. I hope the film stimulates debate because I believe in single payer healthcare. But far more complex problems remain to be solved than Moore even alluded to, and progress will require not only leadership but a groundswell of informed citizens. We need an American cultural acknowledgment that providing healthcare for all is the smartest, most humane path. Even then it will take much, much more to ultimately provide care that is high quality, affordable and equitable.

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