Sunday, December 2, 2007

Why is America "Sicko"?

Thanks to Netflix, I finally got around to seeing Sicko last week. It goes without saying that a Michael Moore film is going to make you think, but Sicko is Moore’s most powerful statement yet. While his previous films, such as Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, center around a specific event, Sicko is about health care—a topic that affects all Americans. To call it a film about health care might be too limiting, for it is actually about a state of mind that separates the U.S. from the rest of the Western world.

I could say that Sicko is a film that everybody should see, but I am not interested in filling a blog with such banalities. Blogs that say things like “Sicko is a great movie” or “George W. Bush sucks” are a dime a dozen. Instead, I would like to examine one reason why the U.S. resists socialized medicine, which has been adopted with great success by most other Western democracies.

In the movie, Moore visits Canada, Great Britain, France, and Cuba (and, in one of the DVD’s special features, Norway) to show how much more efficient the health care systems in those countries are than the system in the U.S., and how the citizens are benefitted in ways that go beyond health care.

All through the film, I kept thinking about why the U.S. is holding out. Why aren’t the millions of uninsured and underinsured people in this country demanding a national health care system?

Certainly, there are many people who would benefit from keeping the system the way it is, but greed is not exclusive to America. Why have the forces of good won the battle over this issue in other countries, but not the U.S.?

A good part of the blame lies with the media.

The Sicko DVD’s special features include a montage of clips from major media outlets, such as the major TV networks, CNN, and Fox News, which went out of their way to attack the film. The reason? Socialized medicine would cost their advertisers, such as insurance companies and Big Pharma, a lot of money.

Like many people, I grew up thinking that what I read in the newspaper and saw on TV news was generally true. My faith in the media was later shaken when I became a member of the Fourth Estate. It was then that I learned that the media are not objective clearinghouses for the distribution of information, but instead are businesses. No media outlet will publish anything that will cost it money. If a piece of information is not in the advertisers’ best interests, it will not see the light of day.

For decades, the American media have drilled it into people’s heads that socialized medicine is a bad idea, often in novel ways. In Sicko, a record album distributed by the American Medical Association in 1962 is played, in which Ronald Reagan compared socialized medicine to communism.

Other countries have TV, too, but TV does not have the hold on the public that it does in the U.S. I recall a trip I took to Germany when I was 15. While things may have changed there since 1981, I do not remember TV being the focal point of the household as it often is in America. The major TV networks were often off the air for hours at a time in the middle of the day, and I do not recall people watching TV that much. Compare to the U.S., where the results of some “reality show” are found worthy of major news headlines. Without a constant barrage of corporate propaganda, people in other Western democracies are able to evaluate ideas such as socialized medicine for themselves and make informed decisions.

As Al Gore points out in his book, The Assault on Reason, the problem with media such as TV and radio is that the power is weighted toward the sender of the message. There is no effective way for the recipient to respond. You can write or e-mail a TV station, you can scream and throw things at the screen, but it’s hard to alter the message significantly. So, the message goes unchallenged—a message from a powerful corporation that doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

So what is the solution? You’re looking at part of it right now.

The Internet is a place where anybody’s voice can be heard. Anybody can start a blog, and anybody can respond to it. Not only can you talk back to the message I’m sending right now, but I encourage you to do so.

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