entertainment and popular culture, Health Care

Michael Moore’s Sicko opened this weekend in New York City, and I saw it yesterday.

I laughed. I cried. So did the rest of the audience, which also broke into loud applause several times.

This is Moore’s most mature film so far, and I mean that in the best possible way. Other Moore films induced anger, outrage, and sympathy, along with the laughs. But Sicko broke my heart.

As Ezra says, this film is not so much about the health-care crisis as it is a challenge to America’s thick-headed exceptionalism — that “the way we do things is the best way to do things because … it’s the way we do things.”

More than that, however, it reveals that democracy in America is fading, fast.

We may call the United States “the land of the free,” but the truth is that most American working folks live constricted lives compared to people in most other western democracies. Our life choices increasingly are being limited by whatever economic boxes we find ourselves in. People who have worked hard and lived by the rules all their lives must choose between medicine and retirement, or medical treatment and keeping their homes. Working parents find that “quality family time” is an unaffordable luxury. And if we are diagnosed with a serious illness, our very lives are forfeit to the whims of the insurance companies.

The young are crushed by student loans; the middle aged and older live in fear of losing their health insurance. This is keeping the workforce docile and compliant.

But most heartbreaking of all is the way in which Americans passively accept the status quo. We have the means at hand to improve the quality of our lives — a representative government — and we don’t use it.

Moore’s film is not without flaws. The Canadian and British health care systems do have problems, which Moore doesn’t mention. (However, those problems are minuscule compared to ours.) Moore tried to show that because the French do not pay for health insurance, health care, and many other services out of their own pockets, les citoyens have plenty of disposable income in spite of the higher taxes they pay. However, I’m not sure the point came across clearly. The trip to Cuba (partly censored by the Department of Homeland Security) was moving, but I wondered how much the Cuban government helped make it so.

But one point came across clearly — we Americans are being lied to. We’re told that “socialized medicine” means the government will limit our access to health care; or that we won’t be free to choose our own doctors. But Moore shows us it’s American doctors whose hands are tied — by insurance companies — while doctors in Canada and France and elsewhere are free to practice the best medicine they can practice. And their patients are free to choose their doctors.

Sicko has its signature Michael Moore touches. One segment follows an American woman trying to sneak her sick daughter into Canada to see a pediatrician. A man who lost the tips of two fingers in an accident recalls that he had to choose which finger to restore, since he lacked the money for both. A woman rendered unconscious in a car accident was charged for the ambulance ride because, her insurance provider said, the ambulance hadn’t been pre-approved.

But then there was Tony Benn, a former member of the British Parliament, explaining how the British managed to create the National Health Service after World War II. “What democracy did was give the poor the vote, and it moved power from the marketplace to the polling station—from the wallet to the ballot…. And in 1948 the people asked, If you can have full employment by killing Germans, why can’t you have full employment by building hospitals? If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.”

That line got enthusiastic applause from the Manhattan audience.

The poor in America have the vote, yet many do not choose to vote. Some who do vote cast ballots against their own interests. And many, as we know, are cheated of their ability to vote. But Moore’s movie was less about America’s poor than about America’s middle class; working people with insurance who are betrayed by the system. Surely the American middle class has the vote. Why aren’t we using it to our own benefit?

OK, we know why. It’s complicated, but we know why.

Someone in the French segment said something to the effect that The government of France is afraid of their people. Americans are afraid of their government. I’m not sure that’s true. I think Americans are just plain worn down. We’re worn down by the system, by the lies, by working too many hours, by juggling too many responsibilities by ourselves. And most of us don’t realize that we don’t have to live like this.

Like I said — Sicko broke my heart.

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  1. moistened bink  •  Jun 25, 2007 @11:41 pm

    You are spot on when you say that we are controlled by being overworked, underpaid (real wages went down between 2001-06) and overly sedated by entertainment “news”.

    But, that does not excuse the average citizen from being involved. I understand the frustration…I write my Senators and Reps, I bitch, moan, complain, try to educate my friends, contact my newspaper – all to naught.

    But if we don’t rise up, we are nothing more than slaves. If the majority of the citizens knew that we are the only industrialized nation without universal health care, that workers in other countries get a minimum of 30 days vacation per year, that their governments actually respond to the wishes of the public……But our media is complicit in keeping all of that quiet.

    Would I pay higher taxes in exchange for those conditions? You bet. We are worked to death, nickled and dimed, let go on a whim or have our jobs outsourced. Do you still wonder why this country is so angry and violent?

    Plus a for profit company gets to determine whether we get the treatment that determines whether we live or die?

    Yeah, greatest country on earth.

  2. Gloria  •  Jun 25, 2007 @11:52 pm

    Very well said. “Worn out by the system” says it all. A system which isn’t even set up to work FOR citizens, just as a means to exploit them.

  3. moonbat  •  Jun 26, 2007 @1:02 am

    If you’re going to see “Sicko” be sure to go on opening weekend, if possible. This really helps a movie’s success, as the size of the opening hugely determines the number of theaters that subsequently show it. Movies are like parachutes these days, they must open well to succeed.

    I just checked the multiplex near my home, and they’re showing “Sicko” this Friday. “Course plotted and laid in, Captain”.

  4. entrails  •  Jun 26, 2007 @1:44 am

    Worn down by the system that we would kill and die for, even as we accept the lies that make us unable to see it is, as Gloria points out, set up to exploit every aspect of our lives. Even as we would spit on and revile obviously, demonstrably better systems, simply because, as Maha and Michael say, they’re un-american. Heartbreaking.

    It’s not the government we fear, it’s the corporate media that makes us afraid.

    “But most heartbreaking of all is the way in which Americans passively accept the status quo. We have the means at hand to improve the quality of our lives — a representative government — and we don’t use it.”

    Maha, I think we’ve been trained to consider exercising our control over government to be a waste of time. I think this is the great success of our media: many of the people who could make a difference now believe that even trying to make a difference is foolish, to the point where they ridicule people who are trying to use our system the way it was supposed to be used. So gated communities, real estate in New Zealand and fat portfolios (for the powerful, yet disenfranchised) are the acceptable response to a system that encourages the belief that we’re all already on our own.

    As you say, heartbreaking. Michael Moore is my hero for putting himself out there and working to change things–even exploiting the media to work against itself. He’s a model of how to at least try, in the most effective way possible, to make people wake up.

  5. Virginia Dutch  •  Jun 26, 2007 @10:57 am

    Great piece, but you made me think of Steve Martin’s famous book review: “I laughed. I cried. Then I read the book.”

  6. unkawill  •  Jun 26, 2007 @2:56 pm

    Why on Earth do Y’all want the government in charge of health care?

    They can’t do anything right.

  7. maha  •  Jun 26, 2007 @3:01 pm

    unkawill — You represent everything that’s wrong with America today.

    Nobody wants “the government in charge of health care.” Stop being a dupe and an idiot. Watch the film and learn something.

  8. Jessica  •  Jul 5, 2007 @11:43 am

    Check out another great medical short film called “The Musician Physician” at KEYWORD Musician Physician.

  9. Jack the unknown  •  Jul 8, 2007 @9:17 am

    unkawill – are you insulting us and calling Abraham Lincoln a liar? Lincoln honored the those who died in the Civil War “so that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    So what you are saying is: “Why on earth do you want to be in charge of health care? You can’t do anything right!?

    If America still exists, that is. There may have been a silent coup, so that the sacrifice Lincoln immortalized was indeed in vain.