Responsible Criticism

Culture, Health, Politics

Reading the reactions to Sicko in the press is an interesting exercise. Almost without exception, including papers from both the left and the right, reviewers feel compelled to adopt the tone of voice of a disapproving adult, condemning Moore for his excesses while reluctantly conceding that the film is important and that these issues need to be discussed.

Philip Boffey’s piece in the the NY Times is typical:

As the author of many health care editorials, I was eager to see Michael Moore’s Sicko,” a polemical attack on undeniable flaws in the way this country provides health care. The film is unashamedly one-sided, superficial, overstated and occasionally suspect in its details. But on the big picture — the failure to ensure that everyone who needs medical care gets it — Mr. Moore is right.

First off, Boffey says the film is unashamedly one-sided.” The implication seems to be that the film should be fair and balanced; but why should Michael Moore serve as yet another mouthpiece to an industry which has spent an excess of $2.2 billion on lobbying congress over the past decade — “$3.7 million of that amount just in the first quarter of 2007 alone”?

Secondly, the film is superficial” and overstated.” OK. Admitted. Here is a challenge: make a film about one of the most complex bureaucracies in the world which can go head-to-head against the top summer action films without simplifying just a little bit.

And doesn’t Boffey know how to use the internet? Moore’s website has a very detailed fact sheet on the claims made in the film.

Later Boffey questions the veracity of the stories told by Michael Moore and the people he interviews in the film:

Yet it is hard to know how true the stories are — Mr. Moore never gives enough details to help viewers determine — or how common the abuses may be.

Again Moore’s website has plenty of information about these people and their stories, complete with links to more in-depth newspaper stories.

The trip to Cuba is always a sore point with these adult” critics.

After all these depressing tales, the second half of the film ushers us into a nirvana of humane and caring treatment supposedly provided to the citizens of Canada, France, Britain and even Cuba, a needlessly provocative choice that detracts from the main message.

Moore knows full well that without the Cuba trip his film wasn’t controversial enough, wasn’t immature enough, wasn’t reckless enough to attract any attention. The Cuba trip was political theatre, it was Moore’s salt march,” and it worked.

These carefully guarded, responsibly adult” reviews of Moore’s film miss the point. In order to write about the film you should read something about what is happening around the country outside movie theaters. I’m not talking about New Yorkers like my wife who end up drinking and dancing with health care activists after the film, I’m talking about your typical Texas redneck:

Sicko started; the stereotypical Texas guy sat down behind me and never stopped talking. He talked through the entire movie… and I listened. The first ten to twenty minutes of the film he spent badmouthing Moore to his wife and snorting in disgust whenever MM went into one of his trademark monologues. But as the movie wore on his protestations became quieter, less enthusiastic. Somewhere along the way, maybe at the half way point, right before my ears, Sicko changed this man’s mind. By the forty-five minute mark, he, along with the rest of the audience were breaking into spontaneous applause. He stopped pooh-poohing the movie and started shouting out hell yeah!” at the screen. It was as if the whole world had been flipped upside down. This is Texas, where people support the president and voting democratic is something only done by the terrorists. Michael Moore should be public enemy number one.

By the time the movie was over, public enemy number one had become George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy all rolled together. When the credits rolled the audience filed out and into the bathrooms. At the urinals, my redneck friend couldn’t stop talking about the film, and I kept listening. He struck up a conversation with a random black man in his 40s standing next to him, and soon everyone was peeing and talking about just how fucked everything is.

Moore’s films are always political theatre, and if you haven’t read Brecht before you write your responsible” review, you haven’t done your homework. (And no, this doesn’t mean I have to like Fox News.)

(Texas link via BoingBoing)

UPDATE: Edited for clarity.

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