where the writers are
Needling Conscience

Recently I bought a Roku digital player to go with my family’s Netflix subscription. Enjoying instantly available classics with my daughter is more fun than an hour at Frankie’s and at 4.99 a month, much cheaper, too.

If film is a societal mirror, much of the fun of watching and loving movies is comparing the society you live in to a previous incarnation you can only be voyeur to.  Ideas about work, family struggles, life and death all shift over time, so in the midst of the health care debate, I got to wondering how we view health through the lens, in fact how do we nationally define health? A seemingly easy question that proves surprisingly hard to answer.  Here’s a few thoroughly subjective examples; feel free to find your own:

The Post-War Boom: By any measure a high water mark for the nation; so, imagine my surprise when a tuxedo-clad Kirk Douglas lets loose against taking a high-paying job writing “radio trash” for his wealthy wife’s associates in 1949’s “A Letter to Three Wives.” He’s a Shakespeare-quoting teacher and loves it, cheekily admitting that it makes him “a comic figure, hungry in this richest land on Earth.” Here’s a 60 year old film wrestling with the reconciliation of work one loves--certainly a measure of a healthy life if you can get it—with work that pays the bills. At least Mr. Shakespeare’s wife is flush. If he were magically transported to 2009 and got sick, he’d need that fortune for the bills.        

The We’re-Mad-As-Hell-Years:  Now, here’s a fun entry:  George Scott in 1971’s “The Hospital.”   Penned by Paddy Chayefsky, who subsequently wrote “Network” in 1975, “The Hospital” is a health care story told from the Doc’s perspective. Here Scott’s an enraged and broken man who doggedly built up a teaching hospital and finds it collapsing under the weight of bureaucracy. Watch for the scene with a guy on the gurney, badgered by a Nurse who wants to know if he has Blue Cross.  This is 1971, people. No one can say we weren’t warned.  Don’t know anything about the history of our teaching hospitals and their research role—and subsequent underfunding?  It’s probably better if you don’t. 

The Post-9/11-What-Fresh-Hell-Is-This Zeitgeist: Ok, it’s over the top and very much a Hollywood film, but you’d do worse than Denzel Washington in “John Q.”  He’s a working man who takes an ER team hostage to secure an operation for his dying son after his family falls through the cracks of the system. It’s a popcorn movie, but there are real stories in the news every day that mirror his desperation.  And, there remains the troubling question of national identity in these stories:  What kind of society wouldn’t want reform under these circumstances?

The Real Deal:  I have to mention two good, recent Frontline documentaries; “Sick in America” and “Sick around the World” for a look at health care delivery and disparity among the US and its peers.

Happy Viewing.