Pop Culture

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Must-see reform

Watch out—Hollywood has health care squarely in its sights

For years, Hollywood celebrities have fought to keep us healthy by enjoying sumptuous $1,500-a-plate meals at lavish benefit galas, auctioning off their old shoes to the highest bidder and holding hands with each other and singing. Despite such efforts, however, cancer, heart disease and countless other ills continue to afflict us. Frustrated, no doubt, by their lack of progress, today’s most forward-thinking stars have decided that disease isn’t the real problem after all—the cure is. Thus, they’ve declared war on health care.

Last week, the Hollywood Television and Radio Society, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Motion Picture Television Fund announced that they will be helping AARP promote its “Divided We Fail” initiative to make health care more affordable and accessible to all Americans. “The filmmakers, the storytellers, are the ones who are going to make this happen,” producer and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told USA Today. “They know how to entertain and enlighten at the same time.”

At this point, any input is welcome. Because, really, how much time does the average person spend thinking about health-care reform? We all know that approximately 47 million Americans have no health insurance. We also know that those who do have it would like to pay less money for more comprehensive coverage, and not have to engage in epic paperwork battles with administrative weasels every time they seek treatment for the various maladies that arise from that chronic pre-existing condition known as life. Finally, we know that in other countries, such as France, England, Sweden and even Cuba, they’ve figured out a way to magically grow surgeons, pediatricians, EKG machines, bone densitometers and waiting-room furniture on trees, and consequently, their health-care systems are like Vegas buffets, only free.

Beyond such truisms, however, the national conversation on health care gets fuzzy fast. With last year’s documentary Sicko, Michael Moore proved it’s possible to make a two-hour documentary on the seemingly dry subject of health-care reform wildly entertaining. Unfortunately, he also proved it’s possible to make a two-hour documentary on the seemingly dry subject of health-care reform even less nuanced and intellectually probing than an episode of Two and a Half Men. So why not give the men and women who write fart jokes for Charlie Sheen a chance to advance the discourse?

Imagine, for example, an episode in which Sheen and his fictional brother Jon Cryer contemplate how we got to the point where we’re willing to spend $500 a month on car payments and yet bristle at the notion that health care should cost anything at all?

But is this the sort of enlightenment Katzenberg has in mind? Or should we just expect more pious one-liners about greedy HMO administrators and tragic stories of bureaucratic indifference in the face of expensive, life-threatening illness, delivered in between a steady stream of commercials for Big Macs and Viagra?

Either way, whatever impact Katzenberg and his colleagues end up having on health-care reform, they will likely do less to improve the actual health of America than NBC’s The Biggest Loser has already done. Instead of evangelizing on the need for bottomless bowls of diabetes medication and government-sponsored lap-band surgery, the shrinking stars of that show simply embrace what they can do themselves to improve their health and inspire countless others to do the same.

On a similar note, how many among us benefit from the curative powers of TV and movies on a regular basis? All the Internet does is give us a new way to raise our blood pressure by trading message-board insults with anonymous strangers. In contrast, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment, especially in its most unenlightened forms, is pure emotional Oxycontin. Who can deny the narcotizing balm of a high-speed car chase with lots of explosions, or the general sense of mirthful well-being that comes from watching the entire first season of Flight of the Conchords on DVD?

If laughter truly is the best medicine, perhaps Hollywood’s filmmakers and storytellers should think less about AARP policy initiatives, and more about making us laugh. And then of course they should force the government to buy us all wide-screen plasma TVs and give us complimentary HBO subscriptions. After all, in a country with as many television channels as America has, shouldn’t everyone have adequate access to entertainment?


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