On Tuesday, the festival atmosphere in Sacramento around the movie “Sicko” was the biggest media frenzy since the potent combination of celebrity and politics came together during the recall campaign.
Folks in Sacramento are still talking about the movie, but the focus is on the actual movie. A few reactions.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who may go see it after it opens on May 29th. So instead of saying what the film is, I’ll say what it is not:
It isn’t too sad, or too serious: While I have my own critique of Michael Moore’s style and politics, I have followed him closely throughout his career, not just Roger & Me and Farenheit 911, but The Big One and Bowling for Columbine, and, most importantly, his TV ventures TV Nation and The Awful Truth–which were precursors to the “fake news” satire now provided by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Throughout his work–even on a subject like Columbine–there’s been a wit and a humor in showing the absurdity of our situation, and that as true with Sicko.
In a film that has wrenching health care horror stories–several people I know in the audience cried–it’s punctuated with several laugh-out-loud moments. Some are profound, some are simply silly. For a serious subject, and in a film with deadly serious moments, there is welcome room for levity and fun.
It isn’t about the uninsured. The opening credits starts with some examples of uninsured people and the tough choices they have to make. But Moore’s narration is clear: the film isn’t about them. His focus is on the problems facing the insured, and underinsured, and then an explanation of the health systems of other countries. As a political strategy, it’s understandable: over 90% of voters are insured.
This doesn’t mean that Moore doesn’t believe that insurance doesn’t matter. He was clear Tuesday that people should be covered, and that not having coverage has a real cost to people, including in lives. But he also offers a damning indictment of insurance companies.
It really isn’t even about health care. As a consumer advocate on health care issues, I tend to stay focused on the topic at hand. Moore, on the other hand, perhaps as he is firmly identified as an icon on the left, deliberately wades indiscriminately into the minefields of recent American politics: President Bush, Soviet-era communism, 9/11, France, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Castro, Che Guevara, taxes, and the “nanny” state (literally!) and European-style socialism.
It’s the luxury of communicating in a 2-hour movie rather than a 10-second soundbite. But these sojourns aren’t digressions from his main point: he ultimately is trying to make a much bigger point about “America’s soul.” Moore is trying to convince people of something more than just the need for a universal, even single-payer, health care system. He’s advocating a different way to view government and society.
He merely uses health care as an example for a much broader discussion, that encompasses education and child care, how we treat the homeless and mentally ill, and about our society focused on “me, not we.”
That said, health care is a useful issue to make these points. Health care works best in group coverage, when we share the risk and cost of care, knowing regardless of how healthy we are, that one day, by age or accident, we will need significant care ourselves. Health care works worst–and is most expensive–when the individual is left alone, at the mercy of the big insurers and providers. And that’s a lesson for the health reform discussion in both California and the nation.