...engaging and discerning culture, as a way of life...

July 11, 2007

Sicko - 7

A college professor of mine made a great point about documentaries: Documentaries are about the storyteller, more than they are about the topic of the story they are telling. Unlike other films which have a director telling a story that is often written by someone else and has the added freedom of fiction, a documentary is a vehicle for collecting and editing real live footage to create a story- the best of these tell a coherent narrative. This may seem like a inherent critique of documentaries. It is not. In fact, it makes the viewer more aware of what is going on, recognizing the biases that are unavoidable, and hopefully listening and learning anyway. That means that this film, and Micheal Moore's other films, are about him. He has ideas and views that he want to turn into stories, hopefully to change minds and behaviors in light of the information and narrative he provides. This sounds like propaganda, but is in fact the role of journalism in a democratic society. Guess what? Journalism requires an audience of critical thinkers...which is one of the main problems with mass media at the moment- it often times assumes that the audience is not critical.
Some of the best parts of the film are when Moore visits other countries like Canada, England, France, and Cuba which gives some contrast to the US system- even if it is a small glance at a large picture. The key to the film though, comes about two-thirds in when Moore asks to the American audience: "Who are we?" If part of the answer to this question is how we treat one another in a political system that includes how we should take care of the sick, then we need to seriously consider what we are doing. If nothing else, this film should help Americans ask the questions: Where did our current health care system come from? And how and why does it work the way that it does? These questions are important, not because then we can place the blame for anything that we think is wrong with it, but rather that the answers provide guidance for being an engaged citizen and taking up the power to change it.
At times I find Moore to be patronizing of the everyday American that he is trying to represent in his films. But overall, I think Moore asks some really good questions that could provide the audience with some interesting things to consider and act on.
[Full Disclosure: I currently have no health insurance, and lived in Canada from age 5-18.]

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