Last night, I went to see the film "Sicko". I was a fan of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and even enjoyed "Bowling for Columbine" and "Roger and Me". My big hesitation with seeing "Sicko" was the subject matter. Focusing on the HMOs (everyone seems to have a horror story) just didn't seem interesting enough to make a documentary on. However, I knew that the Michael Moore brand of documentary filmmaking would be interesting. Some critics complain about his agenda pushing and the slant of his documentaries, but what's wrong with it? He is the modern day equivalent of Thomas Paine, whose political pamphlet "Common Sense" was designed to rouse the passions of the American colonists against the corrupt King George. Who says we have to be fair to the powers that be? They aren't, after all, fair to the average American. So, I'm glad someone like Michael Moore is taking on those people with his brand of filmmaking.
What really inticed me to go see this film (over "A Mighty Heart", which is next on my list) was in a review I read in which he talks with American ex-patriots who live in France and their thoughts on the whole health care system. A part of me has always wanted to move to Paris and live the rest of my life there. And after I saw the film, it only renewed that desire. But, I think things are going to change under President Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative who promises to put France back to work (putting the 35 hour work week and the 5 week paid vacation on the renegotiation table).
The film was a lot more crowded than I thought it would be. I've seen a few documentaries in theaters, but none have been as full as it was for "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004 (which went on to gross more than $100 million). I guess others are also sold on the Michael Moore brand of filmmaking. This one follows the same formula as his previous ones, using choice music to make a point (I especially love the tribute to "Star Wars" opening scrawl when he lists all the pre-existing conditions that HMOs use to deny coverage to insurance holders), mixing humour (everyone laughed everytime Bush was seen on screen...not because he's purposefully funny, but because he was seen more as a buffoon who doesn't realize that he's a joke) and tears, and a publicity stunt (such as when he takes a group of 9/11 rescue workers suffering from mysterious ailments and denied health care coverage to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to demand the military treat them as well as they treat the Muslim prisoners).
The scene with the biggest impact for me was when Michael Moore was in France talking with American ex-patriots. I heard the audience gasp when the Americans told Moore that the French people don't have to pay college tuition. I was actually surprised. When I visited France ten years ago, the French girl I had stayed with didn't understand why I had to pay for college. She was completely dumbfounded that it cost money. And I was shocked to see how shocked she was to the concept of paying for college. She wanted to know how one could afford to pay for college if they didn't have a job. It was an interesting conversation, and I knew then what a sham our system is. I believe that our government finds way to keep Americans in debt as a controlling device. Instead of the levels of control used in totalitarian countries (police surveillance, neighbors ratting out each other, threats of prison, torture, disappearances, and government owned media propaganda), our government has found other ways of controlling us. Because we leave college saddled with loan debt, we'll be good workers who won't make waves, especially when such jobs offer medical benefits. It keeps people in line.
Michael Moore asks the most provocative questions to the audience, which I love. In this film, I really appreciated him asking (to the effect), "Why do you think we're told to hate the French so much? Is it because they live better than we do?" That is so true. I've never understood why Americans hated the French. The French don't hate Americans. In my 12 times to France, I've never experienced "French rudeness" (in fact, I experienced more rudeness in New York City than anywhere in France). In a lot of ways, the French are like Americans in that they won't bow down to any nation and do what is against their interest. Americans expect other nations to jump when we tell them to (thanks to lapdog allies like Great Britain and Israel), but in reality, America will be like France when China becomes the superpower. We'll object to everything they want to do. There's nothing wrong with a nation objecting to another nation's use of power. We should admire France for that. And I find it ironic that in a nation like France, which is pretty secular these days, that they have a social safety net that is more in line with Jesus' philosophy than our capitalistic country, which claims to be the most Christian nation on earth. If we are "so Christian", where's the evidence? Would a Christian nation screw the poor time and time again, rewarding the wealthy class even when evidence of fraud and other malfeasance is involved?
A former co-worker in my last job in Atlanta and I had an interesting discussion before on France. She was a Jehovah's Witness who tried to convince me why her religion is best. She actually told me that we weren't meant to live on earth to work our whole lives away, that we should enjoy life more than working. When she said that, I smiled. Because she was a blindly loyal Republican who gives the party line on all political issues, and listened to Rush, I knew I had her. Like Socrates, who won arguments by leading his opponent into making contradictory claims, I was able to trap her on that statement. After she told me about the point of life on earth, I asked her, "So why do you criticize the French for doing exactly that? They have a 35 hour work week, at least 5 weeks paid vacation each year, universal health care, child care and college..." As soon as I brought up the French, she went on a tirade against them and I was shocked by the amount of hatred she had for those people. She went into a litany about how their economy is stagnant, the unemployment is high, and they aren't a superpower like ours. When she finished, I smiled and said, "you just negated everything you said about the point of life on earth." She realized what she had done, and it was such a satisfaction to me to expose her true beliefs. Between her religious claims and her political views, she chose politics over religion...so how can she expect to win people over to her religion with such a glaring contradiction? I lost a lot of respect for her. I mean, what has the Republican party ever done to make the world a better place? They promote a selfish and greedy agenda, every man for himself. They are social darwinists, even if they profess to believe in creationism. It's such an interesting contradiction how a party that claims to be Christian violates so much of what Jesus advocated, even demonizing the other party that seeks to bring about universal health care.
Anyhow, the film raises so many good points and it's entertaining to boot. In many ways, it's even better than "Fahrenheit 9/11" because it illustrates what is wrong with America, and what's right with other nations. Instead of pursuing a political agenda like his last film, this one seeks to inspire Americans to demand universal health care as a basic human right. There's no just rationale for forcing people into bankruptcy and poverty to take care of a health related crisis. This is the cause Christians should rally behind. The narrow focus on abortion and denying gays equality should be abandoned for an issue that is even more important. Christ calls us to heal people, not destroy them. Having universal health care is the most Christlike policy we could adopt.
Finally, I wanted to say that back in 1993 when we last had a national debate on universal health care, I was in the military and I remember being shocked by how against it my fellow sailors were. After all, the military has universal health care. We didn't have to worry about which premiums to sign up for, and if insurance would pay for whatever we needed. We were covered. No one in the military complained about that. But the idea of extending such a service to all Americans made them absolutely livid. That's the essence of hypocrisy...to deny others the right to something you enjoy. I just don't get it. What is so wrong about helping our fellow humans? Why does it always have to be a zero sum game in America? That if someone gets something for free, that we lose? We all lose if our country slips into third world status. Why should unified Europe have a better standard of living than us? We helped rebuild Europe from the ruin of World War II and now we're getting passed by. So, I'll say it again...if we are truly Christians or compassionate people, the only acceptable view to have is universal health care for all American citizens. Let's get rid of the HMOs and follow the example of Britian, Canada, and France.
Please see this film. You'll laugh, cry, and think. What more can you ask for in a film going experience? This is one of the most important issues to demand of the candidates running for president in 2008...what will they do to bring about universal health care?