The Tale of Two Sickos Rant 'n' Rave (Michael Moore, Grandpa and the Glorious Soapdown)

Two nights ago I finally saw Michael Moore's new film "Sicko" and I'd have to say it was his best film yet. But before I even had a chance to see that "Sicko" I saw another one and it wasn't until afterwards that I realized just how much the one proved the other correct. The film is all about the not-so-funny joke that is the American healthcare system. And clearly, as is true with most things when you want to make a point, two Sickos is better than one.

I've been a fan of Michael Moore's since way back in '89 when I first saw "Roger and Me" and, with the exception of "Canadian Bacon", I've really enjoyed all of his films over the years. But this new one, even more than the others, offers the perfect mix of serious message, humor, heartbreaking reality... and travel. A whole lot of travel, in fact. Whereas most of his previous films have taken place in America alone, with a quick trip up north to Canada to compare gun control and gun violence in "Bowling for Columbine", this film took us on a tour of five different countries - America, Canada, Great Britain, France and Cuba - and it sure made for an interesting trip indeed.

The overseas bits were not just the funniest parts of the movie, they were also, in a strange sort of way, the most poignant. Not for what you saw there, but for what you didn't. It was simply shocking to see the contrast to the reality back in America.

I thought one particular American living in France summed it up perfectly: What makes America so different from France, he said, is that in France, where they have the top ranked healthcare system in the world, the government is afraid of the people and afraid of mass mobilizations and protests, whereas in America the people are, as a whole, afraid of the government and authority in general and, therefore, fail to fight back. A very different dynamic indeed.

I don't think it's a radical statement at all to say, as Moore is saying in this film, that the American government runs the country for the interests of the very rich and for the good of corporations and the corporate elite. How else to explain the vile, repulsive reality of close to 50 million Americans, including millions of children, living today without medical insurance. What kind of country, let alone the richest nation on earth, leaves people without the most basic human necessity of health care? It's simply obscene!

And as one other person so rightly put it in the film: If the country can spend unlimited hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign invasions of sovereign nations then it sure as hell can spend whatever it takes to insure all of its citizens with universal medical care. Especially its goddamn children!! "But that would be Communism!!", the Horrid Hard Right screams at the top of their lungs. Sort of like having government schools and police and firefighters and roads and...

Most of the humor in this film revolves around the contrast between what Moore finds in other countries compared to the reality in America. Again, the Horrid Hard Right would argue that it's all just socialism run by the socialist hordes "over there", but any sane person would, I think, simply call it civilized and humane.

Sure, I can certainly get angry at the long periods we sometimes have to wait these days for certain treatments here in Canada, but that is a relatively new phenomena - back in the 80s we had no such problems. And, importantly, it can and, I sure as hell hope, will be fixed someday soon. However, there is no way to fix such an insanely unjust and uncivilized system like that in America today with the insurance and drug companies wielding all the power and influence. Again, I say it's obscene.

The movie, by the way, is not about the 45-50 million uninsured Americans, as you might have expected it to be. Although it does touch on that briefly, it's actually mainly about those Americans with full coverage. Or, I should say, those Americans who THINK they have full coverage. Until their insurance companies inform them otherwise.

Can you imagine a more ludicrous system than for-profit insurance companies, companies which consider every payment for treatment to be a "loss", being the very ones deciding if people can receive treatment or not? Actually overruling doctors' decisions about what is necessary. It doesn't take much intelligence to realize that that's not going to be a system that works to the patient's advantage.

The problem is that none of this affects any of the policy makers in Washington or the Horrid Hard Right-wing commentators on, say, FOX News. They are all financially secure. They don't need to worry about being left uninsured or going bankrupt due to medical bills. They have full coverage, loads of money and connections. Their only fear is the phantom menace of "socialist big government".

It really is a no brainer isn't it? The insurance companies, like all corporations, are set up - are in existence - for one thing and one thing alone, to make a profit. And the way to maximize profits if you're an insurance company is to pay out as little and as infrequently as possible. And they do. While millions suffer.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning, before I saw "Sicko" I saw Sicko, as in my 90-year-old Grandpa. Now Grandpa is certainly no socialist, but he sure loves his socialized medicine here in Canada. And who wouldn't after being kept alive through all sorts of medical emergencies, illnesses, heart attacks, and bouts of pneumonia over the past 45 years... all without having to pay a cent for any of the hospital stays, or treatments, etc. No stress about three hundred thousand dollar bills. No stress about whether the insurance company will pay or not. No stress about whether they'll try to say it was a "pre-existing condition" or some such bullshit. No stress at all. Well, aside from being sick, of course.

Nope, no uncivilized and unnecessary stress dragging Grandpa down when I went in to see him. On the contrary, he was in great spirits enjoying, if you can say that, his 4th day in the hospital and telling us stories about how the nurses had washed him "all over" and given him a good soapdown in the shower earlier (and how a few years back that would've...)

And so I went directly from his hospital room to the theater, where I watched how it could've been for him had we as a country opted for that great "non-Communist" system down south of the border. As I said above, we have our problems here and it's hardly anywhere near as perfect as Moore makes it out to be in his film, but, man, is it ever a more just, fair and humane system up here.

Our friends Ken and Robin who are back in Canada now have told us stories right out of the film from their time living down in California a couple of years back. Even though they were fully covered they had to fight battle after battle with their insurance company over just about every bill since the insurance company tried to deny the necessity of the treatment they had received - even though the doctor had deemed it necessary. We're talking about an absolutely asinine system. We're talking about a system unfit for a civilized country in the modern world. We're talking about pure insanity. And, yes, we're talking about a great film by Michael Moore.

And the film really is an indictment of America to its core. As Moore asks his fellow Americans near the beginning "Who are we?" How can the richest country in the world possibly be the ONLY Western/industrialized country in the world without universal healthcare?

It's rare for a film to make you laugh one minute, feel completely distraught with sadness the next, enraged and very next, before making you laugh once more moments later. It was hugely entertaining. I'm a fan of documentaries, but most people aren't, or at least weren't until Michael Moore came along. There are better documentaries out there, but rarely are any this entertaining.

So that's the Tale of The Two Sickos. But, come to think of it, there was actually a third sicko who should be mentioned and that was Moore himself. Man, does he ever need to lose some weight or else it's simply not going to matter what kind of healthcare system exists, he's never going to make it anywhere near the age of 90, like Grandpa. And we need him to live a long life so he can continue to make these great films of his.

And how is Grandpa you ask? Well, improving. They say he should be heading home on Monday; again, with no bill and no fear of the insurance company trying to slime its way out of paying either.

Long live all healthcare systems that at least try to give equal healthcare to all, regardless of wealth... up to and including free soapdowns in the shower.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, September 21st, 2007