Monday, March 29, 2010

Notes on Politics & Pop Culture: Bye-Bye Bauer, Ethics on 'House'/'Grey's,' and Are Kids Getting Screwed on Health Care?

Bye-Bye Bauer

This current eighth day will be Jack Bauer’s last very bad day. Fox announced over the weekend that it is ending the 8-year-old series, though there’s talk of a 24 movie, which’d be approximately 22 hours shorter than one of Jack’s bad days.

The New York Times ran an interesting story examining the impact of the terrorism-centric series on TV, on the actions of actual U.S. interrogators in the field and on U.S. policy:

24 first captured America’s attention in late 2001. The first season, which involved the explosion of a passenger plane and an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate, entered production well before the 9/11 attacks, but had its premiere eight weeks afterward. At the time, a review in the New York Times noted the ‘deadly convergence between real life and Hollywood fantasy.’ . . . The series enlivened the country’s political discourse in a way few others have, partly because it brought to life the ticking time-bomb threat that haunted the Cheney faction of the American government in the years after 9/11.”

While I’m on the subject of 24 . . . a few weeks ago I wrote that I’d become irritated by some wildly inane plot lines – particularly the Dana Walsh/Jenny one – on this final season of 24. In the past few weeks, however, things have markedly improved. I think it had to do with the fact that Dana/Jenny’s idiot ex-boyfriend is finally out of the picture, though I haven't warmed to Dana any and I'm still waiting for Brian Hastings to stop walking with a hunch. But I do I like the bomb-at-CTU line.

Ethics on House & Grey’s Anatomy

If you’ve ever watched House or Grey’s Anatomy, I have a question for you: Do you think that the medical professionals portrayed on those dramas behave ethically?

Dr. Greg House routinely dispatches his associates to patients’ homes to search the homes for clues to help him figure out medical mysteries. He employs duplicitous means to administer the treatments he thinks the patients should have, sometimes without their consent or against his boss’ orders. Grey’s Anatomy is rife with intramural bed hopping, bosses regularly sleeping with subordinates, and interns who do things do unsanctioned surgery on one another and cut the L-VAD wire of a heart patients to make him look sicker than he was in order to move him to the top of the transplant list.

So who out there actually expects these characters to be pillars of medical ethics?

Apparently some folks at Johns Hopkins were, at least enough to engage in a year-long study assessing the level of medical professionalism and bioethical issues addressed in one year of each show: “The results indicate that these programs are rife with powerful portrayals of bioethical issues and egregious deviations from the norms of professionalism and contain exemplary depictions of professionalism to a much lesser degree.”

One of the areas which had the most infractions? Sex. “The next most commonly observed departure from professionalism was sexual misconduct, with 58 incidents notched by the second season of Grey’s Anatomy and 11 in House," noted a Baltimore Sun’s TV blogger.

Kids Getting Screwed on Health Care?

I was among those who spent last weekend riveted to, of all things, C-SPAN, watching the “debate” on the health care reform bill (the NCAA tournament was in the picture-in-picture function). I had the TV on all afternoon, during dinner and through the evening, but fell asleep before President Obama’s speech just shy of midnight after the House passed the Senate’s version of the legislation. I watched the televised signing ceremony on Tuesday which, you might have heard, was considered a “big f*&%in’ deal” by the vice president.

An avid follower of the issue, I was frequently disgusted by the dialog and slimy tactics which accompanied the debate/negotiations, and was disheartened when people seem uninterested in engaging in authentic conversations about their genuine concerns without reflexively retreating back into their ideological corners, not even attempting to find a middle ground nor trying to reflect where the American people are on some health care reform issues.

After the health care reform bill became law, all kinds of things were promised. Some things were supposed to change immediately, like the fact that kids with pre-existing conditions were supposed to be able to get health insurance. The New York Times quoted the president saying earlier this month, “Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.” That’s an issue on which I think people of most stripes can agree, making sure sick kids obtain the medical treatment they need.

But that aspect of the new health care reform law is being contested – as is the health care bill itself by several state attorneys general -- by insurance companies, according to the New York Times. “Insurers agree that if they provide insurance for a child, they must cover pre-existing conditions,” the paper reported. “But, they say, the law does not require them to write insurance for the child and it does not guarantee the ‘availability of coverage’ for all until 2014.”

Why am I not surprised that we likely have no idea what’s that law will actually mean to you and me or how it’ll actually going to be implemented? I’ll bet we’re going to find out that a lot of this won’t be what it seems.

Image credit: Fox.

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