Sicko Coming to a Theatre Near You

Michael Moore is a big star over here in Germany — translations of his books top the best-seller lists, and Farhenheit 9/11 did land-office business. (As you might imagine, I have veeerrry mixed feelings about this.) His new mocku-rocku-documentary on the U.S. heathcare system, Sicko, will surely be a hit as well.

The opening scene of the movie, according to Jonathan Cohn’s review "portrays…Rick, who accidentally sawed off the tops of two fingers while working at home. With no insurance to pay the bill and limited funds at his disposal, he has to choose whether to have the hospital reattach his middle finger for $60,000 or his ring finger for $12,000. (He chooses the ring finger.)."  Cohn — who writes books about the healthcare system — gives the new flick a cautiously positive review: "Sicko got a lot of the little things wrong. But it got most of the big things right."

Moore also compares the U.S. healthcare system, which leaves 45 million people uninsured, with the systems in Cuba, Canada, Britain, and France. The first three choices are more than questionable, given the problems these systems face and the extremely loud bitching emerging especially from Britain. The comparison to France, though, is right on-target:

As Paul Dutton explains in a new book called Differential Diagnoses, the French prize individual liberty, so they created an insurance system that, today, allows free choice of doctor and offers highly advanced medical care to those who need it. One of this system’s most appealing features, which Moore showcases, is the availability of 24-hour house-call service via a company called SOS Médecins. (Moore travels along with one of the company’s doctors as he rides around Paris one night, taking dispatch calls like a taxi driver and then administering at-home medical care to a young man with some kind of stomach problem.)

All of this does cost money, naturally, and Moore acknowledges what many assume is the French system’s big drawback: its high taxes. But Moore also provides the same answer that any good policy wonk (including yours truly) would: They pay more in taxes but less in private insurance. In fact, the French system, like every other one in the rest of the developed world, costs less than ours overall.

The French like their system a lot–more than the citizens of any other country, including the United States, if you believe the opinion polls. The World Health Organization likes it a lot, too: It has ranked France’s system tops in the world.

I am satisfied with the German healthcare system, which also does well in international rankings. I’m currently covered by the national healthcare scheme. You can choose which doctor you’d like to visit, you don’t have to wait for an appointment, and prescription drugs are quite cheap. Granted, I haven’t had a major medical emergency over here (thank G-d), but I have confidence that I’d get good care if I did.

Yes, you can find Germans bitching about it, but then again, Germans bitch about everything.* Any health-care system will have shortcomings. For instance, the U.S. healthcare system appears to have a big problem with getting the right prescription drugs to people in the right doses. Germany, for its part, has a physician brain-drain problem (G).

However, one of these countries provides solid medical care to basically everybody, and the other doesn’t. That, to me, is a difference worth erasing.

* Yes, I know this is an unfair generalization. However, as generalizations go, it is excruciatingly accurate. Just trust me on this one.

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16 thoughts on “Sicko Coming to a Theatre Near You

  1. “Michael Moore is a big star over here in Germany”

    I know Americans find this fact very disturbing or don’t really understand it. At least one of the reasons for Moore’s appeal to Germans is that he is one of the few Americans who don’t just paint their own country in rosy colours. Mostly, America is right simply because might (by that I mean especially economic might) is right.

    What’s always been mysterious to me, for example, that in America, there is no real “alternative” force, no opposition movement, in politics. The public opinion is dominated by just two political parties which are both dependent on “big money”. This alone seems strange to me. So just to see some American who openly criticises his own country – with at least some justification – is a refreshing sign. On the other hand, Moore’s success have produced the same symptoms of self-overestimation and arrogance as with Joschka Fischer and his years in government.

  2. “Michael Moore is a big star over here in Germany”

    “I know Americans find this fact very disturbing or don’t really understand it.”

    Once I felt thsi way – but no longer. After steady efforts not to give a crap what most Germans think about “*anything* I have largely succeeded.

    he is one of the few Americans who don’t just paint their own country in rosy colours.”

    Moore has the opposite problem – he can’t see the good at all. Or at least he cannot portray it. But perhaps that is because of his core market which lies mostly but not completely outside the US.

    “Mostly, America is right simply because might (by that I mean especially economic might) is right.”

    Balls. Sometimes this is true but generally no more so than in Europe – or such is my experience.

    However you DO have a valid if narrow point. ‘Might makes right’ does seem to apply in the manner Maikey Moore treates his own employees. I’ve heard some amazing stories. He’s a star – and stars don’t have to be decent to their fellow humans…..

  3. Somebody should have mentioned betriebsärztliche Untersuchungen…

    Checking in after a long while. Good to be back.

  4. “Michael Moore is a big star over here in Germany”

    I know Americans find this fact very disturbing or don’t really understand it.

    Big star? He’s sort of popular, especially in leftist circles.

    Whereas in the US, he’s universally reviled as a traitor to his fatherland, right? No, he is – quelle surprise – sort of popular, especially in leftist circles. I really don’t understand why Americans should be shocked that Moore enjoys a similar popularity here as he does stateside. Of course the issues he tackles are often “internal matters,” but then there simply is much outside interest in local American politics, events, show business gossip, etc. for various reasons, but again I don’t see why that should be bad or worrisome.

    It may be that an American is “allowed” to criticise America, but foreigners joining into the very same criticism are presumptuous, or, as the old poem goes: “Never but by British hands maun British wrangs be righted” 😉

  5. Andy Markovits has some interesting things to say about Michael Moore:

    “. . . context means everything. Delighting in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine in an artsy movie theater in Ann Arbor, Madison, Cambridge or Berkeley is a completely different experience and has a vastly different meaning from having this film become the movie of choice about the United States among German youth. . .”

    This comes from a paper, worth reading in its entirety, published online by the Sir Peter Ustinov Institute under:

    http://www.ustinov.at/2005_usa-europa-markovits2.htm

    I would second Markovits’ criticism of Moore, as well as his remark that his films are worth seeing.

    My criticisms of Moore: 1) not always factually accurate; one-sided; uses caricature and distortion; 2) abusive and heedless of other persons’ sensitivities in his rush to make a name for himself; 3) perpetuates stereotypes and hateful images of Americans; 4) as Don pointed out, said to be exploitative in his relations with employees.

    That said, I have watched his films with interest, and some of his satirical barbs are on target.

    And some are not. And I wonder how long Moore would survive as a regime critic in Cuba or Russia.

  6. “Michael Moore is a big star over here in Germany”

    When was the last time Michael Moore appeared on a German TV talkshow???

    One of the reasons Moore is popular in Germany is that he is popular in the US and Germans watch US TV and read US newspapers. And German newspapers copy shamelessly what the US media writes.

    This might change now. Moore is less and less popular in the US. Spiegel reports that Larry King wanted to interview Moore, but then gave him a pass so that he can interview Paris Hilton on that day.
    http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/leute/0,1518,490368,00.html

    So, now Germans, who watch Larry King on CNN International, will no longer get Moore propaganda…

    The US media has smartened up… 😉

    When I read about Larry King’s preference of Paris Hilton over Michael Moore, I was reminded of your posts on Habermas’ and Al Gore’s criticism of the public discourse and I linked to them.

  7. “Delighting in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine in an artsy movie theater in Ann Arbor, Madison, Cambridge or Berkeley is a completely different experience and has a vastly different meaning from having this film become the movie of choice about the United States among German youth”

    Isn’t that sentence already semantically flawed? How can one personally experience a film’s “becoming the movie of choice” among German youth? The only “experience of becoming” I can think of is that of becoming hungry.

    Otherwise, reading a different meaning into the Michael Moore phenomenon is obviously dependent on what you want to read into it. Why would viewers in “artsy” cinemas be less eligible for an analysis on the film’s reception, let alone the question why Americans’ endorsement of the film should have a fundamentally different meaning than that of Germans. If you argue that the Germans’ liking is proof of Anti-Americanism, you’re in a classic circular reasoning, Mr Markovits. Unimpressive, to say the least.

  8. Greetings Ennio,

    I think the “context” distinction Markovits is making is that, for American viewers, the political content of Moore’s films is foremost, whereas for many (but not all) German viewers both the political content and its use to confirm their negative view of America (and in the process strengthen their own national/cultural identity as a bonding experience) are foremost.

    By the way, among my German friends, I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Moore, including from those among them who lean to the left. But there’s no question about his popularity in Germany. Every time I walk into Bouvier (Bonn) or the local library his books, when they come out, are prominently displayed, along with several other America-critical titles.

    I don’t really want to dump on Moore. I sort of see him as Bush’s court jester. Not such a bad thing to remind Americans that members of Congress are not sending their own children to Iraq, or that Saudi Arabia owns a large piece of their country, among other things.

  9. Andy Markovits has some interesting things to say about Michael Moore:

    “. . . context means everything. Delighting in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine in an artsy movie theater in Ann Arbor, Madison, Cambridge or Berkeley is a completely different experience and has a vastly different meaning from having this film become the movie of choice about the United States among German youth. . .”

    I don’t know about “Bowling for Columbine,” but “Fahrenheit 9/11” opened on 868 screens in the US. Those can’t all be “artsy” places in university towns, right?

    Every time I walk into Bouvier (Bonn) or the local library his books, when they come out, are prominently displayed, along with several other America-critical titles.

    So? That hardly makes Moore a “big star.”

    By the way, my favourite display at Thalia Spitalerstraße is the desk with political books, I think the category is called something like “Politik/Gesellschaft” or something. I should really write down the titles on display sometime, but, from memory and with the aid of Amazon’s celebrated “related works” feature, they read something like this:

    • Hans Leyendecker: Die Korruptionsfalle. Wie unser Land im Filz versinkt
    • Jürgen Roth: Der Deutschland-Clan. Das skrupellose Netzwek aus Politikern, Top-Managern und Justiz
    • Albrecht Müller: Machtwahn. Wie eine mittelmäßige Führungselite uns zugrunde richtet
    • Hans Herbert von Arnim: Das System. Die Machenschaften der Macht
    • Paul Kirchhof: Das Gesetz der Hydra. Gebt den Bürgern ihren Staat zurück!
    • Karl Lauterbach: Der Zweiklassenstaat. Wie die Privilegierten Deutschland ruinieren
    • Cerstin Gammerlin, Götz Hamann: Die Strippenzieher. Manager, Minister, Medien – Wie Deutschland regiert wird
    • Hans-Werner Sinn: Ist Deutschland noch zu retten?
    • Gabor Steingart: Deutschland. Der Abstieg eines Superstars

    and so on and so forth. (Michael Moore’s books are also on this table.)

  10. Sebastian,

    Hamburg? You fortunate man. To a New Englander like myself, descendant of seafaring Yankees, Hamburg has its own, special, mystical allure.

    I would like, someday, to spend a leisurely day in Hamburg tracking down the houses of prostitution, or what’s left of them, where Brahms as a young man played the piano “with mechanical precision, like a sleepwalker, while reading a volume of poetry on his lap.”

    I don’t think you’d be quite sane, unless you have already laid in a year’s stock of Prozac, to go anywhere near most of those books on display in the Spitalerstrasse Thalia, with the exception, perhaps, of Kirchhof, and even then that’s a book to be skimmed, not assimilated.

    With the economy booming, and a sharp lady at the helm of state, why should you, a German, feel depressed about Germany? Why read books that will only make you feel even more depressed?

  11. “Michael Moore’s latest film, ‘Sicko,’ was a smash hit over the weekend. The documentary about the health care industry was sold out at all its ‘sneak’ screenings in 43 locations around the country including Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, and Detroit. […]
    On Friday night, Moore and one of his producers attended the 7:45 p.m. Lincoln Square screening, unobtrusively and out of sight of the audience. When the show ended, a standing ovation ensued, with cheering that culminated in Moore ultimately revealing he was there. The situation got so out of hand that the fire marshall came in to clear the theater.
    Moore told me on Saturday night what happened next: ‘We tried to leave the theater and people just followed us outside onto the street. All the way down and out of the theater they were applauding. Out on the street we had our own Q&A session,’ he said […]”

    ‘Sicko’ Socko at the Box Office (FOXNews)

  12. What are you doing reading those Evil, biased SOB’s ax Fox, Nocholas? Boycotted by no less a personage as Senator Blowdry (aka John Edwards). 😉

  13. With the economy booming, and a sharp lady at the helm of state, why should you, a German, feel depressed about Germany?

    I don’t think the books of the kind of which I gave a little selection typically induce depression. Rather, I think the feeling that they are supposed to give you is one of rage – at the criminal, stupid, corrupt etc. politicians who don’t follow the author’s advice. I cannot tell personally, as I don’t actually read these books; I keep to the technology/transportation section, always on the look-out for gems like Schrauben und Muttern der deutschen Panzertruppe, Bd. 2: 1939-1941. (Ok, I made that up.)

    That said, Kirchhof isn’t the only one in the list whose name would indicate that, despite the title, the book may actually be worthwhile. For example, all I know about Hans Leyendecker (who, by the way, might be called Germany’s foremost investigative journalist) is completely inconsistent with the sensational title, and I’m rather certain it was chosen by the publisher. Hans-Werner Sinn is another respectable scientist.

    I would like, someday, to spend a leisurely day in Hamburg tracking down the houses of prostitution, or what’s left of them

    We also have nice parks and museums and stuff <_<;;

  14. I still haven’t mastered the delicate art of writing posts (or e-mails) while indicating whether I am ironic or not, Sebastian, though you seem to have a good antenna for irony, and thus in this particular instance I escape unscathed.

    None of those silly emoticons for me, but your concoction (below), I must admit, shows a high degree of sophistication.

    Sinn and Leyendecker. Noted.

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