Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Old Heroes New

Back in the day I had my heroes. There was the Man of Steel who leaped tall buildings and then returned to his bespectacled life. Then there was Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Florence Chadwick who swam the Channel both ways. I also idolized Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax.

All of them acted as singular individuals taking matters into their own hands and pushing the margins of what was thought possible.  They embodied the American Dream. Heroes and heroines must have an adversary. Athletes have the record book. The Suffragettes and minorities have the weight of social mores. Superman had gravity, itself.

With some sophistication and a broader view of the human psyche came the anti-hero. We took our heroes down from the pedestal for closer inspection and maybe recognized ourselves….on a good day. Over the years the anti-hero became more and more blemished. Redemption was hard-edged, hard-earned or hardly worth the time.

All of which leads me to our latest version in the virtuoso performance by Matthew McConoughey in, Dallas Buyer’s Club. Here we have a poster-boy for the guy you wouldn't want your sister to marry...a red-neck, womanizer, misogynist, homophobic Aids victim whom we are asked to cheer because he single-handedly defies the Food & Drug Administration and by extension, the government, Big Pharma  and Science itself.

I have no use for pharmaceutical companies but in our system they are the arm of research, manufacture and marketing. I do not condone their abusive practices or exorbitant profits. However this film takes down evidence-based science and a vital federal agency along with it.  

In its place we are asked to support renegade science based on anecdote and driven by loopholes and a good-old American entrepreneurial device for personal gain. This script could have been written by Ted Cruz from the Libertarian handbook.

First we are told that the FDA is the villain for withholding AZT from the market. Then the drug is deemed to be toxic when it is released. In fact it was made available quicker than other drug in history because of the AIDS epidemic in the late 80s. And why was it delayed at all? Because clinical trials first had to be made to evaluate benefits against risks. And why were their deaths associated with it in the early days? Because the optimum dosage had yet to be established. In fact AZT has become part of the cocktail successfully treating millions of AIDS victims for the past twenty years.

Vigilante justice is a running theme in Hollywood. The sheriff in High Noon became the Clint Eastwood revenge-seeker. We love our protagonist to break out of the herd, bring down the authorities and make his own rules. Now the cowboy has put on a white coat and become a doctor scheming to circumvent rational medicine. And he even get his woman in the last reel.

What’s next, stem-cell research? Climate change? Evolution?

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