04 October 2007

Scratching an itch

In the new fashion of trying to explain our world to us with short, frenetic video clips, ScribeMedia.org has produced a typically upbeat piece called A Brief History of Medicine. As they say in their website puff: "We could/should add, 'American Style.'"

Heavily influenced by Michael Wesch’s Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us and itching to get under our skin, this video was used to open the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco last month. It immediately demands eyeball attention and is hyperkinetically entertaining with its rapid cuts, fades, blends and dissolves. Our battered retinas barely have time to register the Gatling-gun spray of images as the jerky trail of the typescript cuts across the screen. The accompanying electronanotechbeat music, by the well named Luxxury, is aggressively irritating, like the soundtrack to a scabies infestation. If this were the 60s, someone with a head-band and dilated pupils would be emerging from the theatre waving a cigarette and exclaiming: "Far out, man."

Graphic hijinks aside, this is a tendentious, tauro-scatological and technologically obsessed treatment of the history of medicine. The video is divided into eight sections, each introduced with the caption, "Health is ... " The sections are engagingly entitled History, Education, Body, Global, Activists, Insurance, Information Technology, US — sounding better as a rundown of current fads and phobias than of medical history.

Is it petty to criticize what is so obviously a for-the-nonce throwaway? Well, watch out. I'm going for the throat. Nurses, not to mention the important contribution of religious orders in medieval Europe, are invisible in the onward march of male doctors with large scalpels. The discoveries of the smallpox vaccine, insulin and the x-ray are ignored, as is the introduction of asepsis, anesthesia and antibiotics. From the onset of AIDS we are rushed along to a 10-second liberal dig at the lack of proper health care insurance in the United States, with flattering photographs of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Some AIDS organizers and others working hard for reform may not be amused to find the Clintons featured so prominently in the Activists section. Finally, inevitably, and I suppose appropriately for this well-heeled California gathering, the acme of health care is touted as a series of lavishly designed and highly remunerative websites. We are peddling "Health 2.0" after all.

ScribeMedia.org, which produced the video, hypes itself as travelling the U.S. to capture and deliver speeches, lectures, round tables and interviews of "thoughtleaders" across a broad range of subject areas that include current events, technology, media, business, health care and the arts. Its self-described goal is to be "a neutral forum for intelligent dialog and debate, uncluttered by soundbytes, instant punditry and shoutfests."

Hence their wacky video. Take five, hold on to your seat, and plunge into this gyrating, ululating manifesto. Not a soundbyte or pundit in sight. It's informative, in the way that a bungee jump is a lesson in Newton's law of universal gravitation. While the message is relentlessly positive and glitteringly Clintonesque — of course it's all about YOU and US — what it actually is all about is the manifold ways that WE are going to make a lot of money out of YOUR problems, and YOUR growing need to deal with every ailment by purchasing a costly commodity from US in the new web-based economy. The only noise not heard in this clever little propaganda Kunstwerk is the ringing of the cash register. The only itch not scratched is that for a just health care system.

If this is how our "thoughtleaders" are thinking about health care, then we'll just have to keep on scratching.


matthew said...

If you're so smart--and I'm sure you are--you might a) use the correct Health2.0 logo associated with this video, and b) blame not just the artists at Scribe who made it, but also the idiots who conceived it. Yes, I am one of them.

Or you could just say, "yes the video was a bit of fun, served its purpose and if I was recutting/remaking it I'd have done X, Y, or Z". But that I guess would be too nice.

Mark Rabnett said...

Aren't we sensitive. I thought it was all about US!

The point is, I wouldn't have made the video at all. Why must every event these days, not just rock bands, have its own promotional puffery in the form of the five-minute video? As if something isn't sufficiently real unless accompanied by jouncing, colourful backdrops and an infectious soundtrack.

Monarchs and tyrants of the past had their lavish trains, processions of sycophants, flourishing fanfares, court poets, jesters, etc. No doubt, if the technology were available, they too would have made use of noisy, celebratory audiovisual accolades. A rousing military theme and pictures of long lines of slaves, perhaps, to promote their latest battlefield victory; or a "Health 1.0" to celebrate the disappearance of the plague after a mass witch burning and the simultaneous discovery of the miraculously restorative effects of toad urine.

By the way, I'm not that smart. I watched the video didn't I, more than once. I didn't use your logo because you probably would have complained about violation of copyright.

Bungle M said...

dearest mark,

your criticisms are well received and on this side of the keyboard heartedly enjoyed.

you appear to have three central arguments: first that there's not depth and context; second that a "10-second liberal dig" colors us as partisan, agenda-driven clintonites; and third that the piece is aesthetically displeasing.

i won't address video and audio aesthetics. we like what we've done and stand by it. if others don't, they don't.

we disagree with notions about a liberal agenda though, or where and how you see a "10-second liberal dig." but let's first start with the story line, it runs roughly thus:

* until the 1500s, (western) medicine was driven by religion and / or other belief systems, and not necessarily by science.
* there was much scientific innovation from the 1500s through the 20th century.
* in the 20th century, the world recognized that health is global and works together to combat some disease.
* HIV/AIDS is one such global disease.
* AIDS activism lead to general patient activism which lead to general discontent with the health care system which lead to the following text about US healthcare reform in the 1990s:

"In 1993, the Clinton administration proposes a universal healthcare plan"

"The plan is primarily defeated by conservatives, libertarians and the insurance industry. They counter with free market solutions."

"Democrats and Republicans clash throughout the decade. The ranks of the uninsured continue to grow. Costs continue to rise."

we don't see how these statements of fact could be construed as partisan. in our view, the story line implicates both parties in america's healthcare crisis.

the script then moves onto the technology and web solutions that individuals and companies both large and small have been creating to address the problems that american politicians cannot.

somehow these solutions seem to threaten you. and for some reason you believe an insider cabal is trying to get rich off of them. we're not quite sure about your deductions here, as our final stream of text is about as inclusive as inclusive can be.

to wit: "Health Is... Men. Women. Children. Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. Doctors. Patients. Caregivers. You... Health is US."

as in all of us. you included, who blog about health here at shelved. and by the very act of blogging about health, you're contributing to further understanding and therefore solutions.

so that's about what i can say about the liberal dig, and our supposed, planned economic manipulation of the situation.

which leaves me with your first criticism about the lack of depth and context.

to which we reply: color us guilty. as i wrote in the comments section of our site:

"We left a lot on the cutting room floor... There’s just so much more that could be mentioned, increased context that could be given, etc...

"... We barely touch on Pasteur, Koch and others who brought biology to medicine. Forget about the pharmaceutical advances throughout the 20th century. Ditto the genomic discoveries."

but the point here is that the piece is "a brief history of medicine" and doesn't pretend otherwise. maybe if we called it "the brief history," or worse, "the history" we'd be more exposed to criticism.

and finally, since you take a swipe at ScribeMedia.Org and our goal to provide a neutral forum for debate across a variety of issues, i suggest you dig a little deeper into what we do. a starting point could be our health channel at http://health.scribemedia.org/