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A Swill Pandemic

By Michael Murray | TV | May 8, 2009 |

By Michael Murray | TV | May 8, 2009 |

It might be that I’m not the best candidate on the planet to watch the show “The Doctors.” I stumbled upon it one afternoon the other week, and thinking it would be a cheerfully slutty soap opera like “Nip/Tuck,” I tuned in to watch. This was a big mistake.

Featuring a panel of photogenic medical professionals, “The Doctors” turned out to be a talk show about health issues, and their topic of discussion was the Swine Flu. Well, perhaps “discussion” isn’t the right word to use, as it was more like the Swine Flu was the launching point for their induction of mass panic and hysteria.

Now, I’m a very suggestible person, and if I hear somebody say that they’re feeling dizzy, then I immediately start to feel dizzy, so when this infernal show started bleating on about the perils of the Swine Flu, I truly believed I was a goner. Watching video images of hulking and bestial devil pigs, snorting and snarling, juxtaposed with shots of ashen people, with fear in their eyes, dashing about an abandoned Mexico City in surgical masks, you could be forgiven for thinking that end times were nigh.

Pretending to be news rather than a creepy infomercial, “The Doctors” then showed us footage of a bug-eyed woman in an airport. Looking like she was strung-out, her eyes darting from side to side, as if looking for a predator, she whined with despair about her ruined vacation. Another clip, thrown at us with no context, featured a pale and glassy-eyed child shivering beneath a blanket, as his concerned mother, protected by surgical gear, rubbed his shoulders.

It wasn’t so much the disease that was infectious, but the panic that it was causing. In just a few minutes I was convinced that my seasonal allergies were in fact, a full-blown manifestation of La Gripe de los Cerdos.

If I’d known a little more about the show before watching, I would have known that this was going to happen. The first thing you should know about the show is that it’s the evil spawn of Doctor Phil, from which “The Doctors” is a spin-off. The second thing you should know is the star doctor and central spokesperson is none other than the unlikely named Travis Lane Stork, who strides bravely about in surgical scrubs. Ken Doll good-looking, Stork is an ER doc and a former participant on “The Bachelor,” where he selected schoolteacher Sarah Stone to be his lady. Sadly, this did not work out, but in spite of this heartbreak, he’s managed to land on his feet.

There are three other doctors on the regular panel. One of them is a plastic and bitchy looking OBGYN. She looks like she has a nauseating vanity license plate. There’s a pediatrician who looks like a dentist from a Colgate commercial, and a plastic surgeon that has the leathery, reptilian quality of Michael Douglas. None of them really have any personality to speak of, and what unites them is that they’re all the sort of doctor, that for one reason or another, would prefer to have a daytime talk show than practice medicine.

On an ice blue set, they sit about in their lab coats and scrubs pretending to disseminate useful information to an undereducated public, but really they’re just fomenting fear and anxiety in an effort to move product for their corporate masters.

The other day, they featured some woman who was talking about skin cancer detection, telling us all the things that we should be on the look out for. It turns out that we should be on the lookout for just about everything, as anything COULD be skin cancer. However, just as we’re fearfully checking that mole on our leg, she tells us that we can help ourselves by using a moisturizing skin cream, which she displays to us like a model from “The Price is Right.” Dr. Stork nods handsomely, and then enthusiastically informs the audience that they will all be getting a free sample to take home! Everybody cheers!

Another segment, in which the panel fielded questions from the audience, saw a pregnant woman ask if there was anything she needed to look out for, as an expecting mother, in the coming summer months. The mean OBGYN listed off all sorts of hidden perils, from flip-flops, to poor air conditioning, to dehydration. With each new pronouncement, whatever joy and confidence had been present in the woman’s face began to deteriorate replaced by anxiety and fear. In short order, her bottom lip began to tremble and her eyes became wet. She hadn’t even given birth yet, and already she was beginning to feel like a shitty mother.

It’s an alarmist culture we live in, one that has mastered the art of using fear to paralyze the population so that we’ll complacently accept whatever policies, or buy whatever products, we’re told are necessary. “The Doctors” shamelessly preys upon this. It’s not about informing the public about issues of health, but exploiting our anxieties, even if first they have to manufacture them, in order to get us to buy stuff.

As we all know by now, pharmaceutical companies are only too happy to invent a disease in order to sell us the cure, and “The Doctors” is no different. Using a daytime talk show format and some pretty faces, they scare us into buying the crap that they’re selling. It’s a pageant of product placement and wretched excess that proclaims that whatever pickle we find ourselves in, we can buy our way out of it, with commercial products serving as an anodyne to the treacherous world we daily encounter.

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.

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