There are many trends in media it is impossible not to despise. Body shaming, talent shows for people whose main ‘talent’ is a form of tragic neediness, trolling, clickbait, the relentless atomic smashing of culture into ever smaller and more mindless quantum particles, and I speak only of this month’s outrages. Next month will probably see a host of new ones.
Media doctors probably don’t feature large on most people’s lists of ‘things I’d like to see banned from the airwaves,’ but they are, in their way, every bit as insidious and potentially damaging as the Borg like assimilation of all other culture by pornography.
With the possible exception of the slick and ineffably polite US show ‘The Doctors,’ most media Doctors are in fact pretty shameless self-publicists, and while most forms of blatant attention seeking (apart from terrorism and the like) are relatively harmless, the fact that these people (usually) come armed with a medical degree makes their prognostications all the more dogmatic and toxic.
Producers of radio and TV shows are, at heart, a trusting and stressed out and gullible and ultimately pretty lazy bunch. They love anything that feels like an easy option. Picking up the phone to the nearest self-important medically qualified windbag is so, so much easier than generating new programming ideas.
Media doctors are people with an almost infinite need for ego gratification. Healing or comforting the sick or having tense relatives hang on their every syllable apparently just won’t cut it anymore. They need the larger stage.
And it can hardly be argued that they dispense studied, impartial medical advice. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard recycled prejudice, cultural bias and personal pique dressed up as so called sound medical advice. Many media doctors feel no compunction whatever about spewing nakedly partisan political opinions hypocritically dressed up as medical factoids.
Other have, apparently without the slightest twinge of medical conscience, taken part in so called ‘transformation’ TV shows which amount to little more than body shaming the morbidly obese, publicly humiliating people whose self-esteem is so low they need to be excoriated by millions of cretins with ‘send’ buttons. Whatever about the slack jawed greed of those who produce the programmes, it seems bizarre that a supposed medical professional would not realize the danger inherent in such treatment of very obviously vulnerable people.
But that’s the world we’re in now. Ten years of medical school, all those oaths to do no harm, are just grease in the engine of ambition. At least the Kardashians and others whose fame is mainly based on posting naked pictures of themselves to the Internet are engaged in an honest (if pathetic) grab for your vacant attention.
Media doctors are no different to nudist, wanna be celebs; what marks them out is the self-righteous insistence that you need to take their greed more seriously. Thus, I’ve watched ‘sport doctors’ shamelessly attempt to generate business for themselves on the stretched backs of overweight teenagers. There’s a guy who insists on wearing his white coat, along with what is presumably meant to be his disarming smile, into any interview. I don’t know why he just doesn’t emblazon his phone number on it, but then, even Mengele probably imagined that he was doing some good.
Some medical narcissists on this side of the pond no doubt gaze wistfully over the Atlantic at the gargantuan profits accrued by the phenomenon known as ‘Doctor Phil,’ a little like the way garage bands dream of being REM. Like his mother ship, OPRAH, Doctor Phil is simply unavoidable.
Frozen into literal immobility for a period by child rearing, I’ve sat impotently and heard the good doctor make all kinds of pronouncements I found to be half-baked, half-true, utterly subjective and at times, just plain old factually incorrect. But he’s a Doctor, ain’t he? At least he seems to think so.
So the legions of sad faces hanging on his every dribble seem to think. And I don’t have his medical degree, or his media profile, so I just have to sit there, silently and impotently being wrong.
Who needs to think when you’ve got some narcissistic and impatient medical celebrity there to do it for you? At least old Jerry Springer seemed to be having a laugh. Those who have followed him are far more insistent in their demand to be taken seriously.
The self-important witterings of media doctors also tend to obscure the fact that the way medical problems are classified and diagnosed tends to be far more fluid than many of us think.
The extreme end of this is in the area of behavioural problems, where types of behaviours tend to get shifted between labels according to whatever fashion happens to be dominant (because as many people don’t know, medicine is just as prone to fashion as clothes, or telly, or anything else).
Thus a behaviour which last week was described as ADHD this week lies on the Asperger spectrum. Today’s borderline personality disorder is tomorrow’s narcissistic psychosis etc. This goes on all the time, regardless of how much they try to tell you it doesn’t.
The same is true for what the old-fashioned among us term ‘real medicine,’ the stuff that actually has to do with ailments of the body. If you don’t believe me, then consider the number of people you know who’ve been to hospital only to be told ‘I’m sorry. We’re not really sure what’s wrong with you.’
Perhaps it is to recoil from this fluidity, this head scratching indeterminacy, that so many doctors have taken to the airwaves, where gullible viewers and lazy producers will treat every dogmatic gobbet that falls from their lips as a priceless pearl. A lot of the time, media doctors are actually just ‘spit balling,’ but they’re doing it with all the dogmatism of a 19th Century philosopher (‘this is the truth because I’m saying it and I’m a doctor for f***s sake).
This surely has a directly negative effect on the heads of their listeners. Presenting theories as if they were established facts is dangerous in any walk of life. In medicine, it can be fatal.
A case in point is nutrition, where media doctors now seem to be saying the exact opposite of what they were saying twenty years ago about red meat and butter and so on. The poor fools who may have gone obese from listening to all this free advice probably aren’t entitled to sue, and anyway, like the accountants who piloted us all into economic disaster, their media doctors have gone on to brighter and better things.
Unless there is an actual public health emergency, such as a pandemic or a nuclear explosion, which requires immediate action by the public, there is no reason why any doctor should be allowed in front of a microphone. They have more than enough to do trying to figure out what’s wrong with all those sick people, and if they don’t want to do that, then they have no business being doctors. Get rid of them.