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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

will ‘Sicko’ prompt a revolution, or will all that anger go to waste?

Sicko has been playing for a month and is now on more than 1,100 screens, officially a wide release, and reactions from viewers has been, in some instances, remarkable. FlickFilosopher.com reader Dan, in Tempe, Arizona, sent me this report from the screening he attended:

The one thing that really hit me hard was after the movie was over – a guy who was crippled could do nothing but cry uncontrollably as he was shouting why can’t someone like Michael Moore help me and some people actually gave him hugs.

Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend has reported on his extraordinary experience at a public multiplex. After the film:

the theater was in chaos. The entire Sicko audience had somehow formed an impromptu town hall meeting in front of the ladies room. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is Texas goddammit, not France or some liberal college campus. But here these people were, complete strangers from every walk of life talking excitedly about the movie. It was as if they simply couldn’t go home without doing something drastic about what they’d just seen….

The talk gradually centered around a core of 10 or 12 strangers in a cluster while the rest of us stood around them listening intently to this thing that seemed to be happening out of nowhere. The black gentleman engaged by my redneck in the restroom shouted for everyone’s attention. The conversation stopped instantly as all eyes in this group of 30 or 40 people were now on him. “If we just see this and do nothing about it,” he said, “then what’s the point? Something has to change.” There was silence, then the redneck’s wife started calling for email addresses. Suddenly everyone was scribbling down everyone else’s email, promising to get together and do something… though no one seemed to know quite what. It was as if I’d just stepped into the world’s most bizarre protest rally, except instead of hippies the group was comprised of men and women of every age, skin color, income, and walk of life coming together on something that had shaken them deeply, and to the core.

In all my thirty years on this earth, I have never ever seen any movie have this kind of unifying effect on people.

And Michael Moore, in today’s new letter to his Web site readers, says this:

I am overwhelmed by the response to “Sicko.” And I’m not just talking about all the wonderful, heart-felt letters you’ve sent me and the stories you’ve shared with me about the abuse you’ve suffered from our health care system.

No, I’m talking about how thousands of you are taking matters into your own hands and using the movie to do something. From Seattle to New England, each day I learn of numerous groups holding meetings or dinners after the movie to discuss it and to plot a course for action.

Will anything actually come of all these spontaneous multiplex rallies and town meetings, though? As Dave Pollard suggests in his blog, How to Save the World, the movie may be prompting “Too Much Outrage, and Not Enough”:

What would it take to fix the US healthcare system? The same thing that, eventually, ‘fixes’ any dysfunctional complex system: crisis. When the system gets so overwhelmed, so expensive, so broken, that it falls apart, and there is enough of a sense of near-unanimous urgency for creating a new one, it will happen.

A few million people outraged and feeling impotent won’t be nearly enough to bring about change.

Shorter Dave Pollard: “Revolutioning is hard.” (Atul Gawande in The New Yorker says much the same thing.)

I attended a press conference with Michael Moore just before the film opening in New York last month, and much of what he said there has turned up in many, many articles written by the other journalists who were there, or has been repeated by Moore himself in his many TV appearances about the movie. But what he said about why he made Sicko has not, to my knowledge, been widely dissemination:

I do these things in part because I do believe things will change. I believe the American people, when they’ve had enough, do [react]. The American people stopped OJ’s book from being published — it was just because it was a mood, a feeling, all through the country, that they didn’t think he should profit. Suddenly: no book, no publisher. How did this happen without any kind of organized PR, ads on TV? I believe that the American public has had it [with the health care situation], and they are waiting for the moment to rise up and demand change.

Have you had any experiences similar to Dan’s and Josh’s while seeing Sicko? Do you think it will translate into anything more?

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