Sunday, November 02, 2008

Reverand Magpies No-No Pulpit...

Sometimes a subject comes up that I'd like to rant about on my show, but broadcasting regulations or station policies prevent me from being as forthright as I'd like. My lovely wife suggested that a good solution would be for me to write down these rants and post them here. So allow me to present the first sermon from Rev. Magpie's No-No Pulpit:

Prime Time Progaganda

I watched an episode of Law And Order: SVU tonight that I found
somewhat disturbing. Normally I like the show--it deals with edgy
stories and characters, and isn't afraid to take chances. Tonight's
show, however, was disturbing because never before have I seen a
episode that is so blatantly propaganda-like in both tone and content.

The episode concerned the death of a baby from what turns out to be
an untreated case of AIDS. The mother (an HIV sufferer) has fallen
under the sway of a quack doctor who believes that AIDS is a myth and
HIV can be cured by vitamins and diet. The show's viewpoint on this
growing movement is established early on when Det. Munch--normally
ready to subscribe, or at least sympathize, with every conspiracy
theory going-- refers to "AIDS deniers" as misguided.

Fair enough, but the writers quickly jettison their responsiblity as
storytellers and adopt the mantle of propagandists for the rest of
the show, with their bias appearing in several scenes. In general
terms, the writers never once present any of the scientific
background for Aids skepticism (and there are valid scientific
questions being raised-- it ain't all treehuggers and hippies) or
that even one of the discoverers of HIV has criticized the direction
that AIDS research and treatment has taken over the years. Usually
if there are two sides to an issue, the L&A writers try to
incorporate them both into the storyline. This evenhandedness was
conspicuously absent in tonight's show.

Neither does the show note that there is a wide range of postions on
the HIV/AIDS issue, ranging from mild skepticism to outright denial.
No room for questioning here--you either accept the hegemony without
question or you are a "denier", and a dangerous, narcissistic
whatckjob to boot. Now, on to the specific scenes that I thought
were quite disturbing:

1) The Doctor is presented as a bad doctor: Throughout the episode
the Doctor is presented as negligent. He lies to his patients,
diagnoses diseases without examinations, prescribes inappropriate
treatment, and falsifies medical records. The implication that only
bad/incompetent doctors are skeptical about the HIV/AIDS connection
is hammered home repeatedly throughout the story.

2) The Doctor is presented as both homophobic and racist: When on the
stand, the Doctor expressly accuses the Medical Examiner of having a
hidden agenda because of her race. He then states that HIV is not
a "real" problem because it only affects "blacks and gays". This
outburst comes out of absolutely nowhere (there's no suggestion prior
to this scene that there is any racial or homophobic motive for the
Doctor's position). The implication is repulsively clear--
questioning of the HIV/AIDS connection stems from anti-gay, anti-
black sentiment.

3) HIV skepticism is equated to Holocaust denial: No shit--I'm
serious here. During the trial the prosecutor explicitly compares
any questioning of the HIV/AIDS connection to denying that the
Holocaust exists. Not only that, but she claims that the
existing "proof"* of the HIV/AIDS connection is as extensive and as
conclusive as the proof that the Holocaust happened. Once again the
implication is that only an ignorant person motivated by prejudice
would question the status quo.

4) Refusing to have a child tested for HIV is equated with Christian
Scientists refusing to treat children for cancer. After the trial,
the brother of the victim refuses to be tested for HIV until Det.
Stabler introduces him to a young boy whose Christian Science parents
refused to treat his brain cancer. The point is made, explicitly and
implicitly, that seeking alternative treatments and diagnoses for
HIV** is as ignorant and misguided as praying for the cure of a
terminal disease when effective treatment is available.

I'm not an AIDS denier, btw. From what I've read there is a growing,
scientifically-based skepticism that the model of "HIV causes AIDS"
that has been prevalent since the 'eighties, and I think that people
have a right to ask the questions about the claims, methods and
motives of researchers, pharma-companies and government. Telling
these people to shut up, or labelling them kooks, racists or ignorant
is biased and hypocritical.

*If the writers were not biased, the distinction would have been made
that science deals in evidence, not proof, and scientists do not
believe in absolutes

** The writers neglect to mention both that HIV tests can result in a
false-positive result because of over 70 different factors, and that
being HIV positive does not mean having HIV or AIDS. These alone
are pretty good reasons for being skeptical of HIV testing.

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