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STUDIO: Cinema Libre
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
• Internet links!
“Step right up, folks, and witness the Amazing Homeopathic Man!”
Presented and narrated by Mike Anderson, and including anecdotes by the people who gush enthusiastically in the blurbs on the back of the DVD case.
A sincere, yet highly suspect, man takes us through a brief history of cancer treatment, denigrating those he deems ineffective and championing the power of proper nutrition to cure the world’s ills.
The initial argument.
I need to get one complaint off my chest, right from the get-go: There is no such thing as the “cancer industry”. It’s a ridiculous phrase, and its utterance functions as a red flag in conversation to anyone with a trace of rational capacity. Healing Cancer host Mike Anderson repeats it like a hellfire preacher summoning the specter of Satan, and to much the same intended effect. It’s a nice trick, demonizing and reducing the opponent at the same time, but it’s an ineffective way to lay out an argument in a documentary. Good documentaries explore complexities. Healing Cancer plays the simplification game in a direct appeal to emotion.
In fact, I’d hesitate even to label this a documentary. It’s more of a sales pitch. “You have a problem! We have a solution!” the film cries in an evangelistic mood, and boy does it ever. The filmmakers are directly tied to a moneymaking venture beyond that of DVD sales. I won’t link straight to the site in question here, but Healing Cancer is part of a wider profit initiative called Rave Diet. (If there’s one word I love to have associated with science, it’s “rave.”) There’s your “solution.” By flashing the web address on the screen during his arguments, Anderson immediately undoes even the slight progress he has made.
CHUD has been sent worthless documentaries in the past; I’ve reviewed a couple of them, both propaganda pieces, poorly researched and unconvincingly delivered. I miss them. At least they were forthright in their nature. Healing Cancer is trying to be a sly beast, and failing.
Anderson’s basic thesis is that current cancer therapies are ineffective and dangerous. Chemotherapy bears the brunt of the attack, repeatedly claimed to be “no more effective than a sugar pill,” while surgery and radiation therapy receive demerits for treating symptoms, but not root causes. The rationales behind these claims are shaky at best, and at worst display a bias so large it overshadows any glimmer of useful information.
For example, Anderson chastises mammography and other early detectors for adding mere days onto the expected life-span of a patient, simply because cancers are often well-advanced by the time they can be identified by current techniques. Anderson’s solution? Forgo screening in favor of the assumption that you already have cancer, and change your diet accordingly.
Or from BDSM play.
Such arguments against cancer therapies occupy only the first third or so of the running time, sprinkled with historical anecdotes regarding the progression of cancer therapies and personal, unverified stories shared by individuals of dubious veracity. The remainder of the film is devoted to surveys of those diet and nutritional claimed to reverse and cure cancer and other degenerative diseases. I won’t argue that there are a lot of dietary concerns facing America right now, but Anderson’s consideration of them is subverted by his sales pitch, and the axe he wants to grind.
Doctors, Anderson claims, insist on expensive, dangerous therapies despite evidence that cancer patients who undergo no therapy have slightly longer life-spans with an (inferred) increased quality of life. Why do the doctors ignore this evidence? Because, according to Anderson, at the time of the foundation of the American Medical Association, there were two kinds of doctors: homeopaths, and allopaths. Homeopaths cured people by helping them through natural means. Good! Allopaths cured people by giving them poisons, performing bloodletting, and — I’m just tossing this out, here — making sacrifices to ancient gods. Bad!
A Short List of Irrelevance: The Hippocratic Oath, the Nicene Creed, the Pledge of Allegiance.
The AMA were a bunch of allopaths, it turns out. They formed the association as a union, to drive out those poor, defenseless homeopaths. Because allopaths used patentable synthetic drugs, they got companies behind them, which meant advertising revenue, which meant power. Homeopaths just had the chamomile tea lobby backing them. Thus, our current medical and pharmaceutical situations, in which homeopaths are sidelined in favor of expensive procedures and medicines, researched and developed by allopaths.
Here’s the thing: the word “allopath” gets used as a pejorative by homeopaths to describe anyone whose cures or treatments are synthetic, unnatural, or involving artificial means. It’s a word heavy with tradition, though not too widespread in common speech. In other words, it’s meaningless as a characterization or descriptor coming from a homeopathic source, such as Anderson. The aggressive dismissal of scientific process renders him completely unreliable as a narrator on science, even the pseudo-science which occupies the majority of the disc. Homeopathy is based not on repeatable, verifiable results, but on tradition and what might be called common sense. It can not and should not be couched in science.
A cocktail with a healthy layer of miracle pills from Max Industries? I’ll take two!
That makes two stylistic choices which identify Anderson as a questionable source of information: the use of the phrase “cancer industry” and the embracing of the label “homeopath.” When encountering folks who apprehend the world differently than I do, I always hope for some explanation of their vocabulary, some insight into the shorthand which encapsulates their experiences and convictions. Anderson doesn’t give any such insight. He doesn’t explain what he believes the cancer industry to be, and he doesn’t offer any meaningful defense of homeopathy. The statistics he cites, while interesting in an abstract way — particularly those showing outcomes of drug clinical trials, which are depressing in their lack of effectiveness — are bent out of shape in the service of illustrating how the cancer industry is deceiving the people of America.
In short, Anderson’s methods cast him as less an educator than a huckster. He’s calling out to those with only the barest preconceptions of the issues, or to those who already support his position. He plainly doesn’t want to sway someone like me, a skeptic of his (many, varied, unsupported) claims; he just wants to sell something to the easy marks, which is ironic since he brings up the subject of snake oil himself.
A collection of badly-designed arguments in service of advertising a profit venture? That’s not a documentary; that’s an infomercial.
There’s not much to speak of, which suits me fine. There are Internet links provided to take you further into the realm of Rave Diet. There are also a pair of trailers, one for Healing Cancer and one for The Beautiful Truth, an affiliated documentary which seems to claim that not only will proper diet cure cancer, but also global warming and national body-image issues.
All that and I’m still a skeptic? Man, what the hell is my problem?