Hidoi (酷い) – Horrible, horrific, awful, terrible. This is the word my friend F. used to describe America when recommending Michael Moore’s “SiCKO”…she loved the movie, and told me America sounds like a terrible place, a ridiculous, backwards country. I agreed that our healthcare situation is ridiculous, and told her that back home it was common knowledge that we should get universal free healthcare, and it’s promised every election, but never comes through. She asked me why, how could people allow it to continue like that, and I just wasn’t up to the task of explaining lobbyists, paid-off politicians and HMO’s in Japanese, so I shrugged and said “I don’t know.”
She insisted I watch the movie, and lent me a copy. I was skeptical. Michael Moore is a mildly amusing gadfly at best, and a plain old garden-variety conspiracy-monger at worst. I was fascinated by Bowling for Columbine, and thought Roger and Me was pretty well put together in terms of it’s argument…but I found myself more or less indifferent to the supposedly “controversial” and “influential” claims of “Farenheit 9/11” and found it more exploitative of election fever than any thing else….preaching to the choir no less, in most cases. People talk about “bias” in MM’s films…but who gives a shit about bias?? I mean honestly, what person walks into the theater thinking, “I’m just here to see a purely objective assembly of facts.” Not only does such a thing sound like the most boring idea for a movie possible, it goes against pretty much everything that people actually want to see. People don’t go see political movies, or watch political TV to MAKE an opinion, they go to agree or disagree with someone else’s. I myself rarely feel well-informed enough, or politically savvy enough to present a worthwhile political opinion on anything. I go with the crowd and praise it or flame it like everyone else.
All this considered, I threw on SiCKO last night, and initially, felt shamed, as I knew I probably would. If MM was gonna make a movie about healthcare in the States, I’d guessed that it wouldn’t be too flattering for us poor lost souls still trapped in the dark ages while every other industrialized 1st world nation sneered at us idiots without healthcare. Here in Japan I just walk into a hospital and get whatever I need. Biggest charge I ever paid was $50. To hear someone say they pay $120 for each refill of their meds (2 or 3 times a month!) isn’t surprising, but it is sickening, of course. So midway through, my thought is that “jeeze, he couldn’a picked an easier target, and I why should I sit through the ceremonial burning effigy of something whose evil we are fully aware of but somehow unable to fix?” …I mean, we’re facing yet another election full of people promising to fix the healthcare thing…Hilary who’s already failed once says she can do it right this time…Obama who’s talking big but has a strategy no more concrete than “I’ll do it, goddamnit.”
…and then, out march the 9/11 volunteers…now victims of various ailments thanks to their once-lauded, now forgotten “heroism,” all now unable to afford their healthcare. Something inside just broke at that. I can’t say what it was, but it was too much, whatever it was. I cursed him. What shit, I thought, “fuck you. FUCK YOU Michael Moore…” I can’t believe you’re parading these in front of me so blatantly, so fucking sympathy-sucking obviously you might as well wave a flag. I couldn’t process this, such despair I felt. Such hopelessness for our poor, misguided country, rotting away on the throne of the world. People talk about how “emotional” 9/11 was…and to be sure, it was, but I remember two emotions only – fear, and shock. Yesterday was the first time since watching ’em fall in 01 that I’d ever felt sadness, loss, hopelessness, empathy. I was just “there,” goddammit. I was just there, and that’s all, just standing there, wondering what to do, totally unable to understand the thing happening around me.
My poem was fake. The gravity with which I unravelled the story to friends and family was fake. All of it, fake. At the time I felt only panic, shock, fear, anxiety. The victims didn’t even really cross my mind, other than the fact that I was actually breathing parts of them in as I walked down the hazy streets. The biggest thing on my mind was the most human: what’s going to happen to ME. Will I get bombed? Will I get drafted? Do I have to live in a warzone? That’s all I could think about.
How is it that 7 years later, half a world away, I see a movie about healthcare and suddenly grasp all the empathy and hopelessness of a thing? How is it that we do this to each other? What process allows it? What mind constructs it? What hand puts it into place? How is it that I am so far disconnected from it? How is it that I am unable to understand my part in it until too late, unable to affect it, alter it? How can I face the fact of my life, my continued existence in light of my (of our) great failure, of my (of our) great impotence in the face of the machine, the mechanism, the structure that moves and does without even a semblance of control? MM wants badguys, witches to burn, but we all know there is no pilot at the controls, no captain at the helm. There is a system which does and acts beyond an individual, something who’s wheels are bigger than any leader, far bigger than us, far beyond our ability to influence or control.
I’ve always had a sense of my expatriate status as a sort of “escape” …waiting out the long, dark Bush era in a land far, far, away, preempting a draft, or just some form of non-participation…but last night, I think I came to grips with my inevitable American-ness somehow, and now truly feel the weight of my impending repatriation…not just the shame, but the despair, the directionless, empathetic loss. My days, previously so pleasing in their steady, humming routine now lose focus. I drift meaninglessly from bed to computer and back again. I’ve been sick for weeks, and just finally deciding to go to the doctor. I oversleep, sometimes 12 hours a day. I let my apartment fall to ruin around me. I’m just “here,” still unable to grasp whatever role it is I play in all this.