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December 13, 2010

I did two things over the weekend:

  1. Watched FRONTLINE: The Vaccine War on Netflix
  2. Read Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh

I highly recommend these two if you have a couple of hours to spare.  Try the 1st if you’re a couch potato.  Try the 2nd if you’re a bookworm.  If you’re neither an anthropomorphic  root crop nor a highly-evolved invertebrate, then watch/read both.

For the uninitiated, Frontline is a public affairs television program on the PBS network.  In a weird way, I’ve always associated PBS with Sesame Street.  It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that the same network that aired Mr. Snuffleupagus is also airing well-made public affairs TV programs.

What?  PBS also airs NOVA?  Quick, what’s the term for documentary orgasm?  Documengasm?

I digress.

I’ve always liked Frontline’s presentation.  Two sides of an issue are given a fair shake. And if there is no clear dichotomy, the arguments across the spectrum are given a voice.  Fair and balanced?  For the most part, yes.

Frontline’s interviews and narration are woven and sequenced in such a way that they immediately draw a clear picture for the viewer.  It’s the documentary equivalent of a Borg-McEnroe tennis match.  The divisions are clear and the message is delivered like a John McEnroe tantrum but with finesse.  I also think the show allows viewers of one opinion the opportunity to assess the other side’s argument on neutral ground.  You have to.  You can’t shout “You’re wrong!” at the TV and expect a witty retort.  You can change the channel but it defeats the purpose of watching the program in the first place.

The Vaccine War is an enlightening look at the anti-vaccination movement and the medical establishment’s stand.  Science-based media productions would typically portray anti-vaccine folks as kooks.  While on the other hand, anti-vaccination propaganda would portray the medical establishment as the iron-fisted Big Brother entity.  As such, watching a neutral presentation was quite refreshing.  It’s also a personal accomplishment that I managed to watch a Jenny McCarthy interview without uttering “bullshit” once.

During the course of the program:

  • Medical studies were matched against personal and emotional anecdotes
  • Vaccination risks were weighed against benefits
  • The issue of vaccination as a public responsibility vs as a private decision was discussed
  • The latest developments regarding the founder of the anti-vaccine movement was brought to light
  • Tons more stuff

In the end, I think the episode politely takes the side of pro-vaccination.  I also take that side albeit with less politeness.  I think it makes sense to do so.

Watch the documentary.  If you have an opinion on the issue please do comment.

… and what about Simon Singh’s Trick or Treament?  Probably a blog entry for another day.

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