Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Michael Moore takes to the phones to promote Sicko. - By Christopher Beam - Slate Magazine

Promoting Sicko. Michael Moore takes to the phones to promote Sicko. - By Christopher Beam - Slate Magazine
Direct calling makes sense for a film like Sicko, Lehane says. For one thing, it's more effective than billboards or TV spots because this movie's target audience is so specific. In the case of Spider-Man 3, a TV ad would probably be a lot more effective, since just about any TV viewer is a potential Spider-Man attendee. With Sicko, however, a large chunk of TV advertising is inevitably wasted on people who would rather undergo dental surgery (insured or otherwise) than watch a Michael Moore movie. By contrast, a phone call to someone who is already a potential viewer is relatively cheap—10 to 14 cents per call. So far, more than 50 percent of the people they've called say they plan to see the movie. (Although it's unclear whether the call led them to that decision.)

Of course, Moore and Co. aren't just preaching to the choir—they're preaching to the preachers. The practice of "micro-targeting" uses census data and donation records to reach liberals who have given money to Democratic causes or been otherwise politically active. The goal is to seek out evangelizers—people who will not only go see the movie but will also tell all their friends about it. In other words, they're trying to make SiCKO viral.
On the one hand, it's encouraging to see a studio believing that a film actually matters, and acting on that belief. But on the other, something troubles me about a major production company stealing a grass-roots campaign tactic. These callers aren't volunteers sharing their enthusiasm for a cause; they're getting paid to praise the virtues of universal health care. (Not that other calling campaigns are any different, of course.) Even more disturbing is what this means for movie advertising. It's hard to imagine a scenario more horrific than Hollywood discovering telemarketing. What's stopping Angelina Jolie from telling me that unless I see A Mighty Heart, the terrorists win? How long before I hear Steve Carell on the line saying it's up to me to save the family comedy about animals? Let's pray that day never arrives. Because I'm not ready to open up my phone lines to sales-happy filmmakers, no matter how affordable my co-pay might become.
[Will I go see the movie? Yeah. No calls from Michael Moore or his friends to me. I guess that will have to wait until I can vote ... :)] Happy Fourth y'all!

[Oh, here's a review of Sicko that tries to present some of the stuff that Moore (allegedly. I haven't seen the movie yet) left out.
Sicko also introduces us to Diane, whose brain tumor operation was initially denied by Horizon BlueCross because it didn't consider her condition "life threatening." She eventually received treatment, but "not without battling the insurance companies," Moore says.

Jack Szmyt found himself in a similar situation. After waiting two months for his initial diagnosis—he too had a brain tumor—Szmyt was told that it would be another month until doctors could start the necessary treatment. Rather than wait in a queue, he borrowed $30,000 from a friend, and flew to a private clinic in Germany. Had he not sought private treatment abroad, his German doctor said, he would likely have died. When contacted by the media, his insurer, again the Swedish government, said it didn't consider the assigned waiting period "unreasonable."

Such examples suggest that Moore's depiction of European-style medicine as an easy panacea for America's problems is rather more complicated than presented. Massive queues and cash shortages have plagued all of the systems profiled—and celebrated—in Sicko. In the case of Cuba, whose system Moore also praises, this includes shortage of basic medical materials and medicine. And the credulous audience member is none the wiser.
After the critical reaction to his previous films, Moore opts for elision over outright falsehood. So when he marvels that a doctor working in the NHS owns an Audi and "million dollar home," it is hardly in his interest to point out, as The Independent did in January, that "soaring salary levels of doctors are worsening the NHS cash crisis." And while bitterly lamenting the U.S. system of "wage slavery"—American students, Moore says, are saddled with debt and, thus, "won't cause [employers] any trouble"—he ignores a recent report from the British Medical Association suggesting that, by their fifth year of medical school, British students "have accumulated an average debt of" $39,000.
(Tons of links in the article. Hat-tip to Don Jim).
But as P.J. O'Rourke once commented, if Mike thinks health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free.

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