Monday, September 12, 2011


I saw Contagion over the weekend, and there were a lot of things that were 100% right about the movie, and a few that were questionable.

Who doesn't like a movie that glamorizes their stinky and nerdy profession?  I really appreciated how the cinematography saw the world through the eyes of an epidemiologist or microbiologist.  That menacing doorknob is just covered in deadly germs!  Why won't you people stop touching your faces all the time*?  It was jarring in the places where the movie slipped out of assuming that you know most of what's going on to explain some basic stuff to the audience (I'll admit that I didn't know what fomites meant).  And as someone who's done public health work outside of the CDC, I was a little insulted when the state health departments were portrayed as full of idiots.  Still, I appreciate that it was a detour that allowed the movie to talk to the audience like it's not watching the movie as part of a college course.

Speaking of the movie's respect for its audience, there was a strong undercurrent in the writing of someone who thinks people who haven't studied his specialty are dangerously stupid.  Still, the bad guy profiting off of a bogus homeopathic remedy (but I repeat myself) had educated himself just enough to lie well by the time he was able to influence the public.  In the beginning, he was just lucky to have guessed that the first few deaths were the beginning of a major outbreak, and still pretty paranoid.  His conspiratorial thinking wasn't entirely wrong, even if it was corrupt.

I also had a hard time believing that none of the health professionals read blogs about their area of work.  If you're charged with keeping the public healthy, it's a good idea to know how they're thinking.  And of course, there are those written by professionals for each other.  There was an absolute divide between the crazies who don't have degrees and certification but do read blogs and the trained professionals who only talk to each other.  For an attempt to humanize health professionals, there was quite a lot of paternalistic ivory-tower moralizing.

*As a feminist who rarely gets excited about makeup, I recently decided that the "don't touch your face so you don't ruin your makeup" thing is probably a force against the spread of disease.  On the one hand, it seems like you're sacrificing your freedom to rub sleepy eyes to the patriarchy, but on the other hand, don't touch your face so much.

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