Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, January 18, 2019

Medical dramas don’t adequately represent the real super heroes

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said that with great power comes great responsibility. In a doctor's world, as soon as you pick up a scalpel to save a life, you are in charge of that other human. That is a huge power which, if you think about it, is quite similar to what Spider-Man represents.

But while I agree with the idea that doctors are superheroes, I think medical shows tend to put too much focus on them and not enough on the patients.To give an example, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, puts the focus on doctors and their love lives, rather than their attempts to save patients. Instead of seeing doctors studying a patient’s case file in an attempt to find a cure, you can find them having sex in the on-call room -- which is for doctors who are so tired that they need the ‘rest.’

Grey’s doctor-focused plotlines highlight the imbalance in covering the real issues at stake in hospitals. For example, in one episode of Grey’s, a side character was angry at McDreamy for letting his wife die by ‘unplugging’ her since there was nothing else to do. In turn, he brought a gun to the hospital. Instead of the episode being focused on safety policies and patients, it was centered around doctors and whether or not they would survive. Even when writers did seem to focus a plot on a patient, it ended up being about a doctor and ethics.

To be honest, I am a fan of the show -- but what I really think about when I watch is why does Rhimes focus more on personal lives and love triangles rather than the destiny of the patient? Is it to maintain ratings? Because if that’s the reason the show is centered around on-screen romance, then I have to say that is not the only way to attract an audience.

For example, Red Band Society, adapted from the Spanish show Pulseras Rojas, was about a group of teenagers fighting for their lives. Whether they were battling cancer, anorexia or cystic fibrosis, the patients ‘banded’ together to support one another -- and there lies the story. Admittedly, some episodes revolved around drama with the doctors, but only to give the audience a few moments of comic relief from the raw and intense plotline.

Some of the storylines focused on Das, a boy battling cystic fibrosis who coincidentally falls in love with another cystic fibrosis patient. This was a type of star-crossed lovers story where if he made out with his love interest, one of them literally could not breathe. Emma (Cierra Bravo) fears gaining weight, and the audience eventually finds out that her family has a history of battling anorexia.

No matter the age of the fans, you could see yourself in at least one character. They were all friends who helped each other deal with their illnesses. For instance, Leo (Charlie Rowe) and the other main characters played music and tried to set up a friendly environment for their friend Charlie so that he could wake up from his coma. Even if you were not a patient yourself, you were touched by the way they came together when someone needed their help.

Unlike Grey’s Anatomy, Red Band Society’s doctors take the backburner. While Rhimes dove into Grey’s world with the vision of doctors equaling superheroes, in actuality it became more of doctors equaling love fest. On the other hand, Red Band Society was able to convey patients as the stars of the show perfectly.

Unfortunately, Red Band Society got cancelled by Fox only after a 13-episode season. Was the reason that Red Band Society got cancelled too soon due to the unusual focus on patients rather than doctors? In my opinion, this should not be a factor for a show going off air, because the creators of the show were trying to tell a story about How patients experience long-term hospital stays. Audiences need to learn about serious issues instead of just following romantic storylines.

It is widely believed that viewers watch TV to get out of their heads and not think about real life situations. But if you are watching a medical drama, then the patients should be the focus of the plot. Could this be a reason why real life issues are not as important as who is wealthier than who on Keeping up with the Kardashians? If medical shows were done the correct way -- through bold, eye-opening, patient-focused plotlines -- people would be more aware of patients’ struggles, use more empathetic language andless susceptible to stereotypes. Who knows: patient-focused medical shows might even become a more popular genre than sitcoms or reality television.

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