A few months ago, I put on Kip Andersen’s pro-vegan agitprop, What The Health, and although it was supposed to be mere muzak- I was making dinner at the time- I had to turn it off after the first twenty minutes. I forget my breaking point, but perhaps it was Kip’s implication that deli meats are as carcinogenic as plutonium, with the WHO- rather ballsily, I may add!- cited for this ‘fact’. Perhaps it was the director’s badgering of security guards and receptionists with inane medical questions, then feigning disbelief when they could not easily answer. Or maybe it was the eerie (and duly transparent) cinematography meant to instill a sense of dread every time I’d glance over at the screen for confirmation that, Yes, I had indeed heard yet another bit of piffle which most viewers would inevitably swallow out of fear. The reality is, one can stop the film pretty much anywhere and find something to cringe over or debate- but only if one is already knowledgeable on the topic. The result? It may be short on data, but What The Health is still a fine piece of propaganda, and a testament to not only the ease with which one can rile up the masses by alleging that they are under attack, but also the fickle nature of trust and distrust, as viewers run from one authority figure to the next in the hope for answers that are probably not there.
Now, don’t get me wrong: the film employs no novel techniques, no interesting framing, no great dialogue, and no real information, but so what? It is really how it all unfolds that plays on human weakness, and makes it both poor art and an effective bludgeoning device. It begins, for example, on a rather sinister note with Dr. Robert Ratner of the American Diabetes Association going on about America’s diabetes problem, then suddenly refusing to discuss diet- a nice edit, on Kip’s part, since What The Health can now set its misleading agenda from the very beginning. After some brief biographical sketches meant to ingratiate Kip with viewers, he tries to wriggle into their good graces by pretending to be like them – such as in his suggestion that he only recently found out about the dangers of processed foods, and is now on the hunt for ‘the truth’, in real-time, as the documentary unfolds. In this way, the viewer is made to feel as if he is starting at the same point as the film’s underdog, and that its many experts – all of whom start to pile up rather quickly – are really the ones taking him through the process, impartially and systematically, against the backdrop of a corporate greed and hapless government bureaucrats too ignorant and lazy to do a thing about it.
To Kip’s credit, the film’s talking-heads are not mere quacks (at least not in the conventional sense) but actual doctors and doctorate-level researchers who further put the … Continue reading →