Wednesday, December 01, 2010

House Gets Nasty

I should warn you in advance - this post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of "House" (or, at least, the one most recently broadcast on Sky).

I watch "House" every week, but I'm not really a huge fan. As far as I can tell, it's largely a mystery show that the audience simply has no basis on which to participate - if the medicine is accurate (which I very much doubt), then you can only guess what's going on if you yourself are an expert in obscure medical conditions; if the medicine is not accurate, then nobody can take part. Of course, there's the 'fun' of watching House bully and insult his staff, and the interactions between the characters, and... you know, I just don't get it - those things really aren't as compelling as I'm told.

Still, it's entertaining enough, I guess.

However, like many other shows, "House" has a number of recurring themes - Foreman is arrogant about something until House slaps him down (although... isn't Foreman supposed to be the boss these days?), Chase has loads of women after him, Taob is cheating on his wife or she's cheating on him or not...

And this week, we had a recurrence of my least favourite, the one I call "poke the fundies" - a religious patient comes in, House proceeds to belittle and mock his faith, and forces him to reject some part of his beliefs, and then the disease is cured.

Now, here's the thing: I have absolutely no problem with challenges to my beliefs. My reasoning is that if my beliefs are sound, then they will survive whatever challenges are put to them; if they are not sound, then I'm better off without them.

But there's a big difference between 'challenge' and 'mockery'. If you simple ridicule and mock, there is no discourse there, and there's no meaningful response possible. Take something out of context, point and laugh hard enough, and you can make anything look ridiculous, whether it is or not.

This week, "House" crossed the line. Our patient is first shown at the start of the show being crucified. He starts vomiting blood, and you hear someone say, "Get him down from there."

It transpires that the character's daughter had cancer, and he made a deal with God - every year she lives, he will nail himself to a cross. (I'll not start on that particular bit of madness.)

They then short-circuit the usual diagnostic process, and quickly determine that there is one treatment, which of course involves the use of embrionic stem cells. So, naturally, the patient refuses - his beliefs don't allow him to use such a treatment, due to the connection with abortion.

So House tries to mock the patient into giving up his beliefs, then he tries to use his bully pulpit to get the patient to take the treatment anyway, and then finally he lies to the patient, telling him his daughter isn't cured, that God lied, and that therefore the character should take the treatment.

So he does.

Yay, House!

But here's my problem: there's nothing there. It's just assumed that House is right. There's no discussion whatsoever of the ethics of the treatment, which are very definitely not clear-cut*. There's absolutely no character growth. The patient doesn't decide whether his life is more important than his faith - he's lied to and tricked into making a choice he probably wouldn't otherwise have made. House learned nothing, the other characters learned nothing, and we learn nothing.

Except perhaps that this is a show I don't care to watch any more.

* Incidentally, I say that despite believing that we should proceed with the development of such treatments. But it's a very complex issue, and simply dismissing any concerns as being irrelevant is unacceptably dismissive, at least as far as I'm concerned.

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