Documentary Film Review: “The Greater Good”

November 21, 2011

“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question.  It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady.  Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”      — From “The Freedom Of The Press,” George Orwell’s proposed preface to Animal Farm

The Truth Barrier

In this essay, (which was finally published in 1972, 29 years after it was written), Orwell describes the phenomenon of self-censorship, self-imposed on entire classes of “thinking” people, as a kind of Stockholm Syndrome.

The belief, “demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy,” Orwell referred to when he wrote this essay in 1943 was, incredibly, “an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia.”

This weekend I saw the new documentary film “The Greater Good,” by Kendall Nelsen and Chris Pilaro, at the IFC Film Center downtown. The film addresses the emotionally loaded matter of “vaccine safety—” and in so doing, breaks the first societal and media taboo, which is to address the matter of “vaccine safety.”

The paradox at the heart of the vaccine catastrophe (my word) is that to document, as this film does, categorical vaccine injuries and deaths, is not taken as such–documenting vaccine injuries and deaths–but rather, as part of a global, ill-advised, irresponsible and mad effort by overly emotional parents who don’t understand “the science,” behind mass vaccination policy. But it is not “the science,” actually, that people fighting for this cause really stand accused of not accepting; it is the ideological position that, as Orwell noted, “..all right thinking people will accept without question.”

To speak of, report on, make films about “vaccine safety” is to assign meaning and value to a matter that has been amputated from popular media-think, namely that vaccines ought to be “safe.” Those (media, public health, media acting as public health advocates) who hold the “anti-vaxx” movement in contempt, argue from a schizoid point of view. It goes more or less like this: “Vaccine are as safe. They are safe because they are safe. They are rendered safe in a place that predates, precludes, transcends, and overrules any and all data-finding, “anecdotal” or otherwise, in accordance with Hegelian dialectics, the negation of the negation, in which social progress and all who serve it act as “the midwife to deliver the future from the womb of the past.”

The film must be seen. Not as film, so much–its production is seamless, possibly too seamless– but as a kind of underground journalism in a time of almost unthinkable press censorship. If we try to describe in flat text the “issues” or “facts” of this ghastly situation, we miss the raw truth that the camera captures. Let me try to write alongside the camera, show you what it sees:

Gabi Swank was a cheerleader, honors student, bright, popular and energetic young girl in Wichita, Kansas, who begged her mother to get her a Gardisil vaccination (a series of shots) after she watched Merck ads on MTV offering the chance to be “One Less,” (girl who gets cervical cancer.)

She wanted that. It was succesful and predatory advertising. Girls watched it and wanted to be “One Less.” They wanted to be pro-active, proud young girls, shrouded in a post-feministic aura taking charge of their health. This was fertile emotional ground in which to seed this campaign.

Gabi, after several rounds of shots, developed a battery of debilitating ailments, resulting in severe seizures, imparied motor function, memory loss, and loss of oxygen to her blood, among other things. She could no longer be a cheerleader, eventually could barely attend school, her parents divorced, and her mother had to sell their house to pay for Gabi’s medications–over 30 pills a day.

(In a later post I will document known injuries and deaths from Gardisil; 103 deaths in the US, at last count, I think.) (We will also study international figures.)

Gabi’s doctor confirms, in the film, that it was Gardisil that caused all this. She is upbeat and optimistic, because being negative will “only make it worse,” she says, but you can see the immense sadness in her eyes.

In one harrowing scene, Gabi’s mother takes her to choose a dress for prom night, and she has her hair done. Touching her curled hair, she smiles and says, “I like this alot.”

But then, on prom night, she has a seizure. She is lying on a couch, looking like she is about to vomit, in her bathrobe, with her set hair, and her mother helps her to the bathroom. En route to the bathroom, leaning on her mother, she cries, “My hair is going to get ruined!” Her mother assures her her hair will be fine, and gently leads Gabi to the toilet, where she collapses, and finally you see the plain agony in the girl, she breaks down weeping with her forehead on the toilet, her curled and set hair now only seeming to mock, cruelly, her hopes of ever being free to enjoy life as a teenage girl. Her mother calls the school and says Gabi can’t come to the prom, and on the drive to the emergency room, Gabi despairs openly.  She can’t sustain the positive thinking she has leaned on for so long. “I have the worst luck in the world,” she says.

Her mother stares at the road ahead. One can only imagine what was going through her heart, as a mother. (The father had by this time, abandoned the family. “I can’t do it,” he said.) “You don’t have bad luck,” she assures her daughter, unconvincingly.

The mother is typical of the hundreds of thousands of parents who comprise the much maligned “anti-vacc” movement, which itself calls itself a “safer vaccines” movement–an unassailable position if ever there were one, no? She suffers an unrelenting odyssey in which all is lost–her daughter’s future, her own marriage, and even her house. She can’t work because her whole life revolves around her daughter’s medical care. Yet she finds time to travel to Washington D.C. to lobby for a change in the vaccine laws.  Suing for product liability is very tough, because Congress created the Orwellian structure of “vaccine court” after the pharmaceutical industry, complaining of costly damage settlements, said it would no longer produce vaccines. “Vaccine court,” where, as you might have guessed, plaintiffs rarely or never  prevail, (numerous pharma-funded studies show vaccines are “safe,”) was created as a kangaroo court system that almost defies belief.

The court of public opinion (the media) also rebuffs these parents and their testimonials, documentations, true stories– time and again:

No matter how many times these people bow and scrape and repeat that they are NOT against vaccines, that they are PRO vaccine, but that they want to insist on vaccine SAFETY, as well as ACCOUNTIBILTY by the pharamceutical companies, and government institutions who deliver vaccine and profit from them–they are always under a cloud of suspicion, dismissed as being “anti-vaccine,” which is like saying you don’t believe in traffic lights or car seats and you have no concept of civlization. Even those whose babies have died, then, stand accused of aiding and abetting the deaths of children by way of their protest. Imagine that.

They have managed to take the tragedies of their children, the financial crippling, the stresses, and the flagrantly undemocratic structure of the vaccine system and still muster the energy to get organized, stay civilized, and get their stories told. I think there exist no greater heroes in American society than these mothers and fathers. Naturally, they are not, as a rule, “anti-vaccination” hippie types. Think about it. They all vaccinated their kids, on schedule. There are no “anti-vaxxers” then, who started out in this maze “against” vaccines, because de-facto, they all vaccinated, or they wouldn’t be here. So what you see, in this film, are very “ordinary” Americans, in many cases from medical backgrounds, who never protested anything in their lives. But then one day, the light in their child’s eyes went out. Or in the case of one family depicted in the film, their child died from brain swelling, after a second or third round of vaccinations. Or their child went from developmentally normal to dancing on tippy toes and flapping hands. Severe autism. One child in the film, severely autistic and unable to speak, is tested for mercury, and we are shown (shown the results on paper) that his levels are literally “off the charts.”

A scientist studying the effects of neuro-toxins on the brain is interviewed, and lo and behold: His (published, ignored) study showed that mice given the burden of vaccinations that today’s children are given, develop severe and immediate neurological, nervous system, immune system and motor function impairment.

Why is two plus two not four?

Why is this not clear and so obviously not what is happening?

Here is what the EPA says about the effects of Methyl Mercury on fetuses, infants, and children:

“For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother’s consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb. Recent human biological monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1999 and 2000 (PDF) (3 pp., 42 KB, About PDF) shows that most people have blood mercury levels below a level associated with possible health effects. More recent data from the CDC support this general finding.

Outbreaks of methylmercury poisonings have made it clear that adults, children, and developing fetuses are at risk from ingestion exposure to methylmercury. During these poisoning outbreaks some mothers with no symptoms of nervous system damage gave birth to infants with severe disabilities, it became clear that the developing nervous system of the fetus may be more vulnerable to methylmercury than is the adult nervous system.

For more information on fish consumption advisories across the country, visit EPA’s fish consumption web pages.

In addition to the subtle impairments noted above, symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include; impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness. People concerned about their exposure to methylmercury should consult their physician.”

Would the esteemed health and science journalists of today agree that if the mercury comes from fish it is toxic, but just not if it comes from vaccines?

Pregnant women in the US are told not to eat fish. Yet their babies are injected with mercury? None of this makes any sense, unless one factors in the deliberate subverting of available data, toward a conversion of mind so deep, only The New Yorker’s Michael Spector could follow it.

Here is some more data, this from the National Vaccine Information Center, about HPV, and cervical cancer, not included in the Merck ads such as the ones Gabi saw on the shameful channel MTV, which advocates drunkeness, clinical idiocy, violence, drunk driving, and sexual exploitation of young girls (Jersey Shore): 

  • Chronic HPV infection is associated with precancerous changes in the cervix which can progress to cervical cancer if left undiagnosed and untreated.
  • Between 1955 and 1992, cervical cancer deaths in American women dropped by 74 percent due to routine pap smears.
  • There are about 3,700 deaths in mostly older American women annually attributed to HPV-related cervical cancer, which is about .65 percent of the approximately 570,000 cancer deaths that occur in the U.S.
  • Most cervical pre-cancers develop slowly, so nearly all cervical cancers can be prevented with regular pap smear screening and prompt treatment.
  • Survival for women with pre-invasive cervical cancer lesions is nearly 100% with early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

References: Available at National Vaccine Information Center website

The Media As Agents of The Greater Good: “Denialism” Redefined

When a society has come so full circle into totalitarianism that we can’t respond naturally, with empathy, to the reality in front of us–stories of children being permanently dependent, unable even to speak, after receiving injectible neuro-toxins– then that society can only be said to be on the verge of sociopathology.

It can’t feel. In the final stages of this kind of totalitarian society, feeling itself will be routinely castigated as “manipulation.” You are meant to love public health programs more than your own child. If your child is sacrificed toward the utlimate agendas of public health, you are virtually meant to accept your lot, shut up, and salute the banner. Trying to warn other parents so the same tragic fate does not befall them, is conflated with “fanaticism,” and “danger.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a real “issue” or “debate,” for all of that has been eliminated. What has been eliminated, chiefly, that you– vaccine refusnik, fail to grasp–is that there is no “other side,” of this issue. There is no discussion, room for discussion, air-space, head-space, nothing for you. You and your crippled children represent everything we really, really do not want to know about ourselves.

The New York Times delivered its condemnation right on cue, assigning a human icicle named Jeanette Catsoulis, to deliver the scoldings about irresponsible messaging and “emotional manipulation” in this film, which literally bends over backwards to give equal time to Mr. CDC, Mr. FDA, Mr. Vaccine program, Mrs. Vaccine Program, and Mr. Merck.

The one who probably got more air-time than any other expert was Dr. Paul Offit, Professor of Vaccinology and Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, and inventor of a rota-virus vaccine for the developing world, does a bang-up job of dismissing absolutely all concerns, yet not appearing to be a bastard, just somebody whose mind is no longer his own. A perfect company man, burdened on all sides by irrationality, yet soldiering through, devastated by seven pediatric measles deaths at one hospital. (Burning question: Were they vaccinated? Were they, as almost all measles chilldren are, deficient in vitamin A and D? The remedy used to be cod liver oil, which should be brought back, now, but fermented.)

Offit at one point in the film says, of Gardisil: “It’s a beautiful vaccine.”

(What is “Vaccinology?” It sounds like a discipline that converts vaccine epidemiology to ideology.)

Jeanette Catsoulis, scoffed in her short, scathing review,  that the term “The Greater Good,” which she apparently embraces, yet knows nothing about, was not even explained by the film makers, who instead obsess about a few random stories. It’s a numbers game, you see. The refined New York Times journalist doesn’t seem to grasp that the concept she cherishes is a direct descendant of totalitarian, and even Jacobin regimes.

The best term to describe the position of these angry public health advocates in the media, to describe the western contemporary version of totalitarianism, is the term “totaltarian humanism,” which, according to the writer Keith Preston, originated by an anonymous source on the Internet. Preston wrote:

“Totalitarian humanism is a derivative of the classical Jacobin ideology that loves an abstract and universal “humanity” so much that its proponents don’t care what has to be done to individual human beings or particular human cultures in order to advance their ideals. Perhaps the best summary of the political outlook of totalitarian humanism was provided by the maverick psychiatrist and critic of the “therapeutic state,” Thomas Szasz:

In the nineteenth century, a liberal was a person who championed individual liberty in a context of laissez-faire economics, who defined liberty as the absence of coercion, and who regarded the state as an ever-present threat to personal freedom and responsibility. Today, a liberal is a person who champions social justice in a context of socialist economics, who defines liberty as access to the means for a good life, and who regards the state as a benevolent provider whose duty is to protect people from poverty, racism, sexism, illness, and drugs.

Dr. Szasz wrote this passage nearly twenty years ago. Nowadays, the laundry list of “poverty, racism, sexism, illness, and drugs” might be lengthened to include classism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, looksism, fatphobia, thinism, beautyism, transphobia, producerism, “appearance discrimination,” speciesism, adultcentrism,  pedophobia, chronocentrism, and other creative efforts at dictionary expansion. Likewise, the therapeutic component of totalitarian humanism has expanded so as to include the supposed necessity of state action to save us all from fatty foods, salt, smoking, and soda vending machines in public schools.”

Totalitarian humanism saturates the neo-pharmaceutical apologia culture. Its advocates are coldly contemptuous, and careful never to express feelings about any human sin except that of emotionalism–failure to crunch the big numbers, to see the “big picture.”

My argument is this: Journalism, if it exists at all, should serve the small picture–the individual human story. It should ask one question: “What happened?” Not to thousands or millions, but to one.

When my son was about five, he routinely walked around asking this question: “What happened?

(The way he pronounced it was: “Wha happened?”)

When his father and I were arguing, he would come into the room and ask: “What happened?”

This is the lost spirit of American journalism–the impulse to report, find out, collect details, without demanding that your subjects fit their stories into a broader agenda that fits that of the journalist, or the editors, or those who own the newspapers.

The new journalist–cultivated from the outset at the breeding pools of the health care industry, which spawns of hundreds of colleges, internships, training programs, conferences and the like, to “educate” “health and science journalists,” and which covertly finances the flagging ships of old media, says, unconsciously: “I don’t give a damn what happened. I know the right position.”

This figure will hide behind what sounds like “healthy skepticism,” and a proud unwillingness to “buy into” the stories told by those who have actually experienced them. I pitched this film to a few major media outlets–eliminating myself as reporter– just asking that they send somebody to cover it. I knew what the answer would be: We don’t want to act as props for the anti-vacc movement and sensationalize what are probably fluke deaths.

The rub is that it happened to you, so you can’t talk about it, because you lack emotional balance.

This  would be like refusing to interview Vietnam vets about their experiences in Vietnam, or telling them they are perhaps congenitally biased against Agent Orange, so thanks but no thanks.

“Not so sure,” is the phrase that pays, the way to keep your job and reputation in the media.

The best way to remain “not so sure” is not to look, as Galileo’s contemporaries backed away from his telescope when he implored: “Just look.”

My father often says: “The sperm of apathy is ignorance. If you don’t know, you can’t care.”

Anybody who says this is not a titanic story, scandal, web of financial conflicts, and not worth telling, is in deep denial, and collusion with tragedy.

If we have a heart, these parents have a case. If we don’t, they don’t.

 — Celia Farber

 * The Greater Good plays at IFC Film Center through November 24.

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