Hollywood Promotes Health Care Reform; Will It Work?
Written by Yamileth Medina
Thursday, 26 November 2009 00:00

Newsroom - Healthcare Reform
Hollywood Promotes Health Care Reform; Will It Work?

After months of debate over healthcare reform, celebrities have entered the fray. Actress Heather Graham, best known for movie roles like The Hangover and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, has joined with liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org to create a viral video supporting the public option. Hollywood and progressive causes have gone hand-in-hand for decades, but this level of involvement during an election off-year is unusual. The ad is currently set to air on several national cable networks, with a six-figure production and advertising budget. Marketing and public relations have played a big role in affecting the views of the American people on this issue. Will this ad actually succeed in convincing people to pressure politicians with phone calls and emails?

The minute-long commercial takes place on a running track, and portrays the major for-profit insurers as gluttonous sloths who have literally become bloated from unfettered health care profits. Graham, by contrast, is the sexy and slim public option that leaves United Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, and CIGNA in the dust. This is a clear metaphor for the idea that a public option would use the immense size of its insurance pool and lack of profit motive to drive down medical costs. Striking cinematography is combined with an emphatic male voice-over claiming that 70% of Americans have expressed support for a government-run public health insurance option. (While recent figures are not that high, polls from October 2009 do indicate that a majority of respondents are in favor of the public option.) As usual in political ads, opponents are painted negatively; in this case, they are whiners afraid of competition.

There are several inherent dangers involved in using this strategy. While Americans have been accused of being obsessed with fame, will they really trust advice on a health insurance plan from someone who starred in Boogie Nights? Moreover, Graham in particular has played quite a few ditzy roles in her career, which will make it harder for her to be a legitimate voice on health care reform. (For example, Tom Hanks would probably more convincing in this type of advertisement, even though he may not be any more knowledgeable on the topic, since he is often a steady, reassuring presence in his roles.) Even though she didn't write MoveOn's script, her presence could trivialize the issue altogether.

Another problem for those behind this ad is that it effectively plays into stereotypes of the "limousine liberal elites" on the coasts looking down on the rest of America. The motif of overweight insurers is instantly comprehensible, but possibly not the best choice in a nation where about half the population is either overweight or obese. As a result, some viewers will better relate to those characters and their current private system of individual health insurance than the beautiful Hollywood starlet and her unknown public option. Healthcare reform opponents will run with this in order to decrease support for a public option. The involvement of MoveOn, an organization involved in several partisan controversies in the past, will also draw the ire of conservatives. The impact of this particular ad is doubtful, except for its strong chances of intensifying the political war over health care.

(Image: TheeErin under CC 2.0)