Hollywood producers have had a long-standing love affair with America’s many institutions – usually it’s the military or the CIA or FBI who get the romanticized make-over, A-list actors doing their bit to drum up support for another war or mythologize over the well-meaning actions of intelligence agencies. Contagion, a star-tudded “medical thriller disaster film” directed by Steven Soderbergh, seems to have been put together on behalf of the World Health Organization, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention…
An ensemble piece, Contagion traces the progress of a virus, from outbreak through to social breakdown and finally to the introduction of a vaccine, and is in large part centred around the tireless, professional and valiant efforts of the employees of the aforementioned “worldwide medical community”. It’s a terrifying prospect on the whole, if only because these agencies and institutions have track records that stands in stark contrast to the portrayal on show here. But this is Hollywood (with a little funding from the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Media), which doesn’t do realism, especially when attempting to tackle what Soderberg describes as an “ultra-realistic” film.
Despite its grand ambitions, Contagion is an underwhelming experience. For one, the characters are uninspired, which it could be argued is a consequence of Soderbergh’s broad brush, trying to capture the reactions to the existential threat the pandemic embodies across the social spectrum with a broad range of characters who’s paths rarely cross. Nevertheless, a cast which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Lawrence Fishburne, Marrion Cottilard, Kate Winslet and Matt Damon fails to provide the spark to unite the disjointed plot. Lawrence Fishburne’s character, who works for the CDC, suggests they put “a vaccination in the water, like flouride” (a telling nod from Hollywood on the “conspiratorial” notion that flouride in the water supply) while the “conspiracy blogger” played by Jude Law is the cliched socially awkard “weird outsider”.
You’d be significantly better off spending some time looking into the track record of the WHO, FEMA, DHS and CDC – who as it happens actually did provide assistance in the making of Contagion – than to take the time to watch this pedestrian thriller.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has courted controversy on a number of occasions: back in 2006, public trust in the institution was seriously eroded with the controversy of vaccines containing thimerosal and the links to autism. Then, they joined in the clamour to promote the vaccination of males between the ages of 11 and 21 with against human papillomavirus (HPV), the viral infection supposedly linked to causing cervical cancer in women, despite no evidence of the efficacy of vaccines such as Gardosil (developed by giant pharmaceutical corporation Merck & Co.) to prevent genital warts and certain cancers in males (never mind the dangerous side effects of the vaccine already witnessed in numerous cases of vaccinated women).
The less said about Dr. Kimberley Lindsey, the senior government scientist charged with child molestation and bestiality, who is now back at the CDC, the better …
The World Health Organisation is not without its controversies, some of which loom large over the relatively mild controversies raised over the practices of the CDC. Following on the from the huge swine flu scare, in which the governments of the West and the various “health” agencies joined together in a chorus of fear-mongering and vaccine peddling, evidence began to emerge that the WHO was actually instrumental in a “false pandemic”. The accusations were so strident that the Council of Europe launched an investigation into the WHO, not only to examine unethical connections to the pharmaceutical industry but also on account of the inconclusive efficacy of the vaccines being pushed.
Connections between health-related agencies and BigPharma are nothing new, and sure enough, in 2008 a major corruption scandal broke out linking key scientists associated with the WHO such as Dr Albert Osterhaus – a principle player in selling the swine flu scare to the media (after having done the same for both SARS and bird flu) – are financed by the very people who end up making billions in profits from the sale of vaccines. It is a familiar scenario, particularly for anyone who remembers the Avian Flu scare and Donald Rumsfeld’s controvertial ties to the corporation which manufactured Tamiflu.
The pattern is clear: manufacture panic using “experts” in public institutions who are on the payroll of the pharmaceutical corporations; spread the fear and panic through a compliant media (who have never been averse to pushing a good scare, regardless of the supporting evidence, simply because sensationalistic reporting suits the lazy and opportunistic mind of the average journalist); then, reap immense profits from the sales of vaccines, regardless of their efficacy or the potential adverse side-effects. In the event of a genuine pandemic or other such catastrophe which effects a large mass of population, the reality is equally more outrageous than we find in Soderbergh’s “hyper-realistic” Hollywood outing – if FEMA’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina is anything to go by, rather than the fairly orderly and professional behaviour witnessed in Contagion there would be widespread negligence and abuse of positions of authority, while hundreds of thousands of Americans suffered needlessly.
All of which makes for a troubling prospect for the future of the planet should a genuine pandemic break out, but on the other hand it would have made for a far more gripping and suspenseful thriller than the one found in Contagion. That said, it’s highly unlikely Soderbergh would’ve had the obliging support of the CDC …