September 20, 2013

Heartwarming Stories (And the People Who Hate Them)




Before we start, go ahead and watch the video.  It's all of three minutes long, well produced, and quite touching.  It's called "Giving" by Taiwanese mobile phone company called True Move.

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All done?  Good.  Because this kind of thing drives me fucking insane.  I've seen it repeatedly on Facebook, had links to it sent to me from friends and family, and seen mention of it all sorts of places because it's a very sweet little tear-jerker of a film.

Now, there is stuff I am an absolute sucker for: the Noble/Defiant Gesture by a Doomed Hero, for instance.  The scene in Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks is shooting at an advancing tank with his pistol because that's all he has left?  Stupid as hell and utterly useless and I get all weepy about it.  That sort of thing is a soft spot for me, so it's not like I don't understand why  people like the story being told here in 180 seconds: it strikes a chord in their spirit, and makes for a striking example of how being kind, generous, and even forgiving can affect your life for the better.

What people seem to miss about this little tale is that it's a horror.

Oh, not for the people in the movie!  Don't worry, they're all perfectly fine - except maybe the bum with the ?estlove hair, but no need to think about him, because he's a red herring who magically vanishes.  Which is actually the point.

He vanishes from the story because he's not a part of it, any more than the woman with the pharmacy is, or any of the passerby.  The story is about how a beautiful young(ish) woman doesn't have to sell her father's business because of his stroke/heart attack.  It's not quite clear what injured his brain, the fall itself or what caused it, but the point is that he needed a brain surgeon to fix him.  The medical expenses for saving her father's life comes to 792,000 baht - which sounds like a huge number until you realize that's just under $25,500 US.  Then after that you realize it's the equivalent of 12 years income for a Thai restaurant worker.  But let's be generous: after all, that's the point of the tale, isn't it?  Let's say since the father was the owner he brought in twice the average income; or even three times, as his daughter was working for him.  Let's not get carried away, though: he's going to have all the expenses involved in business ownership, so he's not exactly raking it in.

So the total bill only comes to... three, maybe four years income.  Assuming they didn't, you know, live during those three or four years.  Buying food or clothes or supplies or hey!  How about medicine?  So the daughter is looking at years of working at half their previous income, the rest going to the hospital bill, or selling the family restaurant (and possibly home) and finding a new job while looking after her maybe-coming-back/maybe-not-coming-back father.  Not a great list of options, really.

But wait!  There!  Off in the horizon!  It's a Deus Ex Machina coming to the rescue!  The bill is paid, dad is saved, and they all live happily ever after!  Oh, happy day!  Hooray for Good Karma!  Do a bunch of good things, and it'll come through for you when you need it most!  (See also: Angels)

Who needs medical coverage when you can rely on some kid who had a sick mom getting caught stealing just so your dad can pay for her medicine thirty years before that kid becomes a successful brain surgeon at the very hospital your dad is taken to after he falls down and the surgeon not only remembers it but can spare the year and a half worth of salary it would cost him to pay off?

What do you mean, "everyone"?

This is actually the biggest problem getting people to accept something like universal health care: magical thinking.  The idea that somehow, some way, things will just kind of work themselves out in the end is mistaken for an actual plan, or trying to prevent bad things from happening in the first place.  What if the kid got caught stealing again (I know, I know: what are the odds of his mom getting sick twice in one lifetime?  Bear with me, here.) and ends up with a year in prison?  Or succeeds, but goes into banking and never hears of the old man hitting his head?  Or hears about it, but works in an auto plant and can't afford to help?  Or becomes proctologist?

Because that's the story of everyone else you see in the street scene - all those folks who vanish.  But hey!  They aren't part of the heartwarming story, so who cares about them?

Right?

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posted by Thursday at 2:23 pm

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