August 18, 2006
30 Days Meets the Alties
I generally like the show 30 Days. I think it does a good job of having people who have preconceived notions learn to sympathize and even empathize with the people they previously had decided not to like as a group. This world could use more of that. However, the show has lots of flaws, like condensing a month's worth of footage into 44 minutes so it often doesn't have the time to show us how people have these turnarounds in what looks like a few days without many details.
Still, the August 16 episode really bugs me. An overweight former athlete with anger management issues decides to try some "new age" experiences for 30 days. He gets a "life coach" who seem to be an altie therapist (more on that later). She takes him to a vernal equinox ritual, a tribal dance instructor, and finally, a coal walking ceremony with a leader (to borrow from a commenter at Television Without Pity) straight out of Southern Californian central casting for new agey leader types. Now, the coal walking ceremony has been explained many times, but you can see a good debunking on Penn and Teller's Bullshit, but this other stuff is just spiritual hooey. To his credit, it didn't seem to make the subject guy feel much better (though he and his girlfriend were really impressed with the coal walking and apparently hadn't seen that Bullshit episode. My question to the coal walkers: if the spirit can tell the flesh to "not be burned" then why do you spread the coals with shovels?)
So while I'm certainly not a fan of spiritual nonsense, it doesn't bother me the way alternative medicine does, and this episode had some of that, too. The subject guy went to see someone who the show said was an MD who also practiced acupuncture and other alternative therapies. He said his back hurts, and of course his back hurts, he was a football player, he's had multiple surgeries, and he's overweight. The doctor gave him an examination, and then gave him acupuncture and used heated cups and stuck them to his back for "suction" therapy, which she said would draw away the tension. I'd like to know WTF kind of medical school she went to where they taught her that?
The producer Morgan Spurlock went to a children's hospital which has alternative therapies available to interview a girl who had cancer. The show said she had received chemotherapy in addition to some altie therapies, and of course the girl attributes her recovery to the altie stuff. What a shame. He also interviewed a doctor who said she thinks it's unfair that traditional medicine doesn't like alternative medicine when it doesn't have any evidence because, according to her, neither do many traditional therapies. Right. Could you give us some examples, Doc? Of course not.
The show did interview one skeptical expert who said everything I've just said, except he was only given about 30 seconds to say it and was never given a chance to follow up on anything specific. So, at the end of the show, the guy said he was feeling a lot better and had learned to control his anger. Well, good for him. But I think that's due to the life coach a lot more than the suction cups. The guy wasn't really into any of the spiritual aspects of new age, and his girlfriend seemed to be very distressed at the idea of his taking up non-Christian ideas (though I don't think the guy was particularly religious at all). No, I think the life coach just went into therapist mode and helped him work through some of his emotional issues, which is all the guy really needed and could have done it a long time ago without taking a 30 day swim in alternative world's swimming pool.
Published: August 18, 2006