Category: TV

The TV show House starring Hugh Laurie as Dr Gregory House which ran for eight seasons, from 2004 to 2012 is one of my favourite shows. It played a major role in my initial interest in science. Before watching the show science and medicine seemed a boring if necessary abstraction. House showed me that science and medicine are vitally important and hugely entangled with the human condition.

Watching House may be an unorthodox path towards science and the show did get a lot wrong. For a break down of every episode see this. Some have even called the show “a dismal failure in regards to medical accuracy” and have argued that it has had a net negative impact on patients seeking healthcare. Personally, I think that there are greater concerns that need to be addressed in health care so those arguments hold little water for me. In the end real life simply can’t match up to a TV show and creative liberties need to be taken. As long as House is viewed only as a TV show and not an accurate portrayal of medicine I don’t see a problem; you don’t watch Game of Thrones to see an accurate depiction of medieval life.

With that out the way, I will note that the behaviour of Dr House may best be seen as a guide to what not to do as a doctor but it makes for good TV. His behaviour is unethical, illegal, dangerous and counterproductive and in real life would lead to the loss of his medical licence and possible jail time but that’s not what this blog post is about. It’s about a more complicated question: is House a good man.

I have grappled with that question as the show did over its eight seasons and I’m still conflicted. While I totally agree that in some ways he is a terrible person I think there is more.

Although he is a rude, mean and aggressive to his patients, to their families and his coworkers I think there is still good in him. If for one moment we accept the narrative that he is a brilliant doctor then we can see why.

In the book Unaccountable by Martin Makary he writes about a (real) doctor who sounds very much like House. Makary nicknames the doctor “the Raptor” and he and House could almost be twins. Just look at some of the stuff he did:

We were constantly adding new and more unbelievable chapters of how the Raptor offended patients. Our consolation prize for being collectively victimised by him was to swap stories in our moments of downtime. One intern was shaken to hear the Raptor, through a door, bellowing at a patient, “you’re not listening to me” and “you could die!” Once, the Raptor stuck a nurse with a needle on purpose. He told her, you stick me, I stick you. Hospital legend held that he once broke the news to a family that their child did not survive by walking into the waiting room and blurting, “Guess who just died?”

The Raptor may have looked like a jock, but he was an odd character, no doubt about it. I heard he once ate food directly out of the patient’s tray without asking, like a scavenging bigfoot, the patient staring on […] Rumour had it that on a short aeroplane trip he sat on the toilet for the entire flight, just to enjoy the extra leg room.

Just like House, however, the Raptor was brilliant at his job. He was the best surgeon in the hospital and the person all the doctors would go to visit if they needed surgery.

Although patients hated his bedside manner the Raptor was “known by all the other surgeons and staff for his superhuman surgical knowledge and gifted hands” and “to this day, the Raptor routinely performs some of the greatest technical operations in the country.”

Would we say he is good? I don’t know but I do know that if a surgeon saved my life or helped me overcome illness I wouldn’t care about his bedside manner. I think the Raptors talents outweigh his terrible treatment of people. I would say he is a difficult or problematic person but I would not say he is bad or evil.

In the same way, I don’t think House is a bad person. He is an addict suffering from pain and his addiction. He is self-centred, vain and cruel at times but he isn’t all bad.

His care for Wilson, his team and even in some of his more tender moments his patients shows he has some good buried deep inside him somewhere. House is just too afraid to accept what it could mean for him if he allows himself to care so he stays fixed in his bad ways.

I think the answer to the question “is House good?” is almost impossible to answer. There are arguments both ways. I think it probably depends on how you define good. Is a good person someone who performs good deeds, someone who maximises the good or someone with good intentions. I can’t answer that for you. You need to decide.

Taking everything into account I think that although House may not be a good person per se he does perform good deeds. In my view saving a life outweighs being an asshole any day. Therefore for me, House’s good deeds outweigh the bad. Perhaps you disagree.

Note: The rest of the Buzzfeed Tyler Henry medium series will be coming soon. I’ve got caught up in another story recently.

Ethics Pop culture TV

Tyler Henry is a real life superhero or at least he plays one on TV. The charming 21-year-old ‘Hollywood Medium’ hosts a TV show now in its second season imaginatively titled “Hollywood Medium with Tyler Henry” in which he pays visits to the rich and famous and speaks to their dead relatives who can apparently see into the future and offer comfort to living relatives.

Hollywood Medium TV show logo featuring the man himself Tyler Henry

Although it has been established that teleportation is the best superpower, speaking to dead people and predicting the future has got to be pretty high up there too… If only those powers were real.

In the interests of not getting sued, I’m not going to tell you that Tyler Henry is a fake, a liar or a fraud but I will be taking a closer look at his recent appearance on Buzzfeed with the Try Guys.

In the video, Tyler gives a reading to the four Try Guys some of whom appear sceptical at the beginning of the video but end up in tears by the end.

In my next series of blog posts, I’ll be going through the video (practically) scene by scene to cover some of the issues it raises. I’ll also be providing a very brief summary of some of the methods used by mediums.

In Tricks of the Mind the performer and author Derren Brown writes:

A television programme that shows edited highlights of a medium or psychic giving readings to a tearful audience has far more visceral impact than a debunker on another show deconstructing the techniques of such performance.

So, I can only imagine how helpful this dry blog series will be in changing minds….

If you join me in this journey over the next few weeks or months you’ll hopefully leave more informed and better able to spot frauds and charlatans. I’m using this Buzzfeed video as a case study because it is easily accessible and not hugely long.

Today we’ll start off defining a couple terms and I’ll give a little background, more terms will be covered at a later date. I don’t want to overburden you.

Definitions

Medium: A person who claims to be able to communicate with the dead.
Hit: When a medium makes a statement that turns out to be true or accurate
Miss: When a medium makes a statement that is untrue, inaccurate or misleading
(Psychic) Reading: The name of the consultation a medium has with their clients.
Client: The person being read.

Anyone can look impressive with enough editing.

Most people will have seen examples of a video genre known as “trick shots.” Captain Disillusion defines them as “Videos of people throwing objects at seemingly impossible targets and hitting them.” One of the best examples of a channel that actually does real trick shots is the YouTube channel Dude Perfect. Their videos are mind-blowing but they disguise a secret. The secret is the incredibly hard work they put into each and every scene.

What trick shot channels rarely if ever show is that to pull off the stunts that they do they require tens if not hundreds of tries. They just don’t include those shots in the final edit. The same goes for many television mediums. If they spend an hour with a person they will likely make hundreds of misses but the final episode of their show will only feature the 10-15 hits they make and maybe one or two misses. You’re not seeing true reality, you’re seeing the best version of reality.

To be a good medium you need a good video editor.

The same goes for this Buzzfeed video. I obviously can’t know exactly how long Tyler spent shooting with the Try Guys but I’d wager it’s at least double the runtime of the video unless he used hot reading (more on that in a future post). In the final video, the editors over at Buzzfeed put in the highlights, best hits and most impressive moments. Knowing this we can already mental discount some of the impressiveness of what we’re watching because we’re not seeing the full picture.

Not only this but we don’t know what happened before the camera’s started rolling. While the preparation for each scene was done there was likely time to have a brief conversation. The clues from this may not have meant much to the Try Guys but they could be significant. If he was so inclined Tyler would have been able to gain a huge amount of information out of the Try guys during the moments the cameras, microphones and lights were being set up and while makeup was being retouched etc.. The initial off camera meeting between Tyler and the Try Guys would likely also be a good time to do some subtle digging.

In Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown recounts a story he was told by a friend who worked on the team for a television medium. Before the main shooting began the medium did a dress rehearsal with one of the people she read getting a lot of information wrong along the way. When it was time for the proper shoot the medium now had all the information she needed to make 100% hits by feeding back what she had just learnt during the rehearsal.

With enough editing, anyone can look like a psychic genius.

So, to clarify: we’re not seeing the full picture only an extended highlights reel. This is likely even more pronounced in Tylers TV show. No producer or editor would allow their ‘talent’ to look bad on camera particularly if they gain monetarily from the show. Buzzfeed motion pictures will have slightly different priorities but in the end, they’ll also be wanting to make Tyler look his best in this video otherwise they may lose out on future interviews with him or anyone his agent or team represents.

When it comes to mediums your starting position must be one of scepticism. What is more likely: a person who has paranormal powers is speaking to the dead or a person without powers is pretending to have paranormal powers and is pretending to talk to the dead for monetary gain? Considering no medium has ever been shown to have genuine powers the answer must be the latter until further evidence is brought to the table.

Next time we’ll be taking a dive into the methods psychics use to fool us.

Skepticism TV Tyler Henry