Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media

By Linden, Tom | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media


Linden, Tom, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media. Lester D. Friedman, ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004. 452 pp. $89.95 hbk. $24.95 pbk.

At least from the time of Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C., practitioners of medicine have passed on their knowledge and, at times, ignorance through both the oral and written word. Now in the twenty-first century, medicine has spread through popular culture and has found its way into print, advertisements, fiction films, television, documentaries, and computers. These six media constitute the six sections of Lester Friedman's compendium of twenty-one articles and essays about medicine and the media.

The hefty 452-page volume includes an introduction by Friedman, who has a joint senior appointment in the Program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics (Feinberg School of Medicine) and Department of Radio/TV/Film (School of Communication) at Northwestern University. "Medicine, it seems, has replaced baseball as our national pastime," writes Friedman. Many of the essays lend credence to that barely hyperbolic statement.

The most compelling article in the anthology is "Reproductive Freedom, Revisionist History, Restricted Freedom: The Strange Case of Margaret Sanger and Birth Control" by Martin F. Norden, professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The article features an analysis of Margaret Sanger's controversial 1917 feature-length film, Birth Control, which is presumed lost. Norden integrates old journalistic and legal materials with a written scene-by-scene description of Birth Control discovered at Smith College's Sophia Smith Archive. The story of the conflict between the early American birth control advocate, Sanger, and forces pushing sexual repression is chilling, especially in light of the recent movement of Christian fundamentalists toward denying women's reproductive rights.

Following a similar line of societal forces suppressing straight talk about sex is the essay "Continence of the Continent: The Ideology of Disease and Hygiene in World War II Training Films" by Christie Milliken, assistant professor in the Department of Communications, Popular Culture, and Film at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. These two articles about documentary films and medicine are excellent.

The same cannot be said for the section on television, which focuses on popular television dramas rather than more ubiquitous medical television news coverage. "Dissecting the Doctor Shows: A Content Analysis of ER and Chicago Hope" by Gregory Makoul and Lior Peer, both from Northwestern University, sheds little light on the impact of medical dramas. Rather, the authors pursue a framing analysis that comes up with the conclusion that "the frames operating on both ER and Chicago Hope are that medicine is drama, doctors are human, and patients are trouble or troubled. …

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