As Seen In: Resident Evil, The Constant Gardener, The Fugitive, Leverage, House
What Hollywood Thinks They Do:
If a movie or TV show features a drug company, you can bet your medicinal marijuana that it's doing one of four things: performing illegal experiments on people, charging an arm and a leg for treatments, lying about a drug's effectiveness or straight murdering anyone who stands in its way.
"And so, by murdering all of our customers with poison, Big Pharma can increase market penetration by 17 percent. Or something. I'll be honest: We've been dipping into the medical marijuana stash pretty heavily this week."
For example, in The Constant Gardener, African children are used as guinea pigs for tuberculosis drugs with known harmful side effects. And in The Fugitive, Harrison Ford spends the entire movie trying to figure out who framed him for his wife's murder, only to learn the whole shebang was set up by a pharmaceutical company that was about to release liver-damaging drugs. Because Ford discovered they were bad news, and apparently he was the only doctor who tested them.
A drug company is apparently the main bad guy in the new Wonder Woman. And don't get us started on the Umbrella Corporation, where pharmaceutical research is all a cover for... making zombies?
What They Actually Do:
Let's not get carried away here. Corporations don't care about you. So while pharmaceutical companies cure diseases (like, all the time) they don't care about your well-being any more than, say, the Starbucks corporation.
But they don't care about you any less, either.
They make good bad guys because we need drugs and drugs are expensive, so withholding drugs makes us think of them as heartless bastards. You figure that they know Grandma needs her heart medicine, so they know she'll pay through the nose for it. So it's like extortion! Our pain and sickness is their blank check!
"Jenkins, that slide show of dead grandmothers was fantastic. I think I speak for the entire board when I say my cock is hard enough to slice an apple with."
Yet ... drug companies aren't making all that much money. The world's largest drug company, Pfizer, is taking a beating and shutting down factories to cut costs. In fact, we hope you weren't invested too heavily in Big Pharma, because you're about to lose. Big time. Then you have a company like Hollis-Eden, which pumped over $100 million into medicine to combat the effects of radiation exposure and never made a profit. It eventually fired its CEO and started over with a new name.
OK, but maybe they're still crooks, but incompetent crooks? Or their evil CEOs are stealing all the money?
No, the problem is that making new drugs is ludicrously expensive. It may be true that your $300 bottle of pills has only $12 worth of chemicals in it, but behind that bottle is millions spent on researching, developing and testing the drug, and the bills from countless drugs that never made it to market despite all that money that was poured in (because only at the end did they turn out to be unsafe or ineffective, etc). Then they have to get everything they make through the FDA, market it and get doctors on board prescribing it to patients, and after all that there is still the potential for massive financial failure once their patents are up and anybody can make a dirt-cheap generic.
"Pfizer's new drug sends dolls tumbling off of comedically large waterfalls for half the price."
Again, please don't storm into the comments with "Oh, go cry us a river! Nobody made them get into this business!" Big Pharma is in it for the money, and we're not claiming otherwise.
It's just that they seem to suffer from the same paradox as the police -- we get more mad at them because what they're doing is more crucial to our safety. When's the last time you saw a movie where the villain was, say, a fast-food chain? It's as if because what they're doing is important, they can never do it to our satisfaction.
"Thanks for curing hundreds of diseases that have ravaged mankind since time immemorial ... assfucks."
Actually, we can think of at least one more group in the same boat ...
As Seen In: The Rainmaker, The Incredibles, As Good As It Gets, Leverage, John Q, The Island
What Hollywood Thinks They Do:
"Fucking HMO bastard pieces of shit!"
"Actually, I think that's their technical name."
-- Helen Hunt and Harold Ramis in As Good As It Gets
If you've been hankering to see Egon with a double chin, this is the film for you.
In Hollywood, insurance companies take your hard-earned cash, throw it into bags with literal dollar signs on them and then punch you in the junk when you ask for help with your medical bills. Like in The Rainmaker, where Matt Damon plays a lawyer suing an insurance company that won't pay for his client's cancer treatment. He manages to find a former employee who testifies that the company's official policy was to initially deny every single claim it received, whether it was legitimate or not, on the basis that most people eventually just give up trying.
Also known as the Eddie Murphy approach to coverage.
And then there's the Best Picture Oscar nominee As Good As It Gets, in which Helen Hunt's insurance claim is denied because her kid has asthma (the source of the above quote). Or the TNT series Leverage, where the main character's son dies because the insurance company that he works for won't pay for his kid's cancer treatment. And just to make sure that kids grow up fully believing insurance companies are the devil, the dad in The Incredibles works as an insurance agent but breaks the company's rules to actually help customers. And that nearly gets him fired.
What They Actually Do:
They cover 13 out of every 14 claims filed. So there's that. More than half of all denied claims that are appealed result in coverage being reinstated, often because it was just an issue with the paperwork.
And no, insurance companies are not rolling naked in cash any more than the drug companies are (profits by percentage are in the low single digits). Again, they're not a charity, but they're not robbing people at gunpoint either.
"If you're going to file a claim, we're damn well going to make sure you earn it."
Once more, it's easy to hate insurance companies, because the consequences of their business practices are much more devastating than with other companies. If a bank denies you a loan, it sucks, but nobody dies. And during the health care debate in the U.S., horror stories cropped up about insurance companies inventing reasons to cut off treatment to Grandma to save a few bucks.
But you can't lose sight of this: The thing that we really want insurance companies to do -- pay for everything every deserving sick person needs, ever -- is physically impossible.
Transport yourself to an alternate dimension where every insurance company employee is 100 percent honest and 100 percent compassionate. We're talking a company whose cubicles and board of directors are both full of Mother Theresa. By the sheer, mathematical realities of the insurance industry, they will still find themselves denying claims to poor people who badly need care.
"I'm sorry, but your plan only supports curing blindness in one eye. And the palsy cure is considered an elective miracle."
This is why during that health care debate, the opposing sides were both able to cite coverage-denial horror stories from every single system on Earth. Horror stories will always be part of the equation. It's as simple as this: We want insurance companies to say money is no object when providing coverage, but we don't say the same when paying premiums. That creates a gap into which sick people fall and die.
Dammit, are there no easy villains left? We bet if you look closely at its books, Umbrella even had a really good reason for creating all of those zombies.
For more on Hollywood's struggle to find good villains, check out yesterday's article on 6 Groups Who Don't Work as Movie Bad Guys Anymore.
For more folks we should probably ease up on, check out 6 Historical Villains Who Were Actually OK Guys. Or learn about some people who have their official Bad Guy cards in 5 Real World Criminals Who Were Certified Supervillains.
And stop by Linkstorm to see why 4chan isn't so awful. (Just kidding -- it's totally awful.)
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