Dr. Oz' Journey From Snake Oil Salesman To Senate Carpetbagger
It seems that celebrity has a certain incredible power to change the human brain. However it happens, there’s numerous examples of people, who, after rising to fame, seem to have had their synapses scrambled somehow, as if the electrical fields of cameras and lavalier microphones are somehow sending out waves that rearrange their gray matter. Now, of course, medically, I know that’s absolute nonsense. The person to discuss today would be the first to point that out… or at least, a decade ago he might have. Nowadays, the idea of harmful secret radio waves and chemtrails don’t seem too wildly off-base with the type of thing you might see on his TV program. We’re talking about talented surgeon turned belly-burner pill-slinger, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
At one point, Dr. Oz and his Lego man haircut was one of the most respected surgeons in the United States. He went to Harvard, known mostly as a television comedy writer pipeline but also a famed academic institution in its own right, and then to the University of Pennsylvania for medical school. He then ended up at New York Presbyterian and became a director and professor. He holds eleven patents related to heart surgery. This is all to say, by all metrics, he was a shoo-in for a lifetime gig as one of the most well-respected doctors in the country.
So the question is, how the hell did we end up where we are now, where a significant amount of the public and the medical profession regard him as a handsome daytime TV quack that spends most of his time shilling for pills and “wellness” treatments that would barely make the cut on an Instagram story? This is a man that was the director of a prestigious cardiac surgery department, and now most headlines he makes include some variation of the phrase “The fall of.” There’s no quicker way to stain your medical degree than to sell diet pills, which at this point are practically his main medical discipline.
Now, it’s not like Dr. Oz didn’t have spiritual leanings earlier in life. Interviews and discussions with former colleagues have revealed that even during his top surgeon days he had an interest in, shall we say, extra-medical strategies. Of course, at the time, these were things considered in addition to common-sense medical knowledge, not as a replacement. He might have recommended reiki healing, but only AFTER actually getting your gallbladder removed or whatever. So what tipped the scales to send him from “hey, this is a little untraditional, but give it a shot” to “you can cure your ulcers using the power of positive thinking and pond scum pills” territory?
Fame and celebrity seem to be the driving force here. Oz got a taste of fame early on, after performing a successful heart surgery on the brother of New York Yankees manager Joe Torre during the 1996 World Series. His colleague Eric Rose noted that Oz loved the media attention he received as a result of the operation. So when the photogenic doctor that seemed pulled straight from a daytime soap got a call from modern kingmaker Oprah Winfrey to appear on her show, it’s no surprise he jumped at the chance.
It seems, the more time he spent in front of the camera, the faster the needle swung from the title of “medical expert” to the much more accurate and amorphous “health guru.” It’s not exactly surprising, as the fact is: common sense is incredibly boring. It’s the reason that media of all kinds operates on the fringes now. A doctor telling you that the key to losing weight is a controlled diet and exercise can barely fill a single segment, much less a full broadcast slot. We can assume Oz realized the same thing: the wilder he was willing to get, the more people that wanted to watch. The same way a wrestler who starts with folding chairs might later find themselves getting slammed on a bed of thumbtacks and razor wire, suddenly he was cutting promos for healing auras and hydroxychloroquine.
When he got a show of his own, the need for both content and curious eyes grew, and with it did the umbrella of pseudoscience he was willing to back. He quickly went from a devil’s advocate and alternative thinker to testifying in front of the Senate in 2014 for false advertising and generally being absolutely full, from the tips of his toes to the peak of his side-part, of absolute grade-A horseshit. He got so far away from real medicine that the people who actually practiced it signed petitions to have him removed from his roles in the profession. Something that seems to have come to a head this year, when what was the source of his entire professional arc, Columbia University, quietly cut all ties with him.
So what’s someone with past professional qualifications that, by all accounts and observation, has gone absolutely off the deep end, to do? As with a genius of a different discipline, Kanye West, he quickly found himself welcomed into the fold of modern political conservatives. Their interest perhaps first piqued by his aforementioned recommendation of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 prevention, something warned against by the FDA because of heart-related side effects. Perhaps smelling a new saucer-eyed audience ready to feast on medical manure like a nutrient-starved flowerbed, Oz was all too happy to join the team.
Which brings us to where we are today, where he’s using his name recognition and shark-eyed TV smile to vie for political office in one of the most bald-faced opportunistic power grabs in some time. Oz is currently running for Senate in Pennsylvania, a state in which he does not live. Between snake oil salesman and carpetbagger, Oz is running the table on old-timey flim-flam man occupations. It’s up to the people of Pennsylvania to decide whether to believe he has any actual interest in their well-being, but it’s a good hunch that his solutions to their problems will be similarly effective to his on-screen recommendations: mostly made up for maximum screentime.