Marginalized in the Media?

By Eddie Childs
Chiropractic’s ever-changing role in pop culture.

In his 1959 autobiography, Groucho and Me, the immortal Julius “Groucho” Marx famously ridiculed DCs alongside MDs, pediatricians, osteopaths and podiatrists without missing a beat—or, indeed, really even pausing to differentiate between them. With the benefit of hindsight, it may seem strange to us that a man notorious for rapid-fire witticisms and spot-on social observations should so utterly fail in executing this particular punchline.

Perhaps the error wasn’t entirely Marx’s fault, however. Aside from the occasional ill-informed comment, Chiropractic existed in a veritable pop-cultural vacuum until around the 1990s. And considering most of Marx’s America possessed nary a clue about chiropractic care, his error is probably understandable; ergo, we probably shouldn’t be too hasty in blaming ol’ Groucho for bungling his joke.

Interestingly enough, though, Chiropractic’s current relationship to the media appears to be even more curious than it was in Marx’s day. As the profession establishes itself in mainstream culture, its practitioners have increasingly found themselves variably portrayed as charlatans, mystics or miracle workers.
According to some critics, pop culture and mass media have emerged as a battleground for the hearts and minds of the mainstream populace—a place where the war is waged to establish the profession on a level playing field in the American psyche.

Other schools of thought subscribe to the stance that any press is good press, pointing out that allopathic practitioners aren’t always portrayed in the best light either. They further observe that a larger proportion of the population is now aware of Chiropractic, as opposed to a generation ago.

The aforementioned dynamic is something to which Dan Batchelor, D.C., can knowledgably attest. During his time in the industry, he’s acted both as a spectator and a participant in Chiropractic’s increasing pop-culture presence.

“I began my practice 31 years ago, so I’ve seen some changes regarding the way the mass media and pop culture view Chiropractic,” says Batchelor, who’s published numerous columns on chiropractic sports medicine and has been featured on CNN Headline News as an athletic injury and back-pain rehabilitation expert. “Some swear by chiropractors and others swear at them, but I can tell you that now, compared to three decades ago, DCs have a better reputation.”

Batchelor has worked within the movie industry as well. The Roswell, Ga.-based DC was cast as a supporting actor in an upcoming film called “Against the Wind,” which was written and directed by his brother, Brad Batchelor. In the film, Dan Batchelor plays a fighter pilot who goes undercover as an agent to eliminate opium cartel leaders. The movie was filmed in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Malaysia and in the mountains of North Carolina.

An accomplished runner and mountain biker, Batchelor also recently was featured in an A&E program dealing with Chiropractic and obesity. The documentary filmed his entire consultation, examination and adjustment of a 350-pound man who initially refused to believe he needed help with his weight problem.
“Pop culture’s attention to Chiropractic has been increasing every year,” he explains, “as DCs are being included in PPO/HMO insurance programs, participating in interviews on radio and television programs, competing in sports events, winning competitions and helping to correct conditions considered incurable by the medical profession.”

Some Perspective
Naturally, the risk exists of placing far too much emphasis on pop-cultural portrayals of DCs. Indeed, many argue the same could be said for depictions of almost every profession that exists, from doctors and lawyers to politicians and bureaucrats.

To date, among of the best-written articles on the subject is an essay titled “Chiropractic on Television: Help or Hindrance?” which was published in Dynamic Chiropractic in 2006. In this article, writers Steven R. Passmore, D.C., M.S., and Christopher J. Good, D.C., M.A., explore this concept.

Particularly, they note, most pop culture references to chiropractors consist of “only a fleeting remark or casual reference to the profession. For the most part, these quips seemed to be made for a quick reaction and did not advance the plot of the story.” Passmore and Good, though, acknowledge some validity exists in critics’ concerns that “people place a value on the opinions of television characters (at least subliminally) and that this may influence the public’s views and actions.”

Nonetheless, they observe the characters expressing these views—such as George Castanza from “Seinfeld” and Red Foreman from “That ’70s Show”—often are individuals the audience already tends to view comically or with a sense of skepticism. To this end, Passmore and Good pose the question, “What are the character traits of those who are bad-mouthing Chiropractic on these episodes?”

They further argue one must be aware that writers are trying to create compelling scripts, as opposed to accurate representations of the profession. “They are not as educated [on the subjects about which they’re writing] as chiropractors, nor are they lawyers, doctors or judges; and they do not have a full appreciation of these professions,” they write. “These characterizations, while creative and entertaining, clearly do not reflect reality. ”

When all is said and done, Passmore and Good propose it might be best if Chiropractic’s proponents choose their battles. “It should also be remembered that all professions are subject to similar public interest and disabuse, and it would serve us well not to overreact,” they conclude. “For example, if lawyers wrote a letter for every slanderous remark made on TV, they would never have time to practice.”

Lessons Learned?
Even if one disagrees with its practices in principle, you have to admit the mainstream medical profession has done a rather good job in positioning itself authoritatively via pop culture throughout the years. Of course, we’re talking about a hegemony possessing nearly a century’s advantage of films, books and songs reinforcing its authority with the public.

So are there any lessons to be learned from mainstream medicine in the way it’s managed to be marketed through the media? Despite the fact that its philosophy differs radically from Chiropractic’s, many experts seem to believe much could be gained from such introspection.

“Even TV shows focusing on medical examiners like ‘Quincy’ or ‘CSI’ are extremely popular. But why?” asks Elizabeth Sosnow, managing director of New York-based Bliss PR. “I think human beings are always looking for answers, so we sometimes crave experts and authority figures who tell us what to do.”

But, according to Sosnow, therein lies a crucial opportunity for Chiropractic—she envisions it as the possibility for a “productive rebellion” against the established norm. “Our society has evolved toward a student mindset, where we regularly question assumptions,” she says. “Chiropractic can tap into that eagerness to seek information and understanding. Arguably, our society is now primed to understand how your body does know better.”