This is part of a weekly series called in which The Lantern’s Ty Anderson offers his take on the week’s pop culture news.
Love him or hate him, there’s no doubting Dr. Mehmet Oz’s personable demeanor and subtly exotic charm. The man has made millions off doling out sensationalized (and perhaps shoddy) medical advice to retired baby boomers and stay-at-home moms across the nation. But recently, a group of 10 surgeons, physicians and professors wrote a letter to Columbia University, demanding Oz be removed from its list of faculty because of his “quack treatments.”
Now, I’m neither a medical professional nor a vegan, so my knowledge on the subject of healthy diets is quite limited and I am unable to take sides concerning Dr. Oz’s alleged “quack treatments.”
But that’s not what I want to write about. Dr. Oz was given a platform to speak to the masses, and he took it. Nobody is forced to listen to him and he isn’t prescribing any specific treatments to any specific people.
So rather than discuss the validity of Dreamy Dr. Oz’s advice, I want to talk about us: the audience. As Americans, we are obsessed with our own ailments. We are a nation of hypochondriacs, all too willing to accept a diagnosis that might shed some light onto our confused diets and mysterious symptoms. We put our faith in supposed superfoods like açai and quinoa — the sorts of foods Dr. Oz talks about on his show.
We believe that the secret to a trim waist is a highly concentrated green tea powder encapsulated in a gelatin sheath. We believe that if we engorge ourselves on green juices, we can somehow “cleanse” our systems, attaining some sort of higher purity. And then what? Return to eating real food and become uncleansed?
A tall, dark and handsome TV doctor tells us to spend $12 on a one-pound bag of mysterious whole grains from South America, and so we spend $12 on a one-pound bag of mysterious whole grains from South America.
Beyonce goes vegan, so we go vegan. Gwyneth Paltrow eliminates gluten, red meat, caffeine and taste from her diet, and we elimin— oh wait, nobody actually follows Gwyneth Paltrow’s dietary advice.
My point is that we’re all searching for this elusive concept of “health.” We put our trust in celebrities, or online bloggers, or sometimes even doctors who only seem like they know what they’re talking about.
But shouldn’t we all have some intuitive sense of what it means to eat healthfully? We should know that too many sweets are bad for us, because they give us a stomachache. We should know that vegetables are healthy and that Cool Ranch Doritos are not. We should know that we don’t have to spend countless wasted dollars on probiotic pills, or spirulina or chia seeds. Those things won’t make us healthy, and we should stop believing that they will.
Dr. Oz is probably a charlatan. He’s probably a quack, a fraud, a sham. But Dr. Oz is not the problem. I mean, the only reason he has a TV show in the first place is because he’s saying what the people want to hear. Should he be giving out the advice he’s giving? Probably not. And celebrities should also know better than to publicly talk about their own diets. But that is only because of our own susceptibility as consumers.
Our hysteria has gotten so bad that there so many different camps, so many different ways of eating and points of view, that research has become biased and nobody knows what to eat. You’ll go crazy if you try to understand, which is why people like to be told what to eat. And that brings us back to Dr. Oz. In a way, he’s doing us a favor. His claims might lack scientific backing, but my guess is that none of them are outright harmful. He takes the thinking out of it, and people like that sort of simplification.
So, Dr. Oz — good or bad? Honestly, I don’t know what think. As I said, he’s probably a charlatan. And he’s probably guilty of manipulating the masses in order to make millions. So that’s bad. That’s very, very bad. But on the plus side, the man looks damn good for 54.