Ken Burns at Maladies and Miracles — Video Highlights
The field of philanthropy has lost two great leaders to cancer in recent weeks – Leonard Aube, executive director of The Annenberg Foundation and Charles Benton, chairman of the Benton Foundation and longtime board member of Media Impact Funders. It is a painful reminder that cancer is a prevalent and continuing threat to humanity, despite the many advances that have been made in recent years.
Last month at our Media Impact Focus program on health and science, filmmaker Ken Burns pointed out that one out of two men will get cancer in their lifetime, and one of three women will.
On the occasion of the national broadcast premiere of his latest project, Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies, Burns spoke to On the Media host Brooke Gladstone about the wide ranging three-part project. Burns called on everyone to do their part, as individuals and as citizens. “If it is the emperor of all maladies, then we are the subjects of this tyrant, and we ought to be in the resistance movement.”
Especially important, he noted, is the role of government in funding research — a role that has been undercut in recent years by attacks on the scope of government. Nevertheless, he argued, “We are really at that threshold of an incredibly hopeful moment that requires the government to step in.”
The interview was a riveting and highly personal dialogue between two master story tellers and a powerful way for us to start our day of inquiry into how media can illuminate issues of health and science. The video below (scroll down) captures the whole interview and, while it’s worth watching in its entirety, here are some suggested highlights from the conversation.
2:43 – 3:38 It’s personal
My mother died of cancer when I was 11 years old and I think all that I’ve become is in some ways some complicated reaction to that.
My very first consciousness is knowing that something was not just wrong, but terribly wrong, with the most important person in my life.
I watched my father, who had never cried during all of this, cry at a movie, and I understood instantaneously the power of film.
4:46 – 4:58 The resistance movement
If it is the emperor of all maladies, then we are the subjects of this tyrant, and we ought to be in the resistance movement.
10:30 – 11:09 Patient as advocate
What’s so interesting is that the 1970s also saw the beginning of patients having agency in this discussion, particularly women, with regard to first the radical mastectomy practiced without a thought for almost a century.
There’s no appreciable difference between a radical mastectomy and a lumpectomy if metastasis hasn’t taken place. This becomes a story and Rose Kushner becomes the person who embodies that agency on the part of women.
14:38 – 17:18 Phenomenal moment
We are at a phenomenal moment, science-wise, in cancer research. But we also live in a republic, a very complicated republic, that is sort of dialectically preoccupied with a very boring and superficial politics.
But it is now politicized. Because what’s crafted to the discussion of our republic for the last 35 years has been the notion that government is itself the enemy. And that idea has metastasized like a cancer. And so we have to begin with an almost instantaneous chemotherapy, when at this particular moment, the government of the United States, which has been, in history, might I say, for all of its enormous screw-ups, one of the greatest forces of good, has actually stood at a moment when it could be applying its force in this discussion about immunotherapy, about targeted treatments, about the fact that now that we’ve sequenced the human genome and we are able to advance computing, crunch some metadata. We are really at that threshold of an incredibly hopeful moment that requires the government to step in.
All of us need to become, at some levels, a cancer researcher, but we also have to turn that interest into a kind of active advocacy on behalf of the fact that stuff won’t happen unless there’s stuff happening, and that “happening” doesn’t happen unless there’s funding.