Opinion: The Fault in Our Entertainment

Jeanette Wong, Author

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Following a new entertainment trend set by the novel “The Fault in Our Stars” and its movie adaptation, a new TV show gives viewers a questionable image of a cancer patient’s life.

In the new Fox dramedy "Red Band Society," Dash (Astro), Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) and Leo (Charlie Rowe) (left to right) visit their coma-stricken friend Charlie (Griffin Cluck) and talk about their current conditions. The three teens have cystic fibrosis, osteosarcoma and an amputated leg, respectively, while Charlie is in a coma for an unspecified reason. "Luck isn't getting what you want," said Leo, referring to their health. "It's surviving what you don't want." (FOX)

In the new Fox dramedy “Red Band Society,” Dash (Astro), Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) and Leo (Charlie Rowe) (left to right) visit their coma-stricken friend Charlie (Griffin Cluck) and talk about their current conditions. The three teens have cystic fibrosis, osteosarcoma and an amputated leg, respectively, while Charlie is in a coma for an unspecified reason. “Luck isn’t getting what you want,” said Leo, referring to their health. “It’s surviving what you don’t want.” Photo courtesy of FOX.

I’d be lying if I claimed to be an expert on the topic of cancer and the many debilitating life changes that stem from the disease. But with the recent rise of cancer-based movies and TV shows, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what Hollywood thinks it’s like to live with cancer:

You live a pretty decent life. You get diagnosed with cancer. You feel like your life is over. You suddenly appreciate life so much more now that you know your days are numbered. You die a tragic, beautiful death.

The summer blockbuster “The Fault In Our Stars,” based on the soul-wrenching young-adult novel by John Green, spotlighted the topic of cancer and became the trailblazer for several other shows revolving around cancer and similar life threatening diseases.

Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the ups and downs of the Hazel-Gus timeline in “TFIOS;” it’s the unrealistic portrayal of the disease from the shows that succeed it that confounds me.

It’s great that mainstream entertainment is bringing attention to such a serious issue, but the border-line glamorization of cancer is getting out of hand.

Specifically, the new Fox dramedy “Red Band Society,” which premiered at 9 p.m. last week, gives viewers a questionable image of life with serious medical issues. This new series tells the story of a diverse group of teen hospital patients bound together by the common trait of being seriously ill. (“The Breakfast Club” much?)

These teens try to make the best of their not-so-glamorous life at the hospital, smoking pot in deserted rooms and buying alcohol underage. In one scene of the pilot episode, they throw a “goodbye party” for the leg of a surgery-bound teen, practically singing Kumbaya in a circle on the hospital rooftop. Granted, there are a few touching moments, like when the one-legged main character tearfully reminisces his presurgery life or when the sharp-tongued nurse shows compassion by ordering pizza for one of the kids. (It’s a long story.) For the most part, “Red Band Society” is a heart-warming series but there is definitely room for improvement in terms of the plot line.

What this show — like a couple others — fails to touch on is the painful side of cancer. Shows focus on cliché aspects such as love triangles, friend drama and other basic components of a hit teen story instead of bringing light to the reality of the situation. The colossal range of emotions, the sporadic feelings of nausea, the hair/weight/appetite loss, the seemingly endless tests and the side effects of whatever medication a patient needs to take may all be a part of a cancer patient’s life — a part that is not included in the said TV show. While it’s fair that producers hold an optimistic view, the show’s misleading take on life with cancer raises eyebrows.

As the narrator of “Red Band Society” so brilliantly says, “Everybody thinks that when you go to a hospital, life stops. But it’s just the opposite — life starts.” The TV show makes it seem like having a serious illness is a great life changing experience. It gives the perception that having cancer is a blessing in disguise, a way for people to truly understand the meaning of life. People need to understand that their “life” can “start” even without being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and being chained to a hospital bed.

Cancer is not beautiful. Cancer is not the ID that lets you get past the bouncer of the exclusive learn-the-value-of-life club. Cancer should not be romanticized. And most of all, the gravity of cancer should not be downplayed simply for the sake of appealing to teenagers across the nation.