Cox vs. House, or merely naughty vs. complete arse   Leave a comment

Tv shows with doctors in them are pretty popular, and it’s easy to understand why. Doctors and nurses are easy to portray as heroes, everyone can relate to either being sick or knowing someone who has been sick, and the list of possible ideas for a show practically writes itself, what with all the different diseases they have to treat. Whether it’s a good or bad show, that depends, as always on the finished product. But the quality as such isn’t what I’m going to talk about today. No, it’s about the similarities and differences of two famous TV doctors, and why I think one of them has an undeserved big star amongst atheists.The two doctors I’m referring to are Perry Cox from the comedy show Scrubs, and Gregory House, from the more serious drama House. To start with the similarities, they are both atheists, they are both very good doctors, they are both arrogant, they both get annoyed fairly easily and they both know just how good doctors they are. And they are both, to some extent, douchebags.

But the main difference is to what extent this douchebaggery goes. Sure, Dr. Cox is very cocky (sorry about that, it won’t happen again), but as a general rule, there tends to be something else behind the cockiness. For one thing, most of the time he slings out insults when something upsets him, and that something it’s generally JD. And no matter how much one likes JD as a character, one just can’t help but think that if you had a guy like that in real life as your co-worker/protege/close student, you’d end up annoyed a lot. Especially if you keep telling them to just leave you alone for some time and they Just. Won’t. Stop. Bothering. You. And if it’s not JD bothering him, then it’s the boss, Bob Kelso, making his life harder by not letting him do his job as a doctor and heal patients. Not all of his rants are provoked, but I would claim that the majority of them are.

On the other hand, House is a douche to pretty much everybody, no matter what. He keeps belittling his colleagues, berating his patients, and so on. Yes, I know, he’s supposed to have that bad leg, but that only works for so long. Pretty much anything that simply doesn’t agree with his rather narrow view of life offends him, and that’s when it crosses the line from getting provoked, to just plainly being a dick.

Second main difference is that Cox isn’t a complete genius of a doctor. Oh, he’s very good, all right, but not perfect. Of course, part of this is that he’s not actually the main character, but still, in the hospital of Scrubs, people die as likely as not. Cox isn’t just there to be the super-doctor that always saves the day. He’s also there to teach how to deal with failures. And sometimes, he has to deal with his own failures as a doctor.

House, on the other hand, is there to save the day. That’s what pretty much every episode I’ve seen of the show is about, though I grant I have only seen about a dozen, spread out over several seasons. And even though he’s got a full team behind him, it’s always him that saves the day; or at least, makes it appear as if it’s him. And then when he’s once again been proven Right near the end (I never saw an episode where he wasn’t) to everyone that ever doubted him in the slightest, it keeps reinforcing his self-image as the Hero Doctor, including that his attitude doesn’t change, because somehow, his behaviour also helped solving this week’s case (like, shouting to people until they do the tests he wants). Of course, this is a classic case of correlation that doesn’t necessarily need to be causation, which just goes to show that atheism and brilliance doesn’t make you immune to logical fallacies.

Next is religion and life philosophy. Both are atheists, and both are very heavy cynics, but Cox usually leaves it at that. He seldom complains about religion, and when he does, it’s usually because of people are actively fronting their beliefs that, say, healing through prayer works. But the main problem he has with those kind of things is that they don’t work, and that people making them forego medical procedures that at least has proven to work better than chance.  Heck, he will lash out at ordinary medical procedures if he thinks they’re not going to be any help in that particular case. And, he does try to appear polite with the patients themselves most of the time. In fact, he’s often fairly good with them, though he’s put in his place every now and then, such as when it turns out he has no clue how to speak with teenage girls. Once again, good, but not perfect.

Again, House takes it one step further; and seldom leaves a chance to lecture people on religion being nonsense. And this is where I find one of my biggest problems with House. Apparently he’s grown a fairly big following amongst atheists for his “no-nonsense” attitude and being a TV atheist one can look up to (being a genius and a doctor), but I’m wondering if he’s perhaps doing more harm than good. What especially irks me is that every time he’s lecturing someone on the silliness of religion, what he tends to offer instead isn’t atheism, but nihilism. He keeps putting religion down, instead of putting atheism up. When confronted with an argument like “how can you be good without God”, he lets go of the opportunity to explain nicely how easy it is to be good without gods, and instead berates the other person for his or her view. Telling a sick and depressed teenage girl that there’s basically no point to life might be technically accurate, but it sure as hell isn’t comforting, and hardly appropriate.

And that particular point there is also why I’m having trouble with considering House a good role model for atheists. Because that style of argument just won’t win any converts. At least, it won’t win any converts that you’d actually like to have converted. I am much more in favour of arguing the positives about atheism instead of the negatives about religion. Sure, the latter also has its place, but the former should always be the main focus. What we gain without religion, rather than what we lose with it. And again, he didn’t (that I remember) face any consequences of his speech of despair. Having the girl in the aforementioned example request a change in doctors or something wouldn’t at all be out of place.

The final point for now is that Cox has some self-insight. He has people around him that reminds him that he’s got flaws. He knows he’s got problems connecting emotionally, and there are plenty of people around him to remind him of that. He spends an entire episode worrying if hes going to be a good enough father for his son, due to his psychological issues.

House’s self-insight? Well, he got put into a mental institution at some point, and proved then that he doesn’t belong in group therapy, as he’d rather be insulting the rest of the patients in short order whenever they tell their problems, rather than admitting to any of his own flaws.

I guess in the end, the problem is perhaps as simple as this: House is depicted to be really, really intelligent. And in Hollywood, being really intelligent basically allows you to be a dick and get away with it all the time. House is a series that perpetrates the myth that geniuses are assholes because they know so much more than the rest of us, when in reality, most people that knows a lot tends to have a good idea how much they don’t know, therefore being more humble about the knowledge they do have. And if you act like House does in real life, there will be consequences for you to pay.

And allow me to ask any strong atheist who thinks Dr. House’s way of handling things is a good thing: If it was the exact same character, except that he’d be a religious fundamentalist who’d constantly berate people for -not- believing in God, what would you have thought of him then? I think it fairly likely you’d consider him as an example of the worst kind of religious fanatic asshole there is. And at best, you’d realise that “they’re not all like that, thankfully”, and at worst, you’d actually start to think that religious people are indeed like that.

In any case, you most likely wouldn’t like him and his religious preaching at all. And now you will also have an idea of what it’s quite possibly like for any strongly religious person to watch that show. Still think he’s a positive atheist character?


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