- Policy & Research
- About KHI
Jan. 12, 2010
According to popular opinion, Director Joe Winston’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” is an unbiased film about Kansas conservatism. However, the film examines issues that attract headlines, without providing a solid look at political activism in our state. Rather than a film about the conservative movement, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” comes across as a caricature of civic engagement in Kansas.
Take a look at two of the film’s characters: Brittany Barden is a high school graduate and convinced that only the Republican Party represents her values. Donn Teske’s family farm faces an uncertain future but he claims no political party. (He also serves on my organization’s board and watching him in the film, I am proudly reminded why. He’s a Kansan’s Kansan.)
Together, these characters offer a very specific impression of Kansas. The Brittanys of Kansas make strict party affiliation the driving force behind their political participation, but the Donns express significant doubt about such an approach. Both the Brittanys and the Donns recognize the conservative rhetoric of Kansas politics, but while the Brittanys live comfortably, the Donns struggle to keep the farm.
Later in the film, the director of a ministry serving the uninsured laments the impact of unemployment on Kansans’ health care access. Listening to her, I thought about Brittany, who stood on an overpass holding signs to support her candidate. How about an “affordable health care for Kansans” sign above I-70, I wondered? Likewise, a former union organizer says that workers want to be treated like human beings. But he concludes, “it’s never going to happen” because that would require people to ask and “fight for their rights”. Why isn’t this happening, I thought?
The truth is, people are fighting for their rights in Kansas. Unfortunately, their struggle either wasn’t covered or didn’t make the film’s final cut. I respect the earnest Kansans in this film who sincerely promote their causes. But there are thousands more like them whose work, while effective, is not loud enough to hold an audience’s attention. I guess that working for fair housing, living wages and affordable health care is boring if you aren’t an aficionado of a particular party, or on the verge of hysterics.
So nice try, Joe Winston. I know your film was based on Thomas Frank’s book by the same name, but I think Kansans have a lot more to say. Come visit us this legislative session while we hash out bills related to health billing parity and hear from consumers in Kansas whose lives have been shattered by insurmountable medical debt. There won’t be any fanatics chaining themselves to tables in the Statehouse’s committee rooms, but you might meet some equally passionate advocates.
Corrie L. Edwards, MPA is the Executive Director for the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate for affordable, accessible and quality health care in Kansas.