Belle Gibson, belief and the devil lurking in our shadows

After Belle Gibson’s appearance on 60 Minutes, John Preston wonders why we’re so angry at her, but not ourselves, considering what we will purchase in the pursuit of health.


Tara Brown did a wonderful job of tearing into Belle Gibson, the girl who suggested that she cured herself of brain cancer by eating right and taking deep breaths, on Sunday night’s 60 Minutes. I suspect that much of our angst towards Belle is driven by our own contradictory feelings towards the things she peddled as we direct vitriol towards her. When we went looking for the devil in Belle, we saw it was in fact in ourselves, in the shadow we cast.

I am wondering what all the fuss is about. Belle will probably marry a guy called Kevin, have another baby and will not be heard from again. She had her 15 minutes of fame until some very basic inquiries were undertaken and revealed a load of sun-dried baloney.

What amazes me is that we, a nation who spends billions of dollars on crackpot treatments, have the temerity to point the finger of blame at Belle, as we shell out 1.5 billion dollars a year on vitamins and supplements, almost none of which have any demonstrated medicinal value.

I think I have the answer.

As Robert McNamara put it: “We see what we want to believe”. Psychiatrists call it cognitive dissonance, the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change. Others call it bullshit. We even come up with words to make ourselves feel better like “complementary medicine”. As I sat in the back of a taxi in Kazakhstan 10 years ago, my guide told me pickle juice cured hangovers. I told her “We spent a billion dollars developing Viagra to fix erections, do you think we would have missed pickle juice?”

We all wanted to believe that Belle had the answer, but we knew eating an organic carrot was not going to fix your brain tumour. You need an expensive machine that fires radiation to do that, and drugs, and even then the results are not guaranteed. You might also need a guy with a scalpel to poke around inside your head. No wonder we prefer the carrot.

Then there are those who run off to get a full body MRI and buy everything from krill to fish oil, hoping the elixir will somehow postpone the day when we will be standing tall before the man. So when it turned out you could fix a brain tumour with an iPhone app, who was going to argue? They saw what they wanted to believe. When confronted with, (how shall I put this?) an inconvenient truth, it seems we have chosen to kill the village witch doctor with Tara as Lyncher-in-Chief. At least it made us all feel better than her app ever would.

We give people airtime to rail against being exploited by “Big Pharma” and other great pastimes like vaccinations not being a good idea. Spoiler alert – every day, a 10mg tablet of Coveram stands between me and death, or a stroke. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the only thing worse than being exploited by Big Pharma, is not being exploited by Big Pharma.

Of course, our own mortality is something we would all prefer not to think about.

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