It is perhaps an understatement to say that Americans have a difficult and contradictory relationship with our bodies.

Every decade or so, there is a new optimal way to eat, along with increasingly wacky weight loss diets and entire categories of foods to defend or fear. We revel in the sophistication of medical science while being largely suspicious of it, and our politicians refuse to support a healthcare system in which everyone has access to basic and compassionate care. We are too sedentary, but when we exercise, we favor intense movements over relaxing movements, effort over ease, the struggle against acceptance.

No one embodies these obsessions better than Mehmet Oz, known as Dr. Oz to American viewers during the day. Dr Oz, who introduced himself as a sort of high priest of the American Welfare Church, recently announced his candidacy for the Republican primary for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania – a race that could decide control. from the room.

As Dr. Oz pursues this crucial position, he should be seen as more than a celebrity turned politician. He is rightly seen as a sort of quasi-religious leader, the one who has set up his awakening tent between a yoga studio and an emergency care clinic, with the television cameras rolling. And many Americans are prepared and ready to commit to his doctrine, which promises limitless possibilities as long as we invest in individual responsibility – for our health and everything in between.

It’s worrying. As we collectively face a new wave of coronavirus infections, leaders who advocate individualism are not only ineffective, they are dangerous. If there’s anything we need to take away from the past two years, it’s that self-sufficiency and self-sufficiency are inadequate for 21st century issues such as climate change, structural racism and the pandemic.

The son of Turkish immigrants, born in Cleveland, and by all accounts a gifted surgeon, Dr. Oz stood out as a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” appearances that earned him the title of ” American doctor ”and led to the introduction of“ The Dr. Oz Show ”in 2009. Over 13 seasons, the show’s frequent topics, which at its peak steadily attracted over a million viewers per week, could Also being a list of America’s biggest body anxieties: weight loss, cancer, weight loss, aging, weight loss, sleep issues, poo issues and oh, weight loss.

Dr. Oz often describes his journey from cardiothoracic surgeon to health expert on television with a missionary zeal: to take care of yourself, ”he explained during testimony before a Senate committee in 2014.“ And for this reason. , I entered public life, with the aim of teaching. “

And his announcement that he is now switching from daytime television to national politics took on an utterly delighted tone: “I am running for the Senate to allow you to control your fate,” he wrote in an essay. of the Washington Examiner, “to invigorate our great nation and rekindle the divine spark that we should always see in each other.” “

The thousands of airtime that Dr. Oz has devoted to the health concerns of Americans has made him a multimillionaire, but also a controversial figure. He hailed unproven supplements such as sage leaf tea, green coffee bean extract and raspberry ketones as “miracles” for weight loss and has been berated by senators for having it. do. To do. He was part of a team from Columbia University that patented a device to strengthen damaged heart valves, and was also the target of a protest letter from doctors who asked him why the university had it. . retained at the faculty because he had shown “a flagrant lack of integrity in the promotion of treatments and cures of charlatan in the interest of personal financial gain”.

On Covid-19, Dr Oz was particularly contradictory. He promoted the safety and efficacy of vaccines and masks, but also initially recommended the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid, based on a small study that would soon be discredited. And his candidacy to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate is based on his promise to free Americans from some of the mask and vaccine mandates that his fellow doctors widely support.

“We are Americans and we can do whatever we want” he tweeted recently, alongside a TBEN News clip of himself criticizing the Biden administration’s Covid-19 policies. “It’s time for us to get back to normal.

If there is a constant tension in Dr. Oz’s trajectory, it is his belief in the power and responsibility of individuals to take control of their health and well-being. Surprisingly, in his essay announcing his candidacy, Dr Oz does not speak of unity or community, as many politicians do. Instead, he identifies as a doctor “trained to say it the way it is because you deserve to hear our best advice and make your own decisions.”

It is perhaps not surprising that this messianic food guru offers to heal us of all that afflicts us, physically and spiritually. The bigger question is why are so many people willing to believe that organic cold pressed snake oil could prevent us from aging, cure cancer, cause us to lose weight and end a pandemic?

There is something deeply American about Dr. Oz’s quest to achieve a higher state through body enhancement. Its roots lie, no doubt, in the spiritual endeavors of the Transcendentals, the New England group of 19th-century nature-obsessed philosophers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notion of an “original relationship with the universe” and his belief that there is a divine spirit in nature and in the human soul which does not demand the doctrines and laws of organized Christianity, was radical in its day, but became the basis of American concepts of individualism and autonomy. These threads have been woven into everything from the prosperity gospel to my yoga teacher’s instructions to raise our arms above our heads and send our intentions “from Earth to Heaven through you”.

The same ideas, filtered through the concern for 21st century well-being, quickly come to the idea that we are wrong to accept what society tells us – by doctors, scientists or health officials. . government – if it contradicts our individual instincts or opinions.

It is this American idea that health is a personal responsibility that gives birth to figures like Dr. Oz. In his individualistic doctrine, when we get sick it’s usually at least part of our fault – there was probably a supplement we should have taken, a superfood we could have eaten more or junk food we should have. had to eat. less, a specialist that we should have consulted.

This American predilection for individualism is in itself a risk to public health in a pandemic, argued Ed Yong in The Atlantic – a risk that has led to bad policy that puts everyone, especially the most vulnerable. . more vulnerable, in danger. When reducing the spread of an infectious disease requires collective and individual action, “no one’s health is entirely in their hands,” Yong explains.

And yet, the idea that your health is in your hands is key to Dr. Oz’s worldview. Despite what appears to be a genuine desire to help people, “The Dr. Oz Show” is not a public health effort. It’s a company. And by recommending products and services, Dr. Oz empowers us to buy things – a very American way of feeling empowered. It helps us find the perfect chemistry between diet, exercise, and the acai berry to keep us awake, slim, and disease free forever, as long as we can afford it all out of our pocket. In our individualistic and consumerist society, wealth is health.

This is perhaps the deepest and most overriding appeal of what Dr Oz sells – the idea that if we can find the right guru, buy the right products, and strive hard enough to manifest our best, we can even cheat death.

Which of course we cannot. At this time, when so many issues are at stake, it is a dangerous illusion.

The article Take a look at what Dr. Oz is selling us has now appeared first in the New York Times.