Guest post by Hollistic Tendancies

“I need you all to make me have not said that. I need you to have make me unsaid it.”

Ah, here in episode 2 of Veep, we The Thick of It fans are in familiar territory: this could have come from the episode where the press conference had to be about nothing.

And yet, this is again very definitely America.

I can tell because of one simple thing that ends up being a crucial plot point in this episode: sick people go to work. After half a dozen years living in the UK I’m nearly desensitized to this but after an initial shock at how blatantly it flies in the face of logic, productivity and human decency, I’m flooded with a wave of deep familiarity and some terrible conviction that this is the way things really are.

In America, not only can no one afford health care, but also no one gets paid sick leave. Not nearly enough people anyway, so the culture is still: if you’re sick, go to work. If you’re contagious, now everyone’s sick.
No one can afford to be sick.

In America the vulgarity is not in the language, but in the culture.

(A year or two after I stopped living in the US, I fainted and woke up to my husband running to call an ambulance. The first words out of my barely-conscious brain were a panicky “We can’t afford an ambulance!” It’s spooky how ingrained that thinking is.)

Here’s the episode’s Patient Zero, the gold-plated shit-gibbon:


Then, offstage, there’s the next guy: “His Facebook status says ‘May god have mercy on my boxers.’”

The third sick guy cancels a meeting, which gives the Veep two free hours in which she declares “I wanna meet some regular normals” and her team decide to “go normalize with those guys” at a frozen-yoghurt shop.

The gold-plated shit-gibbon earned his name by sneezing on the Vice President, despite her body man throwing a dramatic bodyblock.


The Senator who so named him, I wish there were more senators like him. (“If you can get a Senate reform bill through the place it’s designed to reform, that would be amazing. I mean, that would be like…persuading a guy to fist himself.” Which I think is also relevant for UK readers now that there’s talk of reforming the House of Lords.)

But everything is overshadowed by illness in this episode. (Topically, Amy refers to her relationship with Dan with “We dated for, like, a week. It was like getting over mild food poisoning.”) Senate reform? The Clean Jobs Commission? What kind of yoghurt should the Veep be seen eating? None of that matters when people are saying things like “my ass is like the Thunderdome.”

Soon a real medical crisis intervenes: “The Veep has gone to the White House. The President is having a heart attack. Selina is currently the most powerful woman in the world.”


It doesn’t last long


and Selina’s relegated to the frozen yoghurt again. After a taste of real power – with generals asking her for meetings and being sent to the Situation Room – no wonder the yoghurt turned her stomach.

7 Responses to “Getting Over Mild Food Poisoning is a Long Time in Politics”

  1. Illogical Volume Says:

    First things first: “Hollistic Tendencies” is a good Mindless name, and I’m not just saying that because the lovely Mister Attack suggested it!

    I thought this episode was a very precise demonstration of the strength of Veep’s premise – Selina is simultaneously more and less powerful than any of the ministers from The Thick of It, and this episode did a good job of conveying quite how weird it must feel to be one major health problem away from being in charge of an entire country.

    Of course, you’ve conveyed that feeling with two screen caps and tied the whole thing in with American healthcare and Lords reform, so maybe it’s you I should be praising here rather than Iannucci and co? No, wait, this episode featured the “gold-plated shit gibbon” line (top swearing if ever I heard it), so I should really be praising both you and everyone involved in the making of the show equally right now!

    I still struggle to imagine living in that “We can’t afford an ambulance!” state of mind, even though I know it’s reality for so many people. My brain just recoils from the idea because it seems like it should be unthinkable, you know? That said, I reckon that a lot of people feel like they’re expected to go to work sick in the UK these days – I remember a “back to work” interview in a previous job where I was asked what I was going to do to prevent myself from becoming sick again, which… let’s just say that my manager at the time did not look impressed when I politely declined to answer such a stupid question.

  2. Hollistic Tendancies Says:

    I’m glad to have the approval of an official Mindless! I thought it was a great suggestion (I only added the second L to make it more like my human name, and to go along with the [typo? misspelling? intentional misspelling? I don't know and I don't need to] that brings the end of the name closer to dancing.

    (P.S. I totally tried to leave a long and thoughtful reply to your much-appreciated and thoughtful comment but then my internet crapped out and my browser lost it and I couldn’t bring myself to reconstruct it, but please do accept my gratitude and other girlish-American-effusive responses.)

    Selina is simultaneously more and less powerful than any of the ministers from The Thick of It

    This is definitely worth saying, because it’s the thing this piece was missing — I could tell there was something I wasn’t quite getting here, and you’ve nailed it. You, good sir, are worthy of some of that praise you were bestowing on me and Iannucci & co.

    I reckon that a lot of people feel like they’re expected to go to work sick in the UK these days

    Another good point — ironically (except, not), one of the things that drove me to being off sick long-term was the eldritch horror of the return-to-work interviews, where everything from a migraine to a couple of days with the flu to severe depression was greeted with “It’s unacceptable that you have had more than two periods of sickness in the last six months.”

    The UK is far from perfect on this, and of course people do still spread germs around, but it still seems distinct from the American culture. For all people think the NHS is being dismantled/sold off/etc.etc…obviously I’m concerned that healthcare gets no worse but I almost scoff at people who say this because they have no idea how much more scope there is for omnishambles in the UK system; the U.S. is a good (well, “good”) example.

  3. plok Says:

    Interesting. In Canada, people do go to work sick sometimes, but if they’re too sick they get called assholes by co-workers and customers alike…because it’s tough to lose a job that way, you kind of have to work at it, so if someone’s giving me the flu for essentially no good reason I’m gonna be hopping mad about it. And this is a pretty common attitude, at least in Vancouver it is. But I suspect it has less to do with medical (that’s what we call it: “medical”) and more with the Labour Relations Code?

    Although if you took medical away, I suppose that’d mean you’d have to work sick just to keep up your insurance coverage, so…

    BAD. Anyway, I find this very strange and funny, had not thought about it…in the Stes I guess if your shit-gibbon shows up to work there is fuck-all you can do about it except hate his guts? Because he can’t reasonably be expected to stay home, so instead of calling him an asshole for not staying home, a kind of assholery that can be remediated, you call him an asshole because he’s an incompetent fuck for being sick in the first place, and instead of wanting him to clean up his act you just want him to die? So…just spitballing, but…

    Does that mean illness is a straight-up moral weakness, in the States?

    Because that would explain a lot!

  4. Hollistic Tendancies Says:

    so if someone’s giving me the flu for essentially no good reason I’m gonna be hopping mad about it.

    I think this is kind of the attitude here too; by going to work sick you aren’t manning up to the germs, you’re a selfish biohazard nuisance. I have found this kind of argument almost works on my dear husband sometimes: if you don’t think you’re “sick enough” to stay home, imagine how pissed off your co-workers will be when they all catch what you had.

    if your shit-gibbon shows up to work there is fuck-all you can do about it except hate his guts?

    Exactly. You watch people progress with this bug as the episode goes on: someone can tell the guy who bodyblocked the sneeze “[the shit-gibbon] looks like he’s dying; if I were you I’d go straight to the pharmacy and take one of everything.”

    But of course the reason she knows the shit-gibbon looks like he’s dying is that he’s still at work too. This is completely unremarked upon and that’s what I think makes it so remarkable.

    And when his reply indicates his bug has progressed to the point where he’s worried about his boxers, she doesn’t say “you should go home, you’re really sick.” She just says “If you’re going to shit your pants I don’t want you in here.”

    So: “Does that mean illness is a straight-up moral weakness, in the States?” Yes. Oh dear god yes. (Just like poverty is, and probably being a woman or non-white as well.) And going home to rest up and get better is a fate too good for anyone weak enough to get sick; they don’t deserve it.

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