Pop-culture’s fascination of glamourising the sick.

During my routine social media catch up, I noticed an uproar of excitement on my Twitter timeline surrounding a film trailer with Cole Sprouse’s face planted across it, very comfortably sporting some oxygen tubes up his nose. Interest peaked, I watched the trailer. After about a minute, I found myself muttering: “who on earth asked for this film?” Unfortunately, the answer is 12-year-old me. 

Five Feet Apart (due March 2019), starring Cole Sprouse (the more annoying twin from Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody) and Haley Lu Richardson, focuses on two teenagers hospitalized with Cystic Fibrosis. Now, Cystic Fibrosis is a long-term life threatening genetic illness which as of yet is incurable, I should know as I was diagnosed with it upon birth. To keep it as contained as possible, patients take around 40+ tablets throughout the day, accompanied by a few sets of treatment and regular hospital visits.  

The trailer briefly includes elements of CF, but focuses mainly on a corny forbidden love trope between two patients. The film is titled Five Feet Apart due to an apparent rule (which I have never heard of) that CF patients are to stay five feet apart from each other to lessen the risk of cross-infection; each patient grows different bugs that can be detrimental if passed onto another. In my experience, doctors have implemented the rule of merely staying the hell away from all other patients to reduce this risk entirely. CF specialist hospital wards contain individual rooms fitted with en-suites and flat screens, nobody roams the corridors for anything. My issue lies not only with the slightly inaccurate portrayal of CF life, but seeing able-bodied actors stick oxygen tubes up their nose sends a genuine rage coursing through my veins. The veins that have been poked and prodded at for 19 years to weave tubes through to feed medicine into my bloodstream.

When I was 12 years old, a mushy love story would’ve been the representation I craved. I wanted a mainstream production of everything I put up with daily, so people in my classes would stop asking why my attendance was only 30% on my end of year school report. Just because this representation doesn’t make it healthy or positive, I don’t want to see people gushing over these traumatic experiences because they think it seems romantic. This isn’t The Notebook. Trawling through Twitter replies to the first trailer release, you’ll notice lots of love heart and crying emojis, accompanied by comments such as “my tissues are ready”. It really didn’t sit right with me that people are psyching themselves up to use my reality as their escapism-crying-fix. 

If the creators of Five Feet Apart cared about giving us a voice or a platform, they would not have turned our very real lives into a tragic romance purely because The Fault in Our Stars did so well at the box office. Of course the film will include the pain endured by us and our families, but that’s just to guarantee an emotive response from the audience.

After the release of the film, I’ll be back to review it — in the meantime do check out https://www.cysticfibrosis.org.uk/what-is-cystic-fibrosis for more information on CF.

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