Media artist and publisher Kathy High hosts an eclectic look at the state of pharmaceuticals in the United States and abroad. Great archival footage accompanies her breakdown of the chemical pathology in western medicine as a means of social control and as market commodity. The episode begins with an illumination of the ways that doctors are coerced into prescribing certain drugs by the pill companies, as well as how the refinement and dispensing of controlled drugs has been instrumental in creating the social prestige of medical doctors.
Beyond that, Kathy High unravels the variety of media outlets and advertising that are used to filter both public and medical knowledge of drug uses into profitable “rational consumption.” Mainly through the avenue of television and print ads, the vague vocabulary and lifestyles sold by the modern pharmaceutical industry make information and informed decisions secondary to a “Just Say Yes” style of cure for everything from alienation at work to overeating. Many 30 second ads do not even mention a specific medication in order to avoid the FDA’s requirement of listing harmful side effects. It is also alarming that the costs of Research & Development of modern drugs are only 1/4 of the amount of money spent advertising them.
The very interesting final two segments deal with the uneven, and downright harmful, dispensing of drugs that occurs across different social classes, geographies and genders. The practices of multinational drug companies in poorer areas like Latin America and Africa create the twin problems of monopoly markets and lack of adequate testing. Additionally, research and funding for creating cheap treatments for pandemic diseases like AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean has been stunted by the fact that, within the value system of market capitalism, prescription treatments that poor people can afford are not profitable.
Beginning as a replacement for electro-shock therapy, a disproportionate amount of anti-depressants and tranquilizers are prescribed to women in the United States. This is simply a way of attempting to silence the effects of structural social pressures, and represents an unfortunately common option imposed on oppressed groups for dealing with the stresses an unfair society. As High says, a trope of twentieth-century medicine has been “redefining social and political problems as medical ones” by chemically or psychiatrically treating the individual rather than their context.
While avoiding the complex issues of transgender health and medical insurance companies, Kathy High’s analysis deals with many of the critical problems of industrialized medicine and consumer capitalism. This episode will be of interest to students and teachers dealing with Bioethics, the Medical Industrial Complex, Modern Pharmaceuticals, and methods of social control.
1989 TRT: 29 minutes #161