Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

11 Dec 2008

At the Mind Hacks blog, Vaughan Bell links to a study whose name is self-explanatory: “The Role of Medical Language in Changing Public Perceptions of Illness.” Medical language, it seems, is deployed to make humdrum conditions more exploitable in the market. Conditions like baldness can be rebranded with medical jargon that has the effect of making the condition seem more acute, more unhealthful. We take diseases more seriously if they sound complicated and Latinish. Patent-medicine hawkers and nostrum makers have of course taken advantage of this for years—using obfuscation and crypto-erudition to cause alarm and insecurity—so it’s no surprise to see the efficacy of the tactics confirmed in research. And of course, one of the triumphs of modern advertising was the invention of “halitosis”—the semantic means of medicalizing bad breath.

Capitalism thrives by fostering new needs; luckily, new worries also qualify. In 1936, Printer’s Ink, an advertising trade journal, began to keep a list of diseases invented through marketing. It makes good business sense to hit people where they are most vulnerable and potentially most ignorant. Jargonizing health discourse has the neat effect of seeming to educate consumers while actually confusing them and making them more manipulable. (Perhaps all jargon serves this function.) It’s subtraction through addition.

Bell sums up the larger ramifications of the research well:

Pharmaceutical companies often promote the benefits of their product, but they also regularly attempt to change our understanding of the problem itself, so the use of their medication seems the most sensible option.
However, there are many other players in the public discussion of illness and certain ideas about causes, symptoms and treatments are often pushed by people because it fits in with other agendas they have.
This is particularly relevant for scientific theories and it is no accident that many of the most significant public medical debates in recent years have been over the acceptance of certain explanations - such as the role of the MMR vaccine in autism, the role of neurotransmitters in mental illness, the role of genetics in obesity.
There is no explanation of illness independent of culture and an understanding of how popular ideas influence our personal medical beliefs is an essential part of understanding medicine itself.

In an article from Stay Free, Carrie McLaren drew the requisite conclusions about the commercial persuasion industry’s effect on that “culture” and those “popular ideas.”

when it comes to advertising, the more symptoms–and the more noticeable, painful, and embarrasing the symptoms–the better, because the easier it is to sell to consumers; that is, the more likely the illness will be self-diagnosed. And drugs for self-diagnosed ills–allergies, weight-reduction rather than cholesterol or blood pressure–are those seeing the greatest boost from commercials. Eskimos may have 14 words for snow, but we’ve now got just as many for allergy symptoms. In the same way that the availability of a drug such as Prozac can define an illness, televisibility now figures in…. It is, in other words, eerily fitting for drugs to be sold as consumer products, for products–whether cookies, diet drinks, or cigarettes–have long been sold as drugs, as magical cures…. Consuming, in other words, is our placebo.

This is what makes consumerism so tenacious—it makes us feel better without fulfilling any of its promises. It’s essentially a means for circulating promises; the products themselves are, in a sense, by-products—just props for the healing daydreams.

by PopMatters Staff

11 Dec 2008

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I got a little choked up when I saw Man on Wire, the documentary about Philippe Petit. He’s the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers the year they were erected. It’s the most poetic movie I’ve seen in a long time. Oh, and I almost found myself crying when I went to see Ghost Town, the Ricky Gervais vehicle, in Chicago last week. I guess a good hangover can make you a little emotionally vulnerable.

2. The fictional character most like you?
I’d like to say George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life). Maybe we can throw in a dash of David Addison (Bruce Willis on Moonlighting).

3. The greatest album ever?
Today it’s a toss up between Beggar’s Banquet and Let It Be (The Replacements’ one). I’ll say side two of Tattoo You. That sets the right mood for me these days. Best album ever is just an impossible question.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars for sure. Han Solo was a hell of a guy. I could never relate to anybody on Star Trek—except for when Spock laid the hammer down on the guy with the boombox in Star Trek IV. I enjoyed that.

5. Your ideal brain food?
Anything new. The less I fall into routine, the better. Variety keeps the brain strong.

by Evan Sawdey

11 Dec 2008


1. Justice: “DVNO”


2. The Chemical Brothers: “Midnight Madness”


3. Weezer: “Pork & Beans”


4. Feist: “I Feel It All”


5. Pink “So What”

by Sarah Zupko

11 Dec 2008

Treating the movie poster as the legitimate and pioneering art form that it is, this massive collection of more than 1,500 examples of international poster art will delight the art gallery crowd as much as the hard core film buff. Covering postwar movie history and spanning the globe, the book offers a comprehensive look at 2D representations of film. The focus here is firmly on the art side of the equation with works that would feel right at home in any fine art gallery or museum. Indeed, these posters do all reside at New York’s Posteritati Gallery. There are many milestones in graphic design represented on these fine glossy pages as well as a lifetime of moviegoing memories. Deluxe, gorgeous and thought-provoking all at once.

Art of the Modern Movie Poster: International Postwar Style and Design

by Nav Purewal

11 Dec 2008

Throughout his career, Fareed Zakaria has used his knack for acute observation to draw compelling, and largely reliable, conclusions. The Post-American World is no different. This is a thoughtful book about serious issues by a very intelligent writer. Obama was spotted reading a copy. Indeed, any truly critical thinker will want to read this. No one book will make all the difference, but familiarity with this particular volume would go a ways towards ensuring that the 44th President of the United States is better equipped to deal with America’s changing role than the 43rd.


//Mixed media

Incubus Flies High and Left of the Flock at the Santa Barbara Bowl

// Notes from the Road

"Brandon Boyd’s wide-ranging metaphysical interests have long given Incubus a deeper thematic subtext than many of their alt-rock peers, so it’s no wonder the band is approaching their 25th anniversary next year.

READ the article