Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Re "Pray for Pills"

While we're waiting for the thing on the purity tests, let me meander a moment.

In 2002, just as the Bush administration began to secretly torture people and employ "black sites" for prisons, and as, at the same time, the Pentagon sought permission from the Justice Department to begin to torture at Guantanamo Bay, and as it became very clear that such things were happening and that they were going to try to start an unprovoked war against Iraq, the mood in New York City's hedonistic areas was tense. Down in the Bowery, the stenciled motto I saw spray painted over and over, though, was "Pray for Pills."

Hardy-har-har, most people thought.

"This is no time for juvenile puns," my friend said, more or less. She was right.

I was fascinated by the secondary meaning, though, and the irony. I was interested in how the graffiti painter's attitude was unclear and unstable. The message itself was disposable -- a taunt typical of the punks (this was the Bowery, after all), where one attempts to puncture all sanctimony, including sanctity, and no good reason is necessary. The vehicle of the taunt, though... that was interesting. And then there is the question of exactly how much of a taunt it is, and who is being taunted. Pray for "pills" gives us "peace/pills" in tension and interchange: that is interesting.

The old "generation gap" of the 1960's, which was the most tiresome trope in journalism, theoretically went away when the Baby Boom became the journalist. (The term was nothing more than a way of saying that children occupy different horizons of expectations from the parents, which must inevitably be true, even if the generation is 1310-1330 AD.) It was tiresome for triteness, but it was noisome for taking itself seriously. "Help! I don't understand my teenager" is the subject of a never ending fascination of publishers, but the fools had the gall to present this one as if it were a once in eternity phenomenon.

The fact that the delinquent teens would make babies that would result in a second boom that would have a gap was presumed minor, and when the day came it was greeted as a marketing opportunity. The boomlet was my generation. The echo boom was the punks. (And they got to express their exasperation with "generation gaps" and "togetherness" and the pomposity of changing the world by using their only available tool: withering irony instead of manifestos. A great expression of the rage here.) After America stopped talking about "generation gaps," it adopted Douglas Couplan's foolish "generation integer" stuff, and all of that was marketing. Pepsi and Doritos and Budweiser sought out the characteristics of the generation to sell it product, not to communicate with it or educate it or reconcile it. In fact, the "generation integer" transition to marketing meant that firms wanted to exaggerate differences between parent and child so as to innovate product lines. There was money in making a generation gap, and it was annoying to both the marketing directors and the youngsters when the elders refused to play along and were early adopters.

Imagine, then, my surprise at encountering a silent generation gap when it comes to pills and peace. The graffitist is young, without a doubt, and her or his writing shows it.

"Pray for pills" can put "pill" in a linguistic interchange with "peace" and suggest either that the author wishes nothing, nationally, but only a personal high obtained from dope, or that national peace and medication are related, if not causal, or that pills will be the savior that we pray to and for. In any resolution of this irony, the author betrays the idea that the pill is greater than the individual will. In fact, for the author, it's assumed. If the author is being satirical, instead of merely ironic, the point to the satire is aimed precisely at the substitution of "pill" for "will" or "God" as the agent by which hope may be sought in time of distress.

I had the misery of being a good bit ahead of the nation in questioning what is now an accepted trope ("medicalization of mood"). Back in 1991, before Prozac Nation's self-indulgent and unenlightening novel made investigative and timid pieces possible, and before those lead to more thoroughly investigative and enlightening pieces, I held out the question, and anyone who is honest keeps it as a question, of whether the human brain's manifestations of mood (chemical production) are synonymous with its causes of mood? If not, is preventing the manifestation of mood tantamount to a treatment of the cause?

Suppose that substance Q is in the brain of people at rest. Does it make placid feelings? If a person is too tranquil, and we prevent the production of Q, are we treating the somnolence, or are we preventing the expression of the disease state? Either way, are we not effectively ceasing to ask anymore about the cause and therefore leaving it to heal, worsen, or remain without medical intervention?

In fact, are we not preventing any awareness of it? By effectively disrupting the evidence of cause, by putting a lid on the box, are we not preventing, quite effectively, any access to the box's contents? Obviously, the manic whose mania is suppressed is unlikely to think about the cause of the mania, but, additionally, are we not also making it difficult or impossible to even ask what the reason is, if symptoms are interrupted so fully as to have no access point?

To put it another way, isn't it identical to invading Iraq? It looks like there's a problem, but asking whether the problem is the man or the system or the neighborhood or the objectives of the man is time consuming. If you're a "CEO-president," you're impatient with long explanations. Besides, you decide that your oath of office is not to the Constitution of the United States, as every other president's had been, but "to keep Americans safe," and so you want to fix the problem. Therefore, you decide that, although you don't know the causes, you don't care. You know the symptom, and you have a weapon. Once you invade, you invade, but you are then there, and now you have to figure out the things you considered time consuming before invading, or else you have to just plain stay there, without an exit strategy.

I say that I had the misery of it, because I paid the price in ridicule for questioning the wisdom of doctors without being one. After all, the pharmacology could not be susceptible to logic. Logic must not be applied in these cases, for the market knows best.

Now, though, what I thought is thought by many, but most of the many have gone to conclusions. They are for or against medicating mood. They are certain that it's good or bad. I am still not. For me, it's still a question. I do not know whether medicating psychological, rather than psychiatric, complaints is wise or not. I suspect that it is done too frequently. I am sure that it is done unsafely, but the central question of cause is still open for me. The brain is far too complex for my analysis, and the mind is vaster still.

What is curious, though, is what all the commercials for Zoloft, Alli, and Viagra have done to one generation of Americans and what they haven't done to another. These commercials, and the doctors who are victims of the cutty sarks and firm featured suits the commercials send to their offices, have created a whole generation that has grown up with a complete assumption that pills are more powerful than will. You see, a previous generation believed that "no pill can make me do something" or feared that "any pill that changes my mood has raped my soul." This attitude toward medication that affected the mind was profound. There was a baseline hatred and fear of the concept that any pill could make a person, could force a person, could interfere with the most intimate, inward self. Therefore, the person believed that such medications could always secretly be fought, secret-agent-tied-to-a-chair style (the character of Morpheus in "Matrix"), or that any thing that did this was going to shatter the person and make suicide or mercy killing the only virtuous act.

I grew up sickly. I was in the hospital a good portion of my life before adolescence, and I had been subjected to narcotics before I saw the drug fear films of the 1970's. I was afraid of "smack" and "H" and "horse" and the rest for their ability to instantly transform the polite human into the depraved slave, but I didn't know that I had, in fact, been on those drugs in their polite forms on several occasions. When I realized that what the world was afraid of was the same thing, the idea that a drug could be fought off or that it would break the self was impossible to hold in the mind. I was well aware that they could be "fought off" and that, even when they were not, they never touched the inward self.

Attitudes we see now toward depression, bipolar, erectile dysfunction, mania, PMDD, fibromyalgia, etc. are all reflective of this underlying question. The people who speak aloud of their mood and mood affecting disorders are of the generation or paradigm that accepts the pill as above the individual will. Those of us who are, either by birth or marketing or suffering, also, though, accept that the pill is temporary, that it is not, in fact, a breaking of the self or fixing of the self (the honorable obverse of the pill as psychic pollutant, as psychological rapist). This is why we can come up with taunting, teasing, slogans like "pray for pills." The very same joke is no joke to some large segment of America. Those of the other mental generation hear all of these things with shame and shock. For them, each one is an admission of weakness, of lack of integrity. The need for the pill should be countered with a muscularity, a fight, for any pill is a loss of virginal honor.


Clyde Penquin said...

There's an article in the Raleigh N&O this morning (Monday) abt 'purity pledges' among hillbilly youth, might be worth a look as you work up that piece. It's probably syndicated, I only glanced at it. I'm sure it's on the web somewhere.

The Geogre said...

You know, I finally did the piece, but, because of the chronological nature of this blog thingie, it showed up below the others. It's called "De Da Dum."

I'm already itching to write about why this is the laziest generation in history, though.