December 3, 2008

Marketing Prescription Drugs, American-Style

by Camila Perez Gabilondo

Advertisement is different in every country and a powerful force in today's society. A particular type of advertisement struck me the most after moving to the U.S. and consuming American television, newspapers and magazines. In my mind, medicine was never before trying to break its way into the consumer's mind in such an aggressive way, but in this country, prescription medicine is sold to us every day through the media as if it were a new kind of soda or a tasteful snack.

The array of prescription drugs with dangerous side effects that we are urged to consume day by day when getting our news or watching our favorite show is abundant and diverse. From sleeping pills and birth control to cervical cancer immunization, medical treatments which must be recommended and prescribed by a doctor are directly advertised to the consumer, as if we could make such decisions on our own.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is very common in the U.S. and audiences are therefore accustomed to making important decisions about their health on their own, which some argue leads to an abuse of prescriptions drugs and a preference for expensive treatments, which, of course, benefits drug companies. Drugs are advertised as if they were as soft a remedy as Vic's vapor rub when they are indeed medical treatments that should not be administered without the control of a doctor.

The dangerous risks of these drugs have to be mentioned in advertisements, but this is done in a way that barely leaves an impression on the consumer: the possibility of suffering from such conditions as blood clots and heart attacks is briefly narrated at the end of the commercial in a light-hearted way. However, for a viewer who is not used to this, such as me, the side effects are what resonates the most and what deters me from paying attention to the product.

This leads us to wonder whether the American audience is subject to danger from the media. The success of these products shows that perhaps the audience is too gullible. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these kinds of commercials, but it may not be enough. In a January 2003 survey report, the FDA estimated that 88 percent of patients who ask their doctors for a prescription drug by brand name don't actually have the symptoms that the drug treats. With more and more products out on the market and more money invested by drug companies in commercials, this number could go down. Therefore, the far-reaching power of advertisement should be controlled when it comes to such a serious matter as the consumer's health.

(Photo by Adamos Maximus of Mesa, AZ via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see a satire from Saturday Night Live about such ads, especially those dealing with birth control, please check the video below.)

Add to Technorati Favorites


December 2, 2008

Are Girl Talk's Sonic Mash-ups Illegal Music?

by Ali Golomb

One could ask, if the artist did not compose the lyrics or the beat, then how could it be considered their song? Girl Talk, the stage name for Gregg Gillis, makes this question a great deal more complicated to answer. Now on his third album, Night Ripper (originally released in 2006), Girl Talk compiles tracks on top of each other to create a new song. Pitchfork, an online music review site, talks about Girl Talk's way of trying to guess which song is next:
"Smash Your Head" glides into the siren keyboards of Lil Wayne's "Fireman" less than a minute in, then abruptly shifts into the crushingly dense riffs of Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice" while Young Jeezy spits the familiar flames of "Soul Survivor," before it all tumbles into a Pharcyde-Elton John-Biggie somersault.

Many people think this is an illegal form of art, but I believe otherwise. Yes, Girl Talk is taking parts of songs from other artists, but he is engineering them in a specific way that is different from the artist's original intent. With the digital age, this is our generation's genre of music. It is still every bit as creative and innovative as the music of past generations, but its innovation lies with reconfiguring of past works rather than composing completely new lyrics or beats. While many artists' songs take inspiration from other artists; Girl Talk's inspiration is just more apparent.

(The photo of Gregg Gillis/Girl Talk is from the Wired Rave Awards in San Francisco in 2007; the photo is by matthew.hickey via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see a mash-up video inspired by Girl Talk's "Overtime," please check below.)

Add to Technorati Favorites


December 1, 2008

Milk Quenches Thirst for Social Commentary

by Jordan Coughenour

An epic portrayal of the man who first embodied the word "hope," Director Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk, following the late Castro Street politician who became the first openly gay man ever elected to public office, is easily one of the most socially important and impactful films to arise out of Hollywood studios in recent years, and an undeniable contender for multiple Oscar nominations this season. Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester) seems to have finally learned the essential skill of relinquishing complete control as a director, leading several of Milk's actors to execute masterfully unhindered performances, resulting in an engaging character study framed by the suddenly newly relevant gay civil rights movement in late 1970's San Francisco.

Milk's release date (although the film debuted in San Francisco on Oct. 28, before the fall elections, it did not go into limited national release until Nov. 26) tragically prevented the film from affecting the recent passing of California's Proposition 8. (For more on Prop. 8 please see: "California's Proposition 8 TV Ads" and "Proposition 8: Where's the Outrage?") That ballot initiative banned gay marriage in California. Moving in parallel, much of the movie deals with Harvey Milk's organization of protests against 1977's Proposition 6 in California, which would have fired homosexuals from teaching in the public school system. The film is one of the most effective framings of a social movement ever crafted; with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black working in an artful balance between historical fact, yet leaving spacious breathing room for the audience to follow the personal struggles of those involved in the gay civil rights battle of the time. One of the strongest of these decisions comes with Van Sant's frequent use of vintage newsreel footage and photographs to overlap the staged action; notably choosing not to cast an actor as the religious anti-homosexual warrior Anita Bryant, but rather to confine her presence to actual television interviews, leaving apt room for the film's central cast members to play.

Frequently falling victim to bloated speeches and weepy plot lines, Sean Penn (All the King's Men, Mystic River) is at his strongest point in years as politician Milk. Penn delivers a vocally and physically nuanced performance worthy of serious Academy Award consideration. He joyfully captures the hope and fervor of Milk, acting without fear or imposition in his portrayal. Penn's finest moments are the quiet pauses between the rallies and addresses; where he shows Milk's constant battle between his love of operatic theatricality and inward soul searching in an oppressive world. Neither Penn nor Van Sant ever shies away from the uniquely sexual lifestyle of Milk and those around him. From the first moments, as the film begins on the eve of Milk's 40th birthday and primary encounter of lifelong love, Scott Smith, viewers can expect to be invaded by a barrage of sensual portrayals, none lacking in psychological connotation or amorous necessity. These men who revolved around Harvey throughout his life make for a notable supporting cast to Penn throughout the film. James Franco as Scott Smith shows fluidity and able passion in a performance as Milk's sensual yet wary boyfriend, acting as something of a guardian angel throughout the course of the movie. Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Speed Racer) is a peppy and energetic presence as the young activist Cleve Jones, who in the years after Milk's timeline concludes, went on to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Hirsch is completely unhinged and nearly lunatic in his portrayal. In many of the movie's darker moments, Hirsch is a continuous shock of lightning, pertaining well to one of the actual Milk's frequent calls to, "Never blend in." One of Milk's more notable strengths lies in Josh Brolin (W., No Country For Old Men). Brolin plays City Supervisor Dan White, the eventual assassin of Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. In making the wise decision to not leave White to the sidelines as a shadowy harbinger of death, Van Sant grants the audience a delicate view into the gradual formation of a bigot. Brolin's carefully constructed progression as a character should reap some possible benefits for Brolin come Oscar nomination time too. Though the basic subject matter of the film itself demands a liberal viewpoint, Van Sant uses White's arc to give the other side of the issue its due course of argumentation. It's nearly as much of a shock to a truly engaged audience member as it is to Milk himself when White does eventually pull a trigger on Moscone, igniting one of the country's most heart wrenching double homicides.

Given Harvey Milk's constant search for a stage and enough theatricality to keep the world enraptured, it's of considerable notation that Milk's core manages to be so subtle and pure. Past the grand narrative of a social movement, lies the heart of both the issue itself, as well as the basic grappling with humanity that ensures no matter what legal jurisdiction ensues, all men are still created equal. It's the intimate moments, such as when Milk and Smith enjoy a candlelight dinner with the pressure of political duty pervading the air, or when the previously aimless wanderer, Jones is handed his first bullhorn and enlisted to active duty just prior to Milk's death, ringing true to his signature speech-starter "My name is Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you." You'll have a hard time walking out of the theatre without the need to pick up a picket sign and head into the streets yourself. Milk is, overall, a powerful testament that though over three decades have passed, the continuous struggle for equality continues in the gay community to this day.

(Editor's Note: This piece is also cross-posted on the iVoryTowerz blog.)

(Milk goes into full nationwide release in the U.S. on Dec. 5. The film is rated R. The promotional film poster is from Focus Features. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

Add to Technorati Favorites