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Giant Floating Purple Pills

By Mark Morford

Cut to picture of healthy-looking yuppie guy emerging from swimming pool and smiling.

Cut to picture of mother twirling her child in the park in slo-mo.

Cut to picture of woman taking deep whiffs of fresh-cut lilies at the florist and grinning warmly as if the world was one big gob of perky happy fluffy bunny joy.

Yay. Drugs. Yay.

Celebrex can make you feel like you again. Celebrex is a revolutionary new breakthrough in medicine technology. Celebrex is not for everyone. Ask your doctor if Celebrex is right for you.

Side effects may include nausea diarrhea anxiety sleeplessness headaches projectile vomiting genital warts narcolepsy halitosis bed-wetting nightmares and the mad uncontrollable desire to smash your head into a brick wall over and over again until you stop screaming.

If you are absolutely certain nothing is wrong with you and you feel fine and hence you do not need Celebrex, this is actually the first troubling sign that Celebrex is exactly what you need. Contact your doctor immediately, if not sooner.

If you are right now watching this TV commercial for Celebrex and have no idea what the hell Celebrex is (because we don't ever actually tell you what the hell it is) and, hence, if you feel the pharmaceutical industry is this freakish mega-powerful mind-control cult fully bent on convincing as much of the human population as possible that wildly expensive prescription meds are the answer to all their problems, this, too, means you should take our medication, pronto.

And if you go so far as to dare to think that maybe, just maybe, alternative medicine or homeopathy or just becoming much, much more aware of your life and what you eat and how you live might, in fact, negate the need for a great many of the drugs we manufacture, and if you believe that we might actually invent bogus ailments and drill a fear of them into the cultural consciousness, all in order to supply you with the narcotics to treat them, well, have we got a nice pill for you.

Sound familiar? It should. It was in 1997 that the FDA finally loosened the rules on DTCA (direct-to-consumer advertising), finally let them loose upon the unsuspecting and completely unprepared populace, and thus were major pharmaceutical companies given the right to advertise like savage and shameless maniacs on national television.

And they were allowed to hawk extremely expensive and often toxic drugs designed to relieve you of various debilitating ailments, but not even really tell you what those products actually do, or why, or how much they cost, or anything at all except for a quick charming listing of possible side effects, each of which seems to involve some sort of stomach recoil and skin eruption and painful bowel shift.

But there was a study. There is always a study. By the Kaiser Family Foundation. A couple years ago. It said that one in eight people who saw a drug commercial on TV did, in fact, ask their doctor about it, and 44 percent of those actually got themselves a prescription for that drug.

Sadly enough, drug ads work. In 1997, pharmcos spent $791 million on TV ads. Today that figure is well over $3 billion. This is why you can't turn on the TV without seeing some inexplicable commercial for some bizarre-sounding drug that features as its active ingredient siflintrate oxygtoralnyzincotim but which they call Happium or maybe Numbium. Drugs have become just another everyday consumer good, like Campbell's soup or Windex or a new Toyota Camry.

A swarm of giant purple pills gently fall from the azure sky, rotating slowly as they fall, like a rain of Skittles, like manna from the gods of Merck. A well-drugged housewife happily bakes cookies with her children as a bird sings on the windowsill. Happy narcotized citizens of America go about their business, usually in slow motion, always grinning calmly, the colors of the world oversaturated and utopian and creepy.

Lipitor. Nexium. Singulair. Vioxx. Vanceril. Xenical. Zyrtec. Allegra. Avandia. Claritin. Zoloft. Ritalin. Valtrex. Viagra. Flonase. Prinivil. Meridia. Prilosec. Provocal. Ditropan. All on TV. All aimed straight at consumers. All sounding like a new model from Acura.

Many of these drugs are, of course, beneficial to a great many people, but every single one crosses over that modest boundary of limited need and is heavily overmarketed and overprescribed and wickedly expensive, its promised results misleading and even dangerous.

And many of these drugs are, in the long haul, quite likely more toxic and destructive to the mind and body than pot or cocaine or ecstasy. But, hey, as every major oil CEO and BushCo warmonger and Wal-Mart exec knows, education and common sense are the true enemies of profit.

Simply put, it is in the vested interest of every pharmco in the world to convince as many doctors as possible to prescribe their drugs, wining and dining them and sending them elaborate gifts and buying them hookers and booze and cars and lost weekends during ridiculously lavish weeklong drug symposiums at the Bellagio in Vegas. Hey, just ask any M.D. This happens far, far more than you think. And, by the way, you have not seen the very embodiment of slick smarm until you've met a professionally groomed and carefully hatched drug rep from a major pharmaceutical corporation. Beware.

But now, much to their overall sinister glee, pharmcos no longer have to market solely to doctors. And they can also pass right over your neighborhood pharmacist, the specialist who's actually specifically trained in this sort of thing, who actually knows more than almost any doctor about prescription meds and what chemical does what to whom and why.

After all, why try to convince the wary professionals and experts when you can market straight to the gullible and the trusting and the easily duped? America is sick sick sick, besotted by a hundred thousand ailments, each one more icky and ravaging than the last. This is what they are selling. This is the underlying message. This is why you need their drugs.

And this is why television is their ultimate medium, allowing them to convince as many consumers as possible that they must demand a prescription for that neat-o pretty purple pill they saw on TV because, as we all know, if it's on television, it must be good.

We have become a nation completely inured to seeing giant pretty pills floating across our TV screens like they were just another can of Cheez-Whiz. Hell, even the FDA says many of these ads are seriously misleading, and has issued numerous warning letters to countless pharmcos for intentionally lying to consumers about the efficacy of their chemicals.

No matter. Few are demanding any drastic change to the ads, as Bush-backed corporations have more power than they've had since the industrial revolution, and, hence, nuanced awareness of corporate calculation, of what is being sold to us — from war to jingoist ideology to the mountain of legal drugs we happily pump into our bodies — seems to be at an all-time low.

But it's OK. That sadness and bitterness and overall disgust you might feel about all this? That sense that you are losing control, that they have far too much power and reach and you have too few defenses and they will soon be marketing Ritalin and kiddie Prozac straight to your child during "Spongebob" commercial breaks? Fear not. Just relax. They have a pill for that, too.

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