“Valium’s Contribution to the New Normal,” an opinion piece in the New York Times this week by longtime health writer Robin Marantz Henig, reviewed the public’s embrace of new expectations for mental equilibrium following the intensive marketing of Valium that began in 1963. Stories of celebrity addiction and death due to drug-alcohol interactions barely slowed the quest to “feel more like yourself,” an oxymoronic attainment, as the author admits. In case the public needed further encouragement, Henig helpfully pointed out that “we” are now more likely to turn to Xanax than Valium when “we” are “feeling out of sorts.”
What struck me as forcefully as the author’s bland acceptance of a pharmaceutical-soaked public was the opinion piece’s illustration – the 3 faces of woman: violently upset, substantially upset, and serene as a summer’s day. Really? Does the teeth-clenched, eyes staring, sweaty-browed woman represent how we would feel without drugs? And is Miss Serenity Incarnate how we feel with them? The caricatures are wrong on both counts.
Selling sickness occurs as much by exaggerating the stresses and challenges of everyday life as by hyping the harmless magic bullet solutions offered by Big Pharma and pill culture. We’ll take a look at all this next February.