Tag Archives: pop culture

Why do we feel bad about the way we look?

Laurie Essig’s new book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfection, includes a chapter on how we learn to want cosmetic surgery. She quotes Joan Rivers, from her book Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery:

My abiding life philosophy is plain: In our appearance-centric society, beauty is a huge factor in everyone’s professional and emotional success—for good or ill, it’s the way things are; accept it or go live under a rock.

Heidi Montag cultural texts promoting cosmetic surgery

Essig comments:

But Rivers is a TV star. TV and movie stars have always utilized the miracles of cosmetic surgery to look good in the two-dimensional spaces they inhabit. How did the rest of us learn to desire a perfectly plastic body? How did ordinary women and men with ordinary lives and ordinary bodies learn that they need plastic? The answer: the plastic ideological complex, a set of cultural texts that are both highly contested and yet tightly on message. It is itself so ubiquitous that it might even be described as hegemonic. In other words, the “need” for cosmetic procedures is impossible to avoid. Through advertising and TV shows, movies and magazines, we learn to want cosmetic intervention in our aging faces and imperfect bodies. This need is now so firmly implanted in our cultural psyche that it has become “common sense” to embrace cosmetic procedures. Why wouldn’t we want to look more beautiful, younger, thinner, more feminine, better? The question is no longer will you have plastic surgery, but when.

Accept plastic beauty or go live under a rock. Rivers isn’t just joking; she’s also doing the serious work of enacting the ideology of plastic, an ideology that we can no longer avoid. Even if we did live under a rock, whenever we crawled out from underneath it, we would be assaulted by images of perfectly plastic beauty on billboards and the sides of buses and on TV and in movies and even the nightly news. And then there are those damn magazine racks, an unavoidable gauntlet of Dos! and Don’ts! that must be passed through each and every time we buy our food.

A conspiracy of capital to make us feel bad

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Valentine's Day: Free hugs for heart health

February has been American Heart Month since 1963, and it’s surely no coincidence that February features Valentine’s Day. For the American Heart Association, it’s a month devoted to increasing public awareness of heart health and raising money.
In support of such a good cause, a gentleman from Ohio (Jeff Ondash) raised money for heart health by giving away free hugs outside a Las Vegas casino. After 7,777 hugs in 24 hours, he had surpassed the previous Guinness record of 5,000. Mr. Ondash, who is 51, was motivated by the memory of his father and brother, who died prematurely of heart problems.

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Daily Dose: Climate change: How bad can it get; FDR's death; Yawns; Facebook

Penguins fight back on climate change

Source: Sacramento for Democracy

Climate change

Copenhagen climate summit: Five possible scenarios for our future climate (The Guardian)
Concise summary of what we can expect for each increase of one degree Celcius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in global temperature. Here are a few of the health implications.
1C: “Most of the world’s corals will die, including the Great Barrier Reef. Glaciers that provide crops for 50m people with fresh water begin to melt and 300,000 people are affected every year by climate-related diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea.”
2C: “The heatwaves seen in Europe during 2003, which killed tens of thousands of people, will come back every year. … More than 60 million people, mainly in Africa, would be exposed to higher rates of malaria. Agricultural yields around the world will drop and half a billion people will be at greater risk of starvation. … Glaciers all over the world will recede, reducing the fresh water supply for major cities including Los Angeles.”

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Daily Dose: Celebrity health; Livestock antibiotics; Transplants

The body as machine

Female robot companion

Source: The Daily Mail

Inventor spends Christmas with his perfect woman – a £30,000 custom-made fembot (The Daily Mail)
“Inventor Le Trung spent Christmas Day with the most important woman in his life – his robot Aiko. … Her touch sensitive body knows the difference between being stroked gently or tickled. … ‘Aiko is always helpful and never complains. She is the perfect woman to have around at Christmas.’ ”

Celebrity health advice

Celebrity markerting of pharmaceuticals

Source: PLoS Medicine

Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice? (USA Today)
“Many doctors say they’re troubled by stars who cross the line from sharing their stories to championing questionable or even dangerous medical advice. … Actress Suzanne Somers– already well-known for her diet books and ThighMaster products — in October released her 18th book, Knockout, which experts describe as a catalogue of unproven or long-debunked alternative cancer ‘cures.’ … [Celebrities] ‘can spread misinformation much faster than the average person with a wacky theory. … Correcting that misinformation — even with a mountain of evidence — can be a challenge. … ‘It’s much easier to scare people than to unscare them.’ ”

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Dementia, denial, and high school football

The National Football League (NFL) commissioned a survey on the incidence of dementia and other memory-related diseases among its retired players. The results that came back showed early-onset dementia occurring “vastly more often” compared to the national population. The NLF dismissed the study as unreliable.

The data comes from the 88 Plan, a financial assistance plan for retired players with dementia. Confidential data from the plan indicates that the rate of dementia among football retirees is several times higher than the general population. The rate may actually be much higher than the data indicate, however, since many retirees are reluctant to admit they have a problem. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admits that the 88 Plan data underestimates the problem.
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Is football the moral equivalent of dogfighting?

Malcom Gladwell (of Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point fame) has an article in the New Yorker called “Offensive Play.” The subtitle is “How different are dogfighting and football?”
In dogfighting, the dogs are injured and suffer permanent damage. It’s becoming clear that the same is true for professional football players.
The damage Gladwell talks about is not the typical and obvious athletic injuries — sprains, dislocations, broken bones, and an arthritic old age. He’s talking about what happens when the brain is subjected to repeated traumas – high speed collisions with massive bodies. Gladwell estimates that linemen are hit in the head 1000 times in a single season. Over the course of a career, that could add up to 8000 blows.

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A doctor assesses Michael Jackson’s cause of death

Since shortly after Michael Jackson’s death, the powerful anesthetic propofol has been suspected as the cause of death. Details of Jackson’s final hours were released today by the Los Angeles coroner’s office. Although the final injection of propofol may have been the immediate cause of death, it’s only one small part of the larger and tragic picture.

There are good accounts of Jackson’s final hours in the Los Angeles Times and at CNN.

The sequence was as follows:
10 mg of Valium at about 1:30 AM
2 mg Ativan (an anti-anxiety drug) at about 2 AM
2 mg Versed (a sedative) at about 3 AM
An additional 2 mg of Ativan at about 5 AM
An additional 2 mg of Versed at about 7:30 AM
Jackson still could not sleep and pleaded for the anesthetic propofol.
25 mg of propofol at about 10:40 AM.

Dr. Kevin Pho provides an analysis from a medical perspective.
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Health Culture Daily Dose #17

Additional stories related to health. Categories include: More articles on Health Care Reform, History of Medicine, Medical Journalism, Medical Technology, Medical News, Pharmaceuticals, Pop Culture, Social Media and the Internet, and The So-Called Obesity “Epidemic.”


A ‘Common Sense’ American Health Reform Plan (The New York Times – Uwe Reinhardt)
After studying this nation’s perpetual “national conversation” on health reform for over three decades now, I am firmly convinced that any health reform that is the product of logical cerebral processes automatically misjudges what Americans appear to see as “simple common sense” in health care.
The Experts vs. The Public on Health Reform (Kaiser Family Foundation)
In repeated Kaiser polls, we see a divide between what experts believe and what the public believes about some of the key issues in health reform. There is a wide gulf on basic beliefs about what is behind the problems in the health care system and key elements of reform.

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‘Mad Men,’ the sixties and the culture war over health carepolitics

John Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men

Source: The Insider

The current emotional polarization around health care reform is not so much about specific issues – rising medical costs, reprehensible insurance industry practices, the number of uninsured. It reflects a deep division in American culture that began in the sixties.

Forty years after Woodstock, it’s clear that a major shift happened in that decade, politically, socially and psychologically. Despite the communal love fest, Americans had begun “bowling alone.” Crime rates started to rise, as did divorce rates. Quite suddenly, in 1965, a vast majority of people stopped identifying themselves as Democrats or Republicans and became Independents.
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Health Culture Daily Dose #15

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(A public option plan emerges from HELP committee; Arguments for the public option from the Urban Institute; Obama stands Harry & Louise on their heads)

Health news
(Should Steve Jobs use his celebrity status for pancreatic cancer awareness and funding?)

Industrialized agriculture
(Labeling organic food: What can you believe?; Food, Inc. available in more theaters)

Health care reform

  • The latest health care reform proposal to emerge from the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee includes a public option. The plan is called the Community Health Insurance Option (CHIO). Here’s a one-page summary (PDF) of details from the website of Senator Chris Dodd.

The CHIO would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. It would follow the same rules that apply to private, for-profit insurance companies. Rates would be no more than local average private rates, but could be less. Doctor and other health care provider participation is optional. Physicians had been concerned that they would be required to participate. Now that this is clear, we’ll soon see if the medical profession gets behind this plan.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #14

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(Kennedy-Dodd committee proposal released)

Health news
(Is Tylenol (acetaminophen) safe to take every day?)

(Doctors lack training in care of the elderly)

Pop culture
(Michael Jackson and Diprivan (propofol), Jackson’s weight, Jackson’s doctor)

Health care reform

  • The Senate health committee proposal on health care has been released. Turns out all that fuss over the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report was for nothing, as could have been predicted. The CBO’s report was based on a very incomplete proposal. This roller coaster reporting on health care reform will continue throughout July. Congress would like to wrap things up before their August recess.

There are lots of stories today on the Kennedy-Dodd plan just released. This one from Bloomberg has lots of details. The cost is now $600 billion, not over a trillion. 20 million or 3 percent of Americans would not be covered by health insurance. The previous estimate had been over 30 percent. On the issue of the insurance industry raising premiums for those who become ill:

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Happy New Year

I love music and hope to write more about the relation between music and health in 2009. In the meantime, here’s the video Playing for Change.

The Playing for Change Foundation provides resources to musicians and their communities around the world and is dedicated to achieving peace through music.
May 2009 bring you health, contentment, and abundance.


Happy Holidays!

A few holiday gifts to share.
Here’s one of my favorite YouTube videos, Free Hugs. It’s 3:39 minutes, the length of the Sick Puppies song, All the Same.

This one, Free Parking, has a theme similar to Free Hugs, but it’s by filmmaker Kurt Kuenne and is quite a bit longer, 16:23. Watch the beginning and see if you want to continue. It has a (minimal) plot.

Here’s a description of Appreciative Inquiry, an organization development practice related to the message of Free Parking:

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Direct-to-consumer: The ads we love to hate

Last week the CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals had some candid comments on direct-to-consumer advertising:

Direct-to-consumer promotion [of drugs] was the single worst decision for the industry. … When industry says we’re spending all the money on R&D but actually it’s spending it on TV advertising to preserve margins, it doesn’t get much credibility.

William Burns went on to say the “marginally different and market-it-like-hell model [of prescription drugs] is over.”
Who besides the pharmaceutical industry thinks direct-to-consumer DTC advertising is a good idea? Doctors object to patients who self-diagnose and then insist they know just what the doctor should order.

So what happens is they come into the office, and they’ll say: ‘I need a certain drug.’ And a lot of times we’ll spend more time either negating the diagnosis that they’ve made just by the commercial, in addition to explaining why that certain medication is not appropriate for the following reasons.

The public actually sees some advantages to DTC ads. They educate, raise awareness and reduce stigma (think Viagra). But the public also understands that these ads raise prescription drug prices, stimulate unnecessary demand, and do a poor job of explaining the negative side effects.
Personally I think it’s one thing for an ad to sweet-talk me into buying a Lexus, but when it comes to my health, someone – the FTC perhaps? – should just say no. DTC ads are only allowed in the US and New Zealand. There’s a good reason.

Osteoporosis and the flying nun

Sally Fields as The Flying Nun

Burns’ company Roche sells the once-a-month osteoporosis drug Boniva, whose spokeswoman is Sally Fields. For Fields, promoting Boniva is part of her feminist cause:

I want to help change the way women live as they age. We have fought so hard in our lives for things to be better, not to accept the status quo. We surely can’t stop now that we are entering this next part of our lives

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Ich Habe Genug on Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m feeling ‘Ich habe genug’ (I have enough). I’d like to share some poetry, music, and a film while continuing the ‘death’ theme of my last blog post.

First the film, Wit, starring Emma Thompson and directed by Mike Nichols. It’s the story of Vivian, a woman with ovarian cancer who spends the end of her life in a hospital. Talk about aggressive treatment of the terminally ill. She’s basically a guinea pig for an experimental drug that has no chance of saving her life. The young doctor who oversees her treatment will get a publication out of the case. He’s a resident planning a career in research and has no interest in ever seeing patients again. He’s only there because it’s one of the requirements on the road to becoming an MD

Wit is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Very minimal. Lots of monologue. Vivian was a professor of English literature and quotes the metaphysical poet John Donne (of “Death be not proud” fame) throughout the film. The contrast between the poetry and the setting is beautifully done. Donne had much to say about death, but he lived in an era when death had a different meaning. Or more precisely, when death had a meaning.

Sounds a bit gloomy, I know, but it’s an excellent film. Watch it with a friend, if you can. It’s very thought provoking. This is exactly the way we don’t want to die. The more we’re aware of what we don’t want, the more we’ll be motivated to change the way things are.

Next, a poem by Jacques Prevert, “Pater Noster.” The poem received some publicity when Meadow Soprano read the first few lines to her Level 1 ICU-docked Dad: “Our father, which art in heaven, stay there. And we shall stay on earth, which is sometimes so pretty.”

Here is the French version. And here’s an English translation.


Philip Larkin’s poem “The Building” is about a hospital. Here’s the complete poem, and here are the last few lines:

All know they are going to die.
Not yet, perhaps not here, but in the end,
And somewhere like this. That is what it means,
This clean-sliced cliff; a struggle to transcend
The thought of dying, for unless its powers
Outbuild cathedrals nothing contravenes
The coming dark, though crowds each evening try

With wasteful, weak, propitiatory flowers.

I’ve been partial to Larkin ever since I read “This be the verse” at an impressionable age.

And continuing the theme of Genug, here’s the Bach Cantata, “Ich habe genug”.

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EBM provider Bazian uses Scrubs to make a point

A few more things about Bazian, the company that provides the evidence-based medicine (EBM) analysis used by Behind the Headlines. (Bazian, BTW, is named after the 18th century mathematician Thomas Bayes, as in Bayesian probability.) Those who work at Bazian call themselves evidologists. “Evidology aggregates, filters and synthesizes the entire universe of research about a given question into one odds-based answer.” Hmmm. Well at least they’re the first to admit this sounds grandiose. But they insist it’s not: “If you’re not using evidology then necessarily you are basing decisions on opinion or individual studies, and these routinely turn out to have been wrong.”
Bazian has a colorful, casual, good-natured presentation on their website about EBM and what the company does. (See Sources below.) There’s even a slide of Doctors Kelso and Cox from Scrubs.

Scrubs doctors

Ahh yes, the change in the doctor/patient relationship. That’s a subject for numerous future posts.


Are Americans naive about medicine?

There was a follow-up letter to “The Last Well Person” (see previous post) from a doctor in Spain. He pointed out that the “extinction of well people” was anticipated in the 1920s by the French comedy, Knock, by Jules Romains. Dr. Knock purchased the unprofitable practice of a country physician and proceeded to diagnose everyone in the village with an illness. He prescribed cures commensurate with the patient’s income. (This is really quite considerate compared to the reality of bankruptcy caused by medical costs in the US.)

Just as Dr. Meador used the quotation “A well person is a patient who has not been completely worked up,” Dr. Knock was known to say “The healthy are ill people who are unaware they are ill.” Meador’s response to the letter mentions further explanations for the “The Last Well Person” phenomenon: insurance coverage that requires a specific diagnosis even when there is none, disability insurance, worker’s compensation, Medicare, and television advertisements.
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"I" Is for Innocent: Health obsession in fiction

i-is-for-innocentThe rise of the health culture in the seventies and eighties was not gradual and imperceptible. It was abrupt and noticeable. Many commentators – journalists, doctors, sociologists – tried to understand its significance and implications. Here’s an example of how preoccupation with health made its way into fiction, from a Sue Grafton mystery published in 1992.

Kinsey Milhone’s dapper, 83-year-old neighbor, Henry, is a featured character in many Sue Grafton mysteries. In ‘I’ Is for Innocent, Henry’s brother William comes to visit. Over drinks at Rosie’s, Henry complains to Kinsey about his brother’s preoccupation with his health:

His health regimen occupied our entire day. Every hour on the hour, he takes a pill or drinks a glass of water . . . flushing his system out. He does yoga to relax. He does calisthenics to wake up. He takes his blood pressure twice a day. He uses little strip tests to check his urine for glucose and protein. He keeps up a running account of all his body functions. Every minor itch and pain. If his stomach gurgles, it’s a symptom. If he breaks wind, he issues a bulletin. Like I didn’t notice already.

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My personal odyssey through the health culture

When I taught at City University of New York in the seventies, I had a student who used to tell me not to eat chicken. I don’t recall the specifics, except that it wasn’t about cruelty to animals. It had to do with what chickens were fed (probably antibiotics and hormones) and what we consequently ended up eating ourselves. I didn’t stop eating chicken at the time, but I find it curious that I still remember the intensity of that student’s convictions. In retrospect, I think it was one of those “something’s happening here” moments, when you know something important is going on, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Read more