Have you seen these fucking commercials? I’m talking about the “everyman” spots for the price-inflated heartburn/acid-reflux prescription-remedy Nexium, featuring more-pomo-than-thou camera angles and jumpcuts from a focus on a single gray-haired man who is very earnestly telling you that he feels your chest pain, that he tastes the acidic regurgitation in your mouth, that he is “just like you,” essentially, and paces confidently around an at least five-hundred times larger than life-size “purple pill,” called here the “new purple pill” (“new” meaning with some paper-thin yellow stripes around it) and arguably no different from the old purple pill, a drug called Prilosec that quite effectively treated the same symptoms.
The commercial is insidious, I think. Seeing it for the first time perhaps a month back as it interrupted my viewing of a now-forgotten NASCAR race, I exclaimed something so drunkenly apelike that my girlfriend forwent her work in the next room to run in and make sure everything was OK. I grunted and pointed to the tube, from which now spewed the continuation of the monologue of the gray-haired “everyman,” but now the audio was at ever-more-pomo-than-thou odds with the visual, which was of the same man, quite silent now, and in slow-motion walking toward the camera with one hand in his pocket and his eyes pinched to a slit and meaning I think to impart a measure of sincerity and dead-seriousness as the monologue now in voice-over–FROM THE VOICE OF THE SAME NOW-NOT-TALKING MAN ON THE SCREEN OTHERWORLDLY IN SLOW-MO LOOKING VERY SERIOUS AND COOL–hammered home the possible side effects of the drug, which included severe headaches and fucking diarrhea! A classic hoodwinking effect, I think, this fragmentation of audio and visual. I was so enraged I pounded on the coffee table and screamed “diarrhea!” at the top of my lungs and then doubled over with a debilitating laughter.
I laughed even more when I got to snooping around on the web and realized that the makers of Nexium, a pharmaceutical company by the name of AstraZeneca whom you’re more than likely well aware of, were also the makers of Prilosec, in 2001 (and still highly ranked in subsequent years) the hands down top-selling prescription worldwide. Class-action lawsuits were brought against AstraZeneca in November 2004 in California and in January of this year in Massachusetts by enraged consumers who alleged, with doctors to back them up, that AstraZeneca was up to false advertising in its offer of Nexium as a “better” heartburn/acid reflux reliever than Prilosec. The drugs are essentially carbon copies of each other, many doctors say, also noting that, by this time, Nexium is about seven times more expensive that Prilosec. The Pentagon, even, who spent assloads outfitting the proud and the brave with the latest in relief from the gas-inducing stresses of wartime, came out just last week with a statement saying they were dropping Nexium in favor of the now over-the-counter available Prilosec or its many generic versions.
I ask: Is it any wonder? You’ve seen the commercials, the jumpcuts, the fractured and distracting point-of-view, and though there is a place for such–consider Thomas Pynchon’s great fractured behemoth of a novel Gravity’s Rainbow–breaking into my viewing of Sunday afternoon motorsports to tout a drug that is by all accounts nothing more than a disreputable cash cow for a mammoth drug company is entirely out of line.
But it was also certain that, in the weeks following my outburst, I began to see the entirety of the television enterprise as equally misleading. The NASCAR broadcasts with their top-of-the-screen bars and split-screen effects, the news programs running the stock-market tickers, the sunbursting headlines on newsmagazines…with the exception of maybe Charlie Rose on public TV most everything was full of nothing, the box a veritable aesthete, full of sound and fury and highly complicated stylizations, signifying jack shit.
Speaking of which, my pal the high-energy Mr. Eric Graf, progenitor of the magazine and record label Terry Plumming and whom you may remember from such pieces as KING DIRT and my fave ONLY HEARD HERE I GOT THE DTS!, has proposed a 12-show episodic serial to be filmed in 12 weeks in the fall. I’m looking for a team of Chicago writers to attend the planning meetings (starting up in June and sure to be quite fun in and of themselves) and write stories that can be turned then into teleplays and etc etc. The concept is quality TV, no budget–Wing and Fly, essentially. I’m all for it.
And for now: stay away from NASCAR and hence chili dogs and fizzy drinks and prescription Nexium commercials, but if you must get near, tell your doc you’re on to the game, and get your money’s worth, I suppose…