Despite the differences in the chemical compositions of both “crack” and “heroin,” the two drugs were lumped roughly into the same category of users and dangers. They were advertised as unclean, not only health-wise, but morally too, and were associated with lower-classes, and often times, minorities.
In this paper, I will use the following to demonstrate the similar views on “crack” and “heroin”—David Courtwright and Herman Joseph’s novel Addicts Who Survived: An Oral History of Narcotic Use in America 1923-1965, Caroline Jean Acker’s article titled “How Crack Found A Niche in the Ghetto: The Historical Epidemiology of Drug-Related Harm,” David Herzberg’s “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” and Matthew Lassiter’s “Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs.”
Crack and heroin were both associated with a lower class of people. Crack was typically used in the cities, while cocaine was used more commonly in suburban areas and was more expensive, hence why it was associated with a higher class than crack was. The media often blasted crack as causing deformities in babies, classifying these babies as “Crack Babies.” However, no word of “Cocaine Babies” was uttered in the media, despite both cocaine and crack causing the same amount of harm to babies when they were developing in the wombs. Crack was associated with minorities, especially African Americans, and images of African American mothers with deformed babies would commonly be in the media to reinforce this association of a specific race with crack in the public’s mind. As seen in David Musto’s novel The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, there was also a rampant fear among whites of cocainized blacks, more so being African American men using crack, what one could call the poor man’s version of cocaine, and suddenly rampaging and assaulting the purity of white women, raping them, and getting retribution on white society. Keeping in mind this difference in class between crack and cocaine users, someone would have to have to five-hundred grams of powdered cocaine in order to get the same prison sentence as someone with just five grams of crack, as shown by Acker.
A juxtaposition of heroin and opium was made apparent in the readings, as well. Heroin was mainly found in minority neighborhoods within major port cities. Knowing that people looked down on those that used heroin instead of opium, Frieda, an eighty-one-year-old white woman addicted to narcotics, made a point of saying that she did not look down on those that used the needle—heroin—when she would smoke opium, the higher-class drug of sorts. In fact, she said she “never bothered with them” even, thinking that opium users were not like “the junkies in the street” using heroin (Courtwright and Joseph 82). In Herzberg’s “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” authorities saw users of heroin as “street-hustling urban junkies.” It appears that heroin was cheaper than opium, too, making sense as to why it was associated with a lower class of people. Drawing from Frieda’s story in Addicts Who Survived: An Oral History of Narcotic Use in America 1923-1965, opium became harder to afford compared to heroin in the 1930s. Just as cocaine was the “rich man’s drug” in the 1970s, opium, or as they refer to it in the reading— “hop” —was the “rich man’s drug” in the 1920s and a favorite of those “flush with cash” (Courtwright and Joseph 77). One can possibly see why heroin, since it was known to be easier to smuggle than opium, could be associated more with a lower form of criminal, dirtier, and more clandestine. According to Herzberg in “Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” people would increasingly identify with being an outsider and even an outlaw when smuggling heroin, as opposed to opium. It is important to realize that opium was not always associated with higher class people, in fact it was a prime target in federal narcotic legislation and was seen as dirty and deplorable, associated with Chinese people, until tides had changed when heroin entered the picture in the American drug world.
“Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs” reveals how former President Ronald Reagan and former First Wife Nancy Reagan framed both crack and heroin as the drugs killing the children of America, along with marijuana. With opium and morphine having the same chemical impact, morphine extract could be used to create heroin, similar to cocaine being transformed into crack.
Crack was associated with lower-classes, namely African Americans, and heroin was associated with lower-class people, as well, and minorities. One should keep in mind through this comparison of crack and heroin in these various pieces of literature that it appears whichever drug was used by minorities was the under-drug, to make a spin-off of the term under-dog.
The babymaker. The little blue pill. Bluey. The erector. A fallen’s angel. The gem of the medicine cabinet, having the appropriate shape of a diamond. Call it what you want, but at the end of the day it is the same cultural phenomenon packed into one little blue pill–Viagra. A few theories exist as to why men suffer from erectile dysfunction, ED for short. For a long period of time, up until the 1960s in fact, frigid women were thought to be the cause of erectile dysfunction–their disinterest in sex was believed to have dampened men’s sexual arousal and, thus, women were the ones to blame for men’s physical problems (Loe). However, the predominant theory among the medical community today is that erectile dysfunction is caused, simply, by physical changes to the male’s body. This theory is sound, but it only reflects the majority of the diagnosed community, while there are plenty of men getting Viagra on the blackmarket or by other means without a prescription that have no problems achieving and maintaining an erection. Viagra is not just a pill, but is made out to be the fountain of youth for a man, the cure for everything, the magical potion to become a sex god, and so on. With a belief that they will perform better by taking Viagra, men lurk on the web scouting it out, pick it up as a party favor, and take some from their friends. Men as young as 22-years-old take Viagra, often to offset side effects from other drugs like alcohol, crystal meth, and ecstasy and to boost more than just their anatomy (The Hays Daily News). The male ego is at the epicenter of Viagra. There are a few reasons as to why Viagra thrives in today’s American society–the prioritization of sex, the growing threats to men’s traditional roles in society, and a fear of growing older are just to name a few. The focus of this paper is to investigate how Viagra reflects the male ego in American society.
The Orgasmic Origins
Though there were products that helped combat erectile dysfunction before the invention of Viagra, they did not take off like Viagra did. Some of these methods included vacuum pumps, rhino horns, penis augmentation, penis rings, and so on (Loe; Castleman). Many felt that these prior methods were too invasive and that Viagra was not, despite the fact that Viagra might be one of the most invasive of all since this is a cultural artifact that is actually being ingested into one’s body and becoming part of that person’s chemistry.
Viagra was originally meant to control blood pressure, but during the trial period, scientists found something even more profitable–the supposed cure for impotence. After its approval in 1998 by the FDA in the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (an appropriate time as any to come out with a sex drug–needless to say, President Clinton was a strong advocate of the drug), doctors could not write enough prescriptions for patients. Never before had doctors seen so many alleged cases of erectile dysfunction. Entrepreneurs recognized Viagra for the money-maker it was and wasted no time capitalizing on this. The pill was so desired that a Yugoslavian pizzeria had a $50 pizza and Viagra combo deal before it was legalized in Yugoslavia. Dr. Rafael Wurzel even went so far as to say that it was “the biggest thing since the Beatles” in 1998 (The Kerrville Times).
America in One Pill
It was the new blockbuster lifestyle drug, becoming as big of a name as Prozac in the world of miracle drugs (Latson). Viagra can act as an example of the trend of commercialization of medication after World War II that David Herzberg delves into in his book Happy Pills in America (Herzberg). The commercialization of Viagra is one way of illustrating how sex has moved from the private sphere to the public sphere. The concept of sex used to be more of an intimate, private act, and yet the concept is now broadcasted to millions over Viagra advertisements and the like.
Whereas before, there was a relative shortage of men in the porn industry, suddenly with the added confidence boost Viagra afforded them, men flooded onto the scene (Person). Gone was the timid and out came the brazen. The sexualization of our society helped bring about Viagra’s popularity and also, funnily enough, helped continue the cycle, perhaps even adding to the sexualization of society as can be seen with its effect on the porn industry.
Viagra is often correlated with masculinity. In Viagra commercials, football, basketball, NASCAR racing, deep sea fishing, sailing, and driving trucks are all featured. Pfizer, the company over Viagra, paid big bucks to be associated with the NFL, spending $31 million to be advertised in one season of the NFL alone (Rosenthal). Viagra is not only connected to the NFL through commercials though. According to Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, a lot of NFL players reportedly use Viagra to help with endurance during games (Sports Illustrated). Not only does Viagra act as a performance-enhancing-drug, but it is also advertised by bodybuilders, catering to men’s desire for masculinity (D’Marge).
The obsession many men seem to have with their bodily utilities is nothing new. There is an ancient fresco in Pompei that illustrates this perfectly. The fresco from 79 A.D. pictures a nobleman, a member of the upper classes, with an erect penis reportedly possessing “the length and girth larger than a man’s leg” lying on top of an ancient scale with sacks of gold acting as a counterweight to it (Psychology Today). Dr. Abraham Morgentaler calls this desire for a bigger penis the Stallion Syndrome. An example of Viagra compensating for the wounded male ego is the confessions men like Bernard, a 58-year old retired construction worker, in The Kerrville Times newspaper have made about getting more self-confidence and feeling good about who they are after taking Viagra (The Kerrville Times). This gives some insight into how many men value themselves and who they are physically more so than spiritually or emotionally. Gail Sheehy, the famous author of Understanding Men’s Passages, suggests that men should instead view erectile dysfunction as an opportunity to “reconfigure their lives and create a new definition of what it means to be a man” (Santa Cruz Sentinel). The popularity of Viagra seems like this suggestion never quite took off and men are reluctant to change what they consider to be the defining feature of being a man.
Viagra’s target audience appears to be heterosexual middle-aged white men of the upper classes. As Professor Jarret of the urology department at George Washington University put it, “When people have money to spend, they are willing to spend on their sexual health” (ABC News). After conducting an analysis myself of thirty Viagra commercials, 76.67% of the commercials star whites only. The men predominantly appear to be middle-aged in the commercials. Viagra commercials tend to focus on just a man or woman by themselves in their commercials. In fact, only 33.33% of the commercials picture a man and woman together. This may reflect on how women are not given a voice when it comes to Viagra despite sex ethically being a consensual act. The commercials advise men to consult with their doctors, but there is no line uttered saying to consult with their partners. When women do appear in the commercials, they are often posed seductively, as if more than willing and acting as sirens to lure men into the world of Viagra and make them believe they will be on the top of the world again by doing so–the quick fix that society craves. The quick fix to a man’s injured ego and the quick fix to relationship problems–many people appear to be under the misconception that sex fixes relationships, while it seems this is not the case (The Daily Herald; Santa Cruz Sentinel). The large percentage of commercials geared towards white males is no incident–they are the very people that are likely to feel most threatened in today’s progressive society, thus seeking a feeling of power. My findings appear to be in accordance with Meika Loe’s findings showing that advertisements for Viagra put great cultural emphasis on whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality (Loe).
Despite the fact that the heterosexual community is the main target audience of Viagra, quite a few homosexual men dabbled with the drug as well, often mixing the drug with others. Statistics, as shown in a newspaper, indicate that homosexual men using Viagra were twice as likely to have unprotected sex, thus increasing their chances of getting AIDs. There was a significant correlation between Viagra use and unprotected sex. The rate of STDs greatly increased after the release of Viagra also by no surprise given the statistics (The Hays Daily News).
Another audience that was not targeted in Viagra commercials, but certainly uses it, is young men in their teens and twenties. This is the recreational market audience. Though Viagra should provide no physical benefit for those without erectile dysfunction according to scientists, it does provide a psychological benefit. Placebo is an accurate example of the quote, “If you believe enough, it will happen.” There is evidence that just the thought of having taken Viagra or other sexually stimulating drugs makes people sexually excited (Herper; Harper). In one such study, Pfizer was examining the effects of Viagra on women but had to reportedly stop the study when they found that most of the women given placebos in the control group were sexually stimulated. Due to the fact that many popular recreational drugs, like cocaine, cause men to have trouble with erections, it is not a big surprise that young people use Viagra recreationally as an ingredient in their own concoction of drugs to offset the effects from other drugs they have taken. The problem with recreational use is that users often get drugs from the black market where no examination or medical history is done beforehand, leading to some risks. In an ironic twist of fate, one man in the U.K. that bought Viagra off the black market had to get his penis amputated (Malicdem). Pfizer estimates that 80% of websites selling Viagra were actually selling counterfeit drugs manufactured in unlicensed factories, containing talcum powder and rat poisoning among other ingredients (Hager). The recreational market for Viagra is huge–police seized 27,000 unmarked Viagra pills off the black market shipped all the way from Hong Kong to Mississippi (FOX 5). No one person needs that much Viagra, which is a telling sign of the money that person thinks he or she can make off of the shipment if he or she is willing to buy $663,000 worth of Viagra.
As women climb up the ladder of society, men need to find some way to reassert their dominance. Sex may act as a method of domination for these insecure men. As women increasingly enter the workforce, Viagra’s popularity seems to increase. In 1998, according to a graph made by the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, there was a 59.8% participation rate among women in the labor force and a 74.9% participation rate among men in the labor force in 1998 and this employment gap has increasingly narrowed over the years (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR). A study conducted in 2019 by researchers at the University of Toronto titled “Growing sense of social status threat and concomitant deaths of despair among whites,” indicates that the rising white mortality rates within the United States are due to “a perceived decline in relative group status on the part of whites” (Siddiqi, Arjumand, etc). White males were at the top of the social hierarchy for a long time in America, but now gaps are closing between races and genders with higher educational attainment increasing across the board and wage gaps narrowing (Third Way). This feeling of decreased self-worth in public life leads to men with and without erectile dysfunction using Viagra in hopes of enhancing their performance and regaining the self-worth in the bedroom that they perceive to have lost in society. As Leonore Tiefer, an expert in sexuality with a PhD in experimental psychology, explains, people increasingly rely on “personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy” (Tiefer). This is not hard to believe given the tremendous societal changes America has seen in the past century. Voting is no longer an activity made exclusively for white males. Women now have equal pay, whereas before men were raking in the dollars and women were relegated to domestic life. The United States has become increasingly diverse. Given these changes and more, white men are no longer the kings of the public sphere, so in some ways white men rightly feel a loss because they lost this status.
The Woman’s Perspective
“Dear sir, my husband took Viagra instead of paracetamol this morning. Since our maid is also home, I can not come to the office today. Thank you” (Whisper).
This fear of infidelity was not an isolated event, in fact, Pfizer was even sued by a scorned woman whose husband started cheating as soon as he could with Viagra (Ukiah Daily Journal). Many seem to blame the drug for infidelity as opposed to the men themselves, similar to people blaming drugs for crime. The mention of a maid in the quote above also does a fairly good job of demonstrating the class Viagra caters to–the upper class. Just one dose of Viagra costs $25.75 and one dose does not even equal an entire pill (Try Sildenafil). According to Sally and Hilda, two elderly women interviewed, “the price is going to leave even the middle-classes behind” (Fischer, Seidman). It is a funny sort of coincidence that the man pictured in the 79 A.D. fresco previously mentioned was a member of the upper class because the price of Viagra tends to target people with money to spare. Perhaps this catering to the upper classes not only acts as a luxury to further separate men in different classes, but also as a hope of the upper classes proliferating, making more of those like themselves to supposedly “lessen the burden on society” as some might say. Men can be fertile as old as 92 (Guinness World Records).
Two advice columns, written by twin sisters, known as “Ask Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby” that appeared in newspapers provide a wealth of knowledge into what women’s thoughts were on Viagra upon its arrival. Women would lament to Ann or Abby about their worries and Ann and Abby would provide quick qips of advice to the women. One particularly controversial reply given by Ann Landers to a woman concerned with the coming of Viagra and her husband’s doctor recommending it to him despite her not wanting to have sex with him was basically that if she loved her husband she would have sex with him because it makes him happy (The Kerrville Times). Needless to say, that reply was met with backlash by other women, commenting that it was very much a 1950s-style retort. This woman debating over whether she was being a bad wife or not because of not wanting sex with her husband was not alone in her disinterest towards Viagra. A survey featured in one particular Ann Landers’ column showed that a majority of women were content without sex (The Salina Journal).
Change is often fought against and Viagra is one way of fighting change–changes in society and changes in biology. Both men and women try to turn back the clocks on mother nature out of vanity and Viagra is one example of that. Sex is not a medical necessity and a major factor into Viagra’s survival and popularity lies within the man’s ego.
“TIME Magazine Cover: Viagra: The Potency Pill – May 4, 1998.” Time. Time Inc. Accessed December 4, 2019. http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19980504,00.html.
The two readings I will be comparing are David T. Courtwright’s article “The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920,” published in The Journal of Southern History, and Hannah Cooper’s article, “Medical theories of opiate addiction’s etiology and their relationship to addicts’ perceived social position in the United States: An historical analysis,” published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
Courtwright argues that there is a hidden epidemic between 1860 and 1920 largely because of over prescription by doctors and because people are too focused on blacks doing drugs, though they would tend not to, rather than whites doing drugs, primarily older higher middle to upper class whites, which make up the majority of drug users in the south at this time. It was an epidemic largely spread among whites that went unnoticed because of the hyperfocus on blacks and the effort of drug-using upper-class whites to avoid a social stigma. He identifies two primary reasons for the opiate addiction largely among southern whites—the civil war and over-prescription by doctors. The first reason is that the Civil War left an irrevocable psychological impact on both Confederate soldiers and southern civilians, especially upper-class whites who are the ones that more likely owned slaves—this reason he identifies supports the coping theory. The second reason is that physicians would prescribe drugs for every condition, prescribing drugs like a cure for all—this reason corresponds with the iatrogenic theory. Ironically, the reason African Americans are not suffering from this epidemic is because they cannot afford medical care and thus their health might be benefitted from this lack of medical care in that way.
Cooper argues that theories of drug use align with popular opinion. She lays out the theoretical trends of drug use that she finds within medical literature over periods of time. She identifies four primary periods of time where there are noticeable shifts in medical literature that align with popular opinion. She studies the following periods of time: 1880-1894, 1895-1928, 1955-1964, and lastly 1965-1975. In between 1880 and 1894, the popular theories are the coping theory and the medical theory, known as the iatrogenic theory. From 1895 until 1928, the popular theories were innate degeneracy and vice theory. Medical literature largely features the psychoanalytical theory in between 1955 and 1964. In the time range of 1965 to 1975, the communicable theory and the metabolic theory were the popular theories in medical literature. Medical literature is meant to be purely scientific, what many would think to be objective, but Cooper’s evidence indicates that this might not be the case. As the demographics of drug users change, so do the theories. She finds that when lower class individuals or individuals that are not white make up the majority of drug users, medical literature tends to blame the individual. When the demographic of drug users consists mainly of affluent white people, though, the theories alter in such a way as to blame the external world rather than the individual. The apparent bias she finds in these theories might serve to help maintain inequality due to medical literature’s complicity with the status quo.
The two writers differ in their methods of conducting research. Cooper uses qualitative evidence, whereas Courtwright relies more heavily on quantitative evidence, consisting mainly of statistics. Though Cooper does not study medical literature in 1860, he and Courtwright’s timelines overlap. The period of time Courtwright studies—1860-1920—overlaps with Cooper’s first two periods of time studied, being 1880-1894 and 1895-1928. Courtwright’s study fits two of the four theories that Cooper identifies in the two time periods. Cooper finds that the coping theory, medical/iatrogenic theory, vice theory, and innate degeneracy theory are the predominant theories in medical literature in the time period that Courtwright analyzes in his own study. Courtwright identifies coping theory and iatrogenic theory as the primary reasons for the southern white opiate epidemic from 1860 until 1920. Courtwright argues that fears of cocainized African Americans and “black rampages” took away from the real epidemic at hand—the opiate epidemic among whites. In Courtwright’s article, we see that cocaine spurring on violent black rampages and a wave of crime by African Americans is a legend carried on by people in the South, similar to theories of drug use being sustained by popular opinion, as seen in Cooper’s article.
Though Cooper’s findings over a large expanse of time greatly interest me, I appreciate Courtwright giving a deeper view into the state of affairs with drugs after the Civil War. Due to focusing on one timeframe rather than four as Cooper did, Courtwright is able to give a more intensive look into one period of time than Cooper is able to.