Fresh from the Fritz Lang Institute of Psychopharmacology comes Pristiq, an antidepressant targeted at women who “feel like they have to wind themselves up to get through the rest of the day.”
Pristiq may be a wonderful and helpful drug, but there is something unsettling about this advertisement. What is the meaning of the toy? Why does the cured patient smile at the toy, and carry it around with them?
The slowing of the wind-up toy is supposed to be a metaphor for the drained and listless feeling that depression imposes on its sufferers. Taking Pristiq winds up the toy, sending it chugging happily through its day. The idea is that the depression isn’t part of you, it’s not your personality, but rather the result of some breakdown in the biochemical machinery that drives your personality.
Okay, so if that’s the metaphor, why is the depression patient smiling at it, and why do they then pick it up carry it around with them?
The commercial seems to go beyond the understandable wind-up metaphor to elevate the toy to the status of something magical, like the patient’s familiar–the conjugate externalized spirit of the woman vested with all the woman’s powers. When the women see the little toy zipping along, they smile because they know it is them. Treat the clockwork familiar, and treat its human counterpart. It’s weirdly magical.
The Pristiq ad is straddling the philosophical fence, trying to draw a distinction between ephemeral personality and the neurological brain. On the one hand, it takes an explicitly materialist view of depression, namely that the illness of depression is not who you are–not your personality–but rather a breakdown in the receptors, pathways, and machinery that power your personality. But implicit in this is a dualist view: if the machinery of your brain and its effects on your behavior are not “you,” then what are you? What does “you” refer to?
Specifically, where is your personality if not embedded within or emergent from that very machinery which the ad externalizes? If “you” is not the chemically imbalanced person suffering from depression, if “you” is the thing that will be restored once Pristiq floods your receptors like STP in a ’67 Stingray, then this true “you” is somewhere else, nonspecific. This is the materialism-dualism dilemma at the heart of all advertising for psych drugs. There is tremendous marketing risk in advertising that psych drugs will change you (which is precisely what they do). So it’s safer to say that the drug treats an illness and insodoing brings back the old you or the true you, which is someplace nebulous beyond the reach of the drug.
Drug ads, all of them, are dualist for precisely this reason. The science behind them is completely materialist and scientific, by the messages in their advertising are the opposite. They are vaguely touchy-feely and blandly spiritual in an Andrew Weil/Deepak Chopra sort of way. And it’s because of this philosophical dilemma that you get ads for anti-depressants that depicts women suffering from depression carrying around clockwork familiars like witches accompanied by cats.