The Consumer Republic: Rising To The Occasion

“I’m king of the world!” This is no longer a sentiment fit only for the director of a megahit movie. It’s the ecstatic cry of thousands of satisfied customers who have turned Viagra, Pfizer’s new impotence drug, into the Titanic of pharmaceuticals.
Yet for all the frenzied publicity surrounding the drug’s launch, the Viagra sales phenomenon is another example of the non-news that passes in these placid times for an earthshaking event. For unlike a huge risk like Titanic, Viagra was destined to be a chart buster. Think about it: Here’s a drug that can bring sexual satisfaction to men physically incapable of maintaining a firm erection. It can return the bloom of youth to a flagging male member. It has no known widespread or serious side effects. Guys are queuing up to buy the stuff. Gee, stop the presses.
So inevitable is the Viagra phenomenon that not one dollar need ever be spent advertising it. But Pfizer, whose stock price has risen like a you-know-what over the past few months, has the money to spend and plans a multimillion-dollar campaign to bond consumers to the brand this summer. According to a company spokesman, the campaign will pitch Viagra as the cure for the heartbreak that impotence can visit on a loving couple. I can just imagine the ads–a cross between a promo for the Romance Channel and a spot for Claritin. This is probably a wise strategy.
In January, the drug firm Vivus tried to promote its own impotence suppository drug on the Super Bowl with a left-to-the-jaw spot that began, “Attention impotent men. All 20 million
of you.” NBC declined to run it, ruling that this he-man communications approach was more than America’s male demos could bear.
Pfizer’s family-friendly, emotional tack is far more likely to pass muster with the folks in Standards and Practices–even if it does present us with the prospect of selling a dream drug for men as if it were a feminine hygiene spray. From the sound of it, Viagra’s advertising may be the first designed to obfuscate the real selling point of its product.
What is that selling point? Let’s go to our authority, Mr. Consumer. Tom Cannata, a 43-year-old accountant, shared his own experiences with the drug with Time magazine. “Not only is the frequency of our sex greater,” he reports, “but for me it is much more intense than it was without the medication. The quality is so much better. Much firmer, stronger erections. And the orgasm is much more explosive.” So much for the shared bliss of a loving couple.
Although this is far more information about Mr. Cannata’s sex life than most of us care to know, he does sum up Viagra’s allure: more intensity, better quality. What man doesn’t want the experience of being harder and stronger (but not, one hopes, faster)? You don’t have to market an impotence pill to know it offers what today’s man wants.
Yet despite the transparency of Viagra’s instant marketplace success, cultural commentators are rushing to imbue the pill with bogus social meaning. My favorite? The notion that Viagra isn’t a cure for impotence, but an Rx for feminism.
In the male version of this scenario, Viagra returns the vitality, the aggression, the edge that emasculating women robbed from them.
It’s like the revenge of Iron John. Go ahead, take our jobs, invade our golf courses, shove babies in our arms and demand that we be nurturing, this contingent seems to say. Armed with our Viagra-sharpened spears, we’ll reclaim our manhood. To which women, such as the ever-quotable “post-feminist” Camille Paglia, mockingly reply: Hold on to that erection, you pathetic loser, because it’s nothing more than “the last gasp of modern manhood.”
Some women commentators, I might add, have been a little mean-spirited about the whole Viagra phenomenon. They make a mordant point when they note that men have gained this magic new tool with which to hoist their masts just as the reproductive sciences sail off into the uncharted waters of test tubes and cloning, leaving the poor guys back at the dock.
But then, Tom Cannata was not talking about the miracle of conception–a task for which any low-quality orgasm will do just fine, thanks. Viagra is not about reproduction; it’s about leisure-time entertainment. I suspect that’s exactly what ticks some women off. But I’m still not sure what they’re complaining about.
If men could be reconciled to a world transformed by feminism by a little blue pill, so much the better. The trouble is that men are surely not that stupid. The connection between being bested in the boardroom and being defeated in the bedroom is the kind of spurious link much beloved by experts whose job it is to explain things. But it is complete nonsense, nevertheless. Our own president, a feminist in many ways, is living proof that sexual behavior is the last realm feminism can influence.