21 September 2011

Father's Little Helper?

So in the class for which I was so unprepared last post, we had the ever-fascinating library lecture...only it was ACTUALLY FASCINATING, because the History of Medicine librarian at McGill is my favorite human being, pretty much. After going through the how-to-database instructions and standard stuff (though that was great too! Because I learned how to use two new search functions...SUCH A HISTORY NERD), he reminded us of the existence of the Internet Archive, and of the Prelinger Archives collection therein.

There's all sorts of stuff there, amateur films, industrial short films, all those crazy health & hygiene and social behavior films. Because the class for which I was looking is in History of Psych, I made a beeline for the Medicine: Psychiatry tag--there's not much, but I did find this:

(Link here if you don't want to watch the tiny screen, though really it mostly just gets blurrier.)

It's a 1957 film advertising a tranquilizer called Atarax. According to the voice-over, "Ataraxia means peace of mind, and that, even more than money, is what most of us want to find."

Yes, most of the voice-over is in weird rhyming couplets. The whole thing is odd really. Some of the visual moments are great: the stressed husband reading the relaxation manual, his eyes lighting on his serene wife, who is paging through a novel called Wife Killer; the double newspapers--first headline bad news, peel back, second headline GREAT!--that indicate the husband's new positivity about life; the husband's crazy, contorting facial expressions and wife's COMPLETE IMPLACABILITY; and the money that is lowered down on a fishing hook to indicate that good things come to those who wait...and are relaxed in the meantime by taking tranquilizers? I guess? Overall, though, odd.

(The other thing I don't get is: in the end, the wife reads the husband to sleep. He only seems to be tranked in the office. Does he not need them after all? Is he taking them on the sly and then inflicting his bad mood on his wife in the evening regardless? What is going on here?)

There are serious issues here, about both the treatment of mental health issues in midcentury America and about the social behavior expected of men and women in that period. I was somewhat surprised when the video turned out the way it did; your typical tranquilizer story from suburbia focuses on the women rather than the men, y'know, "Mother's Little Helper" and whatnot, and so a Pfizer promotion called "The Relaxed Wife" seemed to me like it would be about, well, a wife needing to relax. It's something I want to look more into...I was going to go on a rant and then realized I didn't know enough to rant with authority.

We're going to be talking about this stuff in psych class, actually, in a couple weeks, after we read The Age of Anxiety (my prof's book! I am excited!) and I'm looking forward to it. But in the meantime...Atarax! After all, "of all the states throughout this nation, the happiest by far is the state of relaxation--there'll be fewer breakdowns and insomniacs, when more of us have learned to be relaxed..."

No comments:

Post a Comment