Lifestyle Drugs and the Neoliberal Family

by Kristin Swenson (Author)
©2014 Textbook XII, 197 Pages


Since 1997, advertisements for lifestyle drugs have saturated the U.S. airwaves, print media, and the Internet. Viewers are asked to see their children’s difficulty in school as attention deficit disorder, their worry as anxiety, and their flagging sex life as dysfunction. And for each disorder, there is a corresponding pharmaceutical solution. Through the lens of these advertisements, Lifestyle Drugs and the Neoliberal Family unpacks our contemporary obsession with obtaining easy solutions for difficult problems. The ads’ discourse illuminates the experience of living within a society increasingly affected by the policies of neoliberalism, one that requires us to invest and manage our own health with the ultimate goal of a materially productive life. Advertisements for lifestyle drugs promise to make us sexier, happier, and better liked; not to cure us of a disorder, but, ultimately, to make us better workers, suggesting that drugs do indeed work to keep us working.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Anxious Robots, Precarious Work, and Lifestyle Drugs
  • The Marketing of Lifestyle Drugs
  • Precarity of Work; Precarity of Life
  • Affect
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 1: Affective State Apparatus: Theorizing G.W. Bush’s Policy on Mental Health
  • Affect, Louis Althusser, and Affective State Apparatus
  • Achieving the Promise
  • Constituting Affect
  • Capturing Affect
  • Circulating Affect
  • The Affective State Apparatus
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2: Productive Bodies: Women, Work, and Depression
  • Women, Work, and Psychotropic Medication
  • Biopower and the Affect of Contemporary Work
  • The Feminization of Labor
  • Feminine Qualities Put to Work
  • Antidepressant Advertisements
  • Communication
  • The Female Body as Preexisting Condition
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3: Impotent Bodies: Viagra, Masculinity, and Potency
  • Cultural Context of Viagra’s Emergence
  • Biopolitical Power
  • Pfizer’s “Bob” Commercial
  • Spinoza and Affect
  • Circulation
  • Affective Potency
  • (Im)potency
  • Pillow Talk
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4: Children as Abilities-Machines: ADHD and Future Workers of America
  • Cultural Representations of ADHD
  • ADHD
  • Investing in Children as “Abilities-Machines”
  • Advertising the Ideal Child/Worker: Advertising ADHD
  • College Students and ADHD
  • There is no Holiday
  • What’s Up with Boys and Their Moms?
  • Conclusion: Abilities-Machines and Their Monsters: Back to Justin
  • Notes
  • Conclusion: By Way of the Family Dog
  • Dogs, Drugs, and Desires
  • Doggie Prozac
  • Affecting Work
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index


This book began as a dissertation at the University of Minnesota. I would like to thank my committee for their immense encouragement as the project morphed from an idea into a viable dissertation. My advisor, mentor, and dear friend, Ronald W. Greene, and my committee members Mary Vavrus, Margaret Werry, and Kirt Wilson, all offered guidance and encouragement throughout the dissertation process. I recognize my great fortune in having a committee of remarkable scholars, teachers, and, most importantly, friends that continue to be exemplars of living a full and meaning life inside and outside the academy.

I also want to thank my friends and colleagues at Butler University, especially my colleagues in the Media, Rhetoric and Culture program: Margaretha Geertsema-Sligh, Allison Harthcock, and Ann Savage, who literally cheered me on when I needed it most. Robin Turner and Terri Carney graciously sat next to me on writing dates. TC also taught me the invaluable skill of how to covertly change my son’s diaper while sitting in a booth at our local coffee shop. I thank Tamara Leech for sharing her writing strategies and offering her encouragement. Susan Berger at Irwin Library was invaluable at locating resources. John Mugge provided helpful editorial comments. Thanks to Annette Lee and Melissa Friedman for their administrative support. I am grateful to my wonderful and smart students, especially Lauren Dunford, who offered her research assistance and organizational skills during the summer of 2011, and Mckeena Imholte, who proofread parts of this book.

I am indebted to Toby Miller for encouraging me to submit a proposal to this series. I am grateful to the staff at Peter Lang including Mary Savigar for her patience and for her assistance with the title; Phyllis Korper for her keen editorial eye; and Sophie Appel for formatting the manuscript and creating the fabulous cover design.

I want to graciously thank Megan Foley, Raymie McKerrow, and Greg Seigworth for their thoughtful comments to chapter 1 of this manuscript. Special thanks to Kristen Hoerl, Casey Kelly, and Jonathan Rossing for inviting me into their writing group and offering insightful feedback and continued encouragement. And a thank you to Rose Cherubin for her long distance support.

This book would not have come to fruition without the intellectual companionship and kindness of friends far and near. Meredith ← ix | x → Gill, Chani Marchiselli, and Cecily Marcus have been there for the long haul and have not waivered in their encouragement. I am grateful to J.D. Mininger for his invitation to present this work to his colleagues and students at Vytautas Magnus University. David Moscowitz and Leigh Moscowitz opened their hearts and porch to us upon our arrival to Indianapolis. Ageeth Sluis and Elise Edwards have proved that some friends do become family and without their love and support this project would not have been completed. Hilene Flanzbaum and Geoff Sharpless invited us into their family and have feed, nurtured, and cared for us so generously that there are no words to express my gratitude. I am grateful to Cesare Casarino for teaching me Spinoza, and to both Cesare and Jason Christenson for the many delicious meals and conversations about love, life, and theory. I am fortunate indeed.

Thanks to my mom, Karen Brown, for her headstrong belief in me and her unyielding love and encouragement.

I met Brynnar Swenson at a time when this project was still trying to find its theoretical voice. I fondly think back to those days in Minneapolis reading across the table from each other in one of the many coffee houses, and then sharing our thoughts over a night-cap in one of the many great bars that the twin-cities has to offer. He is my best reader and defender of my work. I am grateful for his wickedly smart mind and his intellectual companionship, his intensity of love, his ability to make me laugh, and for taking the brunt of the domestic responsibilities in order to give me time and space to write. I am most thankful that he wanted to “join forces,” to make a life of love, a love that then made Aksel, which then made even more love. … ← x | xi →



A special thank you to the following presses for the permission to reprint chapter 1, and portions of chapter 2 and chapter 3.

Versita Press:

“Affective Labor and Governmental Policy: George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health,” Baltic Journal of Law and Politics, 4 (2) (2011): 1-23.

SUNY Press:

“Productive Bodies: Women, Work, and Depression.” In Governing the Female Body: Health, Gender, and Networks of Power. Lori Reed and Paula Saukko (Eds.). New York: State University of New York Press, (2010): 134-155.

International Communication Association and Wiley Blackwell Press:

“Capitalizing on affect: Viagra (in)action.” Communication, Culture, and Critique, 1 (3) (2008): 311-328. ← xi | xii →



“It is then that you say, ‘That’s what it was, but I don’t know if I really said it, or if I was convincing enough.’ And you realize that having said it or been convincing hardly matters because, in any case, that is what it is now.” —Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari ← xii | 1 →


Anxious Robots, Precarious Work, and Lifestyle Drugs

During the 2007 Super Bowl,1 General Motors aired a controversial commercial in which a GM robot is fired from its union shop and then suffers the dreadful consequences of looking for work in an economic downturn. Demoralized by having no choice but to work in unsatisfying and low-paying service industry positions, the robot commits suicide. The commercial went something like this: The robot, working on the assembly line at the GM factory, suddenly drops a bolt. The factory and its workers become eerily silent. The other employees, both human and robot, stare at the robot in disbelief. The robot returns a panicked gaze. The robot is fired. We see the robot exit the garage door of the factory and wander the streets. Soon it passes a Help Wanted sign and begins the mindless work of a sign holder standing on the street advertising House for Sale. The robot’s next job is to hold the intercom box at a fast-food drive-in. Finally, the robot stands on a bridge as the song “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen plays in the background. The robot jumps off the bridge into the dark and deep water below. As it is about to make contact with the water, the robot awakens from what was actually a nightmare to find itself back on the assembly line at the GM factory. The voice-over states, “At GM we are obsessed with quality” (“Robot,” GM 2007).

How are we to make sense of this 60-second commercial in which a robot has work-related anxiety dreams? Is the anxiety due to the threat of losing its well-paying union job, the kind of job that is almost impossible to get today? How is it that even the robot finds service industry work unsatisfying and unrewarding? Is it because it is no longer producing anything material? Or is it because it is “all by itself,” according to the background music, without the camaraderie of its former work colleagues? What we do know is that the robot represents workers from a variety of industries who are faced with the real possibility of losing their job.

The GM robot commercial is unnervingly useful in introducing the economic context that is the backdrop of this book. This commercial can easily be read as a precursor for the current recession ← 1 | 2 → that began in December 2007 as it illuminates the economic and work climate in which we now live.2 For instance, the House for Sale sign certainly foreshadows the housing market crash. The fired robot expresses the failing economy’s effect on workers and the precariousness of the workplace. The unsatisfying service industry jobs represent the low-paying and often only available option for many who have been either fired or laid off from their well-paying factory job. In just 60-seconds this commercial manages to express the precariousness of work in a failing economy.

The story is not unfamiliar. An employee loses his or her good union job at a U.S. car manufacturer. The only employment options available are lower paying and less personally satisfying than the union job at the factory. In complete despair, the fired employee attempts suicide. Although in the commercial the robot turns out to be “dreaming,” this stress-related and anxiety-producing fear of losing one’s jobs is certainly real for many. In fact, the reality is so pervasive that suicide prevention organizations were outraged by the commercial. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention publicly criticized the ad and demanded that GM not air it again. It was subsequently aired without the suicide. We can wonder if our robot would have fared better had it been on antidepressants. And we certainly hope that the millions of Americans suffering from depression and anxiety do not experience the same fate as our robot in either their waking or sleeping life.3

At the time of the airing of the GM Super Bowl commercial, the antidepressant Lexapro was the fifth most dispensed drug in the United States (http://www.Rxlist.com), perhaps for the reasons suggested in that commercial: anxiety over losing one’s job and fear of the consequences if one did lose his or her job. Statistically, as the economy declines depression increases, and as depression increases so too does the number of prescriptions written for antidepressants (see Chapter 2), especially in the age of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising.

Lifestyle Drugs and the Neoliberal Family weaves together the themes of drugs, work, and subjectivity in order to investigate the attributes that today’s workers should emulate as articulated by the advertisements for and promotional materials of lifestyle drugs. Lifestyle drugs, especially for affective disorders like depression, offer hope as they chemically alter our moods to make us happier and more confident even in an economic downturn. Life ← 2 | 3 → style drugs present us an opportunity to “feel good” (or, it is hoped, at least better) about our current life-work situations. To advance the discussion begun by the GM robot commercial, the remainder of this Introduction further explains what is meant by the term “precariousness” in reference to work, offers a brief definition of neoliberalism in order to define how this book defines our contemporary capitalist moment, and is followed by a few definitions of affect. But first, I offer a brief discussion on the marketing of lifestyle drugs.

The Marketing of Lifestyle Drugs

Just how are workers to deal with the anxiety and depression that stem from a precarious economy, a high unemployment rate, and a housing market crash, all of which make life increasingly difficult and worrisome? “The good life” is sold to us through the direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of lifestyle pharmaceuticals (Elliott 2003). “Lifestyle drugs,” a term coined by the popular press, are not necessarily lifesaving drugs; rather, they promote an image of well-being, happiness, and the attainment of the good-life—the manufacturers of lifestyle drugs sell us the desired lifestyle for our current moment within contemporary capitalism. Like the GM robot, we may have good reason to be anxious and worried about job security, but an anti-anxiety pill allows us to feel better even if our material conditions do not change. As the “good life” moves farther and farther out of reach, the simple hope that some semblance of happiness and contentment can be derived from a “happy pill” becomes all the more appealing (Herzberg 2009). The attainment of personal happiness and economic security, or a comforting perception of such, is placed squarely into the hands of the consumer as the advertisements of lifestyle drugs sell us a version of the good life in the form of pills with friendly and soothing-sounding names such as Wellbutrin, Abilify, Concerta, Viagra, and Zoloft.

In the United States, advertisements for prescription medications and their attendant disorders pervade the television airwaves, print media, and Internet. Viewers are seduced into understanding their children’s inability to focus as Attention Deficit Disorder, their worries as anxiety, their aching legs as restless legs syndrome, both incontinence and constipation as irritable bowel syndrome, and their lack of libido as sexual dysfunction. For each pharmaceutical, there is a corresponding disorder, and for ← 3 | 4 → each disorder there is an advertising campaign to show us a happier and more productive version of ourselves.

Lifestyle drugs differ from lifesaving medications in that lifestyle medications work to produce a more enhanced way of living, whereas lifesaving drugs seek to cure illnesses. As noted above, lifestyle drugs may treat ailments such as baldness, wrinkles, perspiration, erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, incontinence, insomnia, anxiety, adverse side effects of menstruation or menopause, irritable bowel syndrome, and any other bodily and affective imperfections that one desires to correct. Lifestyle drugs are centered more on style or quality of life, many taking the form of a technology of youth, rather than treating life-threatening medical conditions. For example, Viagra, a sexual performance-enhancing medication, may assist men in achieving an erection, whereas medications for cancer may prolong life itself.4

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the growth industry of lifestyle medication coincided with the relaxation of DTC broadcast advertising regulations in August 1997. The United States is the only country besides New Zealand to allow the advertising of prescription drugs directly to consumers.5 Since the relaxation of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on advertising, broadcast spending has significantly increased.6 Today, the portion of marketing funds allocated for DTC advertising is the fastest-growing component of marketing budgets (Angell 2004: 123). In 1997, pharmaceutical companies spent $1.1 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising; by 2005, big pharma spent $4.2 billion (Donohue, Cevasco, & Rosenthal 2007). Every additional dollar that pharmaceutical companies paid toward DTC advertising in 2000 brought in an additional $4.20 in sales profit (Henry J. Kaiser Foundation 2003).


XII, 197
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2010 (October)
media Internet disorder health
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 192 pp.

Biographical notes

Kristin Swenson (Author)

Kristin A. Swenson (PhD, University of Minnesota) is Associate Professor in Media, Rhetoric, and Culture, and an affiliated faculty member in the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Program at Butler University in Indiana. She has contributed to a diversity of journals including Communication, Culture and Critique and the Baltic Journal of Law and Politics.


Title: Lifestyle Drugs and the Neoliberal Family
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
212 pages