The Power of Linguistic Manipulation

In his essay Pharmaceutical Witnessing, Dumit addresses the manipulation of language in the marketing of drugs and explains how this has created a new discourse surrounding illness. I believe that Dumit is accurate in giving great weight to this phenomenon; as a result of our sheer experiential closeness to language we tend to neglect the salient power it has over our understanding of reality. While on the surface a mere grammatical manipulation may seem fairly negligible, a result of our constant exposure to it is that it becomes ingrained in the way we talk about and understand illness. Repetition, coupled with the association of a particular word with a specific ‘atmosphere’, is a powerful enough combination to change the emphasis of the modal verb. So whereas possibility/potentiality may have originally meant ‘probably not’, the associations made in the marketing manipulate this into ‘probably do’. This is the grey area Dumit mentions and its potential for exploitation has been expertly executed through these marketing strategies. Just like political propaganda, pharmaceutical marketing utilizes appeals to authority and half-truths to manipulate opinion.

It is also interesting to note that only two countries allow direct to user advertising: the United States and New Zealand. Of course the ubiquity of American television means that in Canada we are also subjected to it. I believe the anomalous nature of this phenomenon points towards the general, almost intuitive moral disdain and skepticism people have towards this type of marketing. Of further concern is the fact that there is no kind of watershed for pharmaceutical commercials, meaning that children are likely often witness to it. Clearly exposing a child in the most formative years of his/her psychological developmental can have deep rooted consequences, imagining generations of children manipulated into believing their bodies are capable of deceiving and concealing illness is of severe consequence.   

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