Mad Men

Watch this clip before reading…

Mad Men is a show about an advertising agency in the 1960’s. The name Mad Men is a reference to the advertising executives that worked on Madison Avenue.  The show highlights the  sometimes devious ways different products were advertised in order to gain the most appeal in the public eye. Many of the advertising campaigns featured on the show blur the line between fact and fiction. Truth in advertising is often lying by omission, as seen with the smoking campaign featured in this episode.

This scene, which is actually quite long, I have edited down in order to showcase the most pertinent information. It features a conference between Lucky Strike Cigarette executives and advertising giants, Sterling Cooper. The scene takes place shortly after the FTC ban on cigarette advertising that claims any sort of health benefits. This is also in light of research at the time, that alerted the public to the dangers of smoking.

The beginning part of the scene shows the owner of Lucky Strike talking about how his cigarettes are completely healthy. As he lights up one of his cigarettes, he starts to cough. The advertising executives know better than to draw attention to the action so instead, all of the people in the meeting start to cough, giving the impression that it was ordinary. However, I find it amusing that this scene served dual-purpose.  It also allows the viewer to appreciate the irony of the situation; cigarettes are not good for your health. As Athena Du Pre (2010) informs us, according to the World Health Organization, more than 5 million people die from tobacco-related illnesses and a great majority are from second-hand smoke (p. 350). By showing everyone coughing as the smoke fills the room, it supports the research that second-hand smoke is a danger to your health. What you don’t see in this clip, but that is prevalent throughout the series, is that everyone in company smokes. As agents for Lucky Strikes, everyone in the office is expected to smoke their brand. As Athena Du Pre (2010) tells us, the theory of social norms explains why everyone in the office is so willing to take up smoking (p.376). During that time, smoking was considered an everyday part of life. In light of the research that revealed the health risks of smoking, the need for truthful advertising was at an all-time high.

This scene showcases a dispute between accuracy in advertising. On one hand, we have an agent that wishes to address the health issue head-on. He claims that the best way to handle the campaign is to admit that cigarettes are bad for your health and compare the health risks with the dangers of driving a car. As Athena Du Pre (2010) suggests, the concept of accuracy can be difficult to convey. One person may focus on ethical implications while another focuses on scientific findings. In this clip, one agent wants to focus on scientific research that suggests men like danger. His view on accuracy is to keep the public informed of the health risks but to persuade them that the health risks are part of being a man. The other agent, wanting to completely avoid the health risks, focuses on a menial fact about the way the cigarettes are made in order to detract from the recent bad publicity. In his opinion, the accuracy of “toasted tobacco” is a message that says ‘while all other cigarette brand are un-healthy, ours is simply toasted.’

It’s messages like these that cause such a huge problem when it comes to health communication.  As gatekeepers of information, the advertising agents have a responsibility to relay all accurate information to consumers. Sure, they are providing accurate information about Lucky Strikes,l. but they fail to inform the public of the dangers that are associated with smoking. Athena Du Pre (2010) says that both state and federal governments are targeting tobacco companies stating that it is unfair for them to sell a knowingly harmful product but not be responsible for the cost of treatment associated with tobacco-related illnesses. There is an estimated  cost of $167 billion dollar a year spent in medical expenses and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control; a figure that many feel tobacco companies should be held responsible for (p. 350).

A good question to ask is, should tobacco companies be held responsible for selling a product that is known to cause cancer? Should they be held accountable for the huge bills people receive for cancer treatments? In my opinion, they should. Knowingly selling someone a product that causes cancer and many other health problems is unethical, especially when they use advertising campaigns that manipulate facts in order to sell their product. Campaigns such as THIS are doing their part in keeping the public informed. As Athena Du Pre (2010) points out, the Truth campaign was successful in raising awareness of the adverse effects of smoking and influenced people to be less-likely to associate smoking with being ‘cool’. Media literacy campaigns are a great way for children to become aware of the manipulations of the mass media. The more aware they become, the more likely they are to look for the accuracy in all advertisements.

Until next time…

-N

References:

Athena du Pre. (2010). Communicating about health. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Greys Anatomy

Watch this clip before reading…

There is no denying the fact that Greys Anatomy has become infamous for its flair for drama and unrealistic medical emergencies. With that being said, I still love to watch it, partly for those reasons alone. Sometimes I watch it and think to myself, ‘that is completely wrong’ or ‘did they seriously just do that’. Some of the things they depict in the show end up giving people the wrong impression of medicine. For those people who do not know much about the medical field, this can be a dangerous way to obtain information.

In this particular clip, Dr. Miranda Bailey interrupts a brain surgery on a suicidal patient. The background of this storyline is that this patient has repeatedly attempted suicide while in the hospital, asking everyone to just allow him to die. Dr. Bailey is working with another patient that will die without an organ transplant. This scene shows her plea for Dr. Sheppard to stop surgery in order to let the man die and therefore, have his organs available for donation. Dr. Bailey is reminded of her oath as a physician; do no harm. She is told that to stop surgery would be the equivalent of committing murder and still, Dr. Bailey pleas for the man to die.

As Athena Du Pre (2010) reminds us, nearly 19 people a day die while waiting on a transplant list. There are many reasons why people are fearful of becoming organ donors. Among those, is the fear that doctors will not work as hard to save the life of a donor. This fear is perpetuated in the scene from Greys Anatomy. This unrealistic depiction of a medical scenario supports the belief that doctors will not be an advocate for the health of a donor if  the life of a more suitable recipient is on the line. In reality, organ donation is handled by an outside team of medical professionals and doesn’t involve the physicians treating the patient at the time (Athena Du Pre, 2010, p. 178). Another common fear about organ donation, according to Athena Du Pre, is that organs will go to unworthy recipients. This scene is meant to make you sympathize with Dr. Bailey because her patient is a child and will die without a transplant.  I wonder however, if this scene would elicit the same kinds of emotions if the recipient were older or viewed as less worthy.

The evidence of sadness on Dr. Bailey’s face confirms that she is overwhelmed with emotion about her patient and his need for an organ donation. It is common tactic when discussing organ donation to play on a person’s emotions. It is also common to highlight the benefits of saving another persons life. A great example of both can be seen HERE. This is an advertising campaign from South Africa that is meant to sway non-donors into becoming registered donors. The advertisement uses the image of a dying child to evoke an emotional response as well as sending the message that dying without donation kills more that just yourself; the same message that Dr. Bailey is trying to communicate. By evoking an emotional response, they are hoping to make people feel guilty or sad, which Athena Du Pre (2010) suggests is a negative affect appeal. Perhaps a person watching this commercial would feel guilty about not allowing a loved one become a donor when they passed. Perhaps they are made to feel sad about potentially allowing a child to die without a transplant. The video also helps to make current registered donors feel good about their choice to save a life. In their words, their death will serve a greater purpose; saving the life of another person.

I understand the message behind the advertisement however, it is not sensitive to the population of people who believe, for religious reasons or otherwise, that organ donation is not an option. By playing on the emotions of viewers, the advertisement could potentially isolate people who have an adverse stance on organ donation; equating their decision to not donate with the death of an innocent child. As Athena Du Pre (2010) points out, patients become more resistant to organ donation if they feel that they are being pressured into it. An advertising campaign that uses a negative affect appeal, such as this one, will do little to help an already pressured group of people, become donors.

This is a subject matter that is best handled with sensitivity and compassion.  As Athena Du Pre (2010) suggests, knowing a part of a loved one is ‘living on’ in some capacity is a good reason to donate.  Allowing people to see the benefits of donating while steering away from messages meant to evoke guilt or sadness is a good tactic. Please remember to watch shows like Greys Anatomy with an understanding that it is not representative of the medical field and the situations depicted are dramatized for entertainment purposes and are rarely medically accurate, as is the case with organ donation.

Until next time…

-N

References:

Athena du Pre. (2010). Communicating about health. New York: Oxford University Press.

ER

Please, view the YouTube clip prior to reading…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRsgen_JT0U&feature=youtu.be

The first show to ever capture my fascination with medicine was Doogie Howser M.D. Shortly after my ‘Doogie Days’, as I affectionately refer to them as, I became obsessed with a new show that revolved around medicine; ER. Unless you have been living under a rock I am sure you are, at the very least, aware of this shows existence. The show followed the lives and work of physicians working in the fictional Emergency Room of County General in Chicago. Perhaps the reason I loved this show so much was for its dedication to depicting scenes with medical accuracy. Granted, for entertainment sake, a lot was dramatized and blown out of proportion but looking back on it now as someone who has worked in an Emergency Room, there are a lot more similarities than differences.

The clip I have selected showcases the culture of the ER perfectly. There is a sense of family among the people who work there, as they depend on each other to save lives. The first portion of the scene shows a nurse leaving a patient’s room and alerting the new interns and medical students that a patient is coughing up “red snappers.” A new medical student, unfamiliar with the speech community of the ER, asks for clarification.  Red snappers, which are used in this instance to refer to a patient with Tuberculosis, are part of the language of infectious disease. As Ludwig A Lettau (2000) explains, terms like these incorporate color to explain the various spectrums that these terms represent. Various shades of red seem to be most common in describing infectious diseases.

In addition to a dedicated language, medical students and interns are presented with many ‘rites of passage’ on their journey to becoming a physician. This scene in particular shows the commonality of experiences between the medical students and interns by their telling of medical school stories. Everyone was told during medical school that it was highly competitive and that over half of the people enrolled would be gone within the year. It was this socialization process that ultimately shaped them into confident physicians. As Athena du Pre (2010) explains, students in medical school often feel belittled or punished. An example of this can also be seen in this clip when an intern talks about her days as a medical student when she referred to nurses by title rather than name. Punishment was doled out on the medical student in the shape of recurring requests for pain medication. However, this is all a part of the process in becoming socialized into the world of medicine.

The final portion of this scene shows a nurse referring to a patient by his diagnosis (naked, drunk and disorderly guy) rather than his name. As Athena du Pre (2010) points out, it becomes the norm to dehumanize patients. It starts in medical school where medical students are conditioned to treat the human body as inanimate. They work on cadavers in an effort to draw the line between emotion and medicine. Research suggests however, that communication is a vital component of patient satisfaction and many medical schools are now including communication studies as part of their core curriculum. The line between medicine and emotion is becoming more blurred than it was in the past. Patients are viewed as a person with feelings and emotions instead of just a body.

It is evident from this short clip that people who work in healthcare tend to have their own distinct way of communicating. Speaking from experience, its important to remember your audience. It is not always appropriate to speak with a patient the way you would a co-worker. I remember a patient I had a few years ago. We  referred to her as ‘the lady with the halo’, referring to the brace she wore for a spinal fracture she sustained. She overheard us talking in the hall one evening and when I entered her room later that night she voiced her concern over us referring to her by a diagnosis rather than by her name. I’ll never forget that patient for she was the one who taught me to remember that a patient is also a person, a fact I pushed aside over the years as I became assimilated into the medical community.

Until next time…

-N

References:

Athena du Pre. (2010). Communicating about health. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lettau, L.A. (2000). The language of infectious disease: A light-hearted review. Clinical Infectious Disease. 31(3), 734-738.

doi:10.1086/313994