Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Now you can accuse Dirk of having a somewhat predictable taste in film titles. After all he got introduced to this media somewhat later in life… But he honestly swears that he went to see this film at the current Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto for the purest of professional reasons. It is a brilliantly shot, researched and told story about how the pharmaceutical industry identifies and defines new ‘diseases’ which can be a market for newly developed products.
It’s a remarkable film for many reasons. First, we think it really shows the reach of the corporate world up into to most private and personal spheres of human beings. After the tremendous success (commercial that is) of Viagra a lot of pharmaceutical companies have tried to see if similar products could be developed for women. The problem though is that while problems in bed with many men are clearly, say, a ‘mechanical’ dysfunction, the alleged absence of sexual satisfaction with women is a much more complex phenomenon. By carefully funding research, paying celebrity sex columnists and TV presenters and a whole host of players the pharmaceutical industry has – so the film – virtually created the diagnosis for a new disease: ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ (FSD).
Once that had been achieved, the next step is obvious: create a pill, a patch, a lotion, an implant – in short: a profitable product – to ‘cure’ women of FSD. Now there are two problems here: all products so far have severe risks and side effects and none of them really work. And that leads to the second problem: FSD - as many of the experts consulted in the film lay out – is not even a proper disease which can be cured by popping a pill. Rather, difficulties to experience a pleasurable and satisfying sex life for women depends by far the least on physical factors, but a whole host of social, psychological, economic and relational conditions. The film shows to which efforts the industry has gone to make female sexuality into just another commodity, which can be made of source of profit; in other words, ‘Orgasm Inc.’
The film is also great learning stuff for other reasons. Institutional scholars have shown the importance of the ‘organizational field’ for business to be successful. Orgasm Inc. shows how companies actively shape this environment: doctors, academics, columnists, TV show hosts, sex helplines, governmental agencies. They all are crucial for corporate success and companies have for long actively shaped, manipulated and used these actors for their interest. By choosing such a rather personal and intimate backdrop, the film just exhibits to which ends companies are ready to go to achieve their goals. Indeed, nothing is sacred any more.
But whatever the somewhat somber story line – it’s an incredibly funny documentary, very watchable. Liz Canner, the director, initially got drawn into this topic through an assignment to put together film material for sexually stimulating women for clinical trials for a pharmaceutical company. The film never lectures, but just by letting people talk, digging behind the surface of sleek corporate executives and mixing material it just achieves its goal in a still rather lighthearted fashion. Highly recommended.