Teaching Resources

Off Label: a film by Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher

I want to invite those attending this year’s American Anthropological Association meetings in Chicago to view the screening of Off Label, a documentary film by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher released in 2012 (Saturday, the 23rd @ 5pm in PDR4 at the Chicago Hilton).  The film captures, in a very effective and emotional way, how people come to live a life on psychiatric medication as well as how some healthy individuals choose to make living by ingesting psychotropics for pay – the human guinea pigs working for the global clinical trials industry.  (Brief disclaimer: I was part of the project as a consultant and appear in the film to offer brief perspectives on pharmaceutical sales and marketing of psychotropics.)

Palmieri and Mosher work very hard in this film to present living snapshots of individuals who are reflective, and at times critical, of their pharmaceutical predicament.   Whether relying on pharmaceuticals to earn a living, or to treat symptoms and disorders of mental distress (e.g., psychosis, schizophrenia and PTSD), the film illuminates the lives of people existing mostly on the margins of American society.  Some reviews describe the film as a road trip through medicalized America, and other, more detailed summaries, noted the rich narratives, while taking issue with the lack of perspective from “Big Pharma,” or PhrMA (see the review by the late Roger Ebert).  Nevertheless, the film provides a humanized view of pharmaceuticals, versus a corporatized view, or even a view from bio-psychiatric specialists.  Instead, it is rich in pharmaceutical narratives and “drug talk” and forces viewers to piece together threads and networks in order to develop their own insights regarding just what exactly pharmaceutical lives and culture mean.

The film also would be a great teaching tool, and I encourage people to have their libraries acquire copies.  The content overlaps with medical anthropology, sciences studies, and courses that focus on pharmaceuticals, drugs and culture.  For students, especially undergraduates, pairing this film with books like Coming of Age on Zoloft and Dosed works extremely well to create a meaningful exchange with students who are often part of a this pharmaceuticalized generation and remain sensitive to its outcomes. (See this review of both books on Somatosphere).  For graduate students, there is a lot of recent scholarship on the global-clinical-trials-industrial-complex (see books by Jill Fisher and Adriana Petryna) as well as the culture and economies of human guinea pig communities (see Roberto Abadie’s recent book), and Off Label ethnographically captures the risks and vulnerabilities that people are willing to endure, when drugs are the only, or often the last option for existence, and allow for some kind of ‘phuture’.

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