We never learn
I just listened to the audiobook “Charlatan” by Pope Brock. It’s a non-fiction book which I picked up on the cheap for $4.95 at Audible about a year ago. I just now got around to listening to it.
“Charlatan” tells of the life and career of Dr. John R. Brinkley, who rose to fame and fortune in the 1930s with his miraculous goat gland operation. At a time when the country was in the Great Depression, Brinkley made millions upon millions of dollars selling promises of increased sexual vigor, regeneration of body and mind, shrunken prostates, and so on and so on right down to cures for flatulence.
What was this miracle operation that would turn you into the healthiest randy goat in your town? Well, it was simple. Dr. Brinkley, or one of his paid staff, would whack off the testicles off a young goat, then insert them under the skin of a man’s testicles. Or he’d stick them next to a woman’s ovaries (infertility problems solved). Or sometimes he’d just chop up something or another and implant it somewhere there might be a problem. Whatever. As long as you had the $750.
Lots of former patients swore by it — the typical testament to the power of placebos. Now, those poor suckers who got infections and died, or lost body parts, they were less-than-satisfied customers. No one can be sure how many people died as a result of Dr. Brinkley’s uh … treatment. In one of his clinics, he signed the death certificates for over 40 people, many of whom weren’t sick to begin with. No way to know how many patients died after they were released.
Besides being something of a serial killer, he and his wife were genius marketers. Brinkley saw, earlier than others, the power that the radio had for advertising. He was a clever, clever fellow. He even let other people advertise their products and quack cures and prayer services over his station for a healthy cut of the take.
Oh, yeah, and he nearly became governor of Kansas. And people the world around came to his clinics to get goat testicles sewn into them. Some Hollywood stars swore by goat glands. And Brinkley seems to have been in sympathy with Nazis, what with having specially-made tiles stamped with swastikas ringing the pool outside his mansion.
Brinkley was eventually taken down by American Medical Association quack-buster extraordinaire Morris Fishbein (who is considered something of the father of the AMA). Brinkley died broke in 1942, bankrupt as a result of lawsuits from former patients, IRS charges, and indictment for mail fraud by the USPS, among other financial setbacks.
I think it’s easy to read this sort of thing and snort and say, “What a bunch of rubes those people were, believing that a couple of goat balls would unage them by 30 years, or allow them to hump their wives half the night.” But of course, we’re no different today.
The hucksters know all too well our secret fears and hopes, and they’ve always got a super new invention/process/product which will solve all our problems. I hardly have to point them out. As in the old days, a huge number revolve around the penis, both function and size. And cancer. And weight loss. Especially weight loss.
One of my favorites in the past five years or so has been the company which sells that belly-busting pill. They claim you have a big belly and are fat because of stress, not overeating. Take their pill and the belly will melt away (I guess the stress goes with it, too; I’m unclear on the “facts” here). Ummhmm. And yet they are selling plenty of this product. Last time I was home, I saw their ads multiple times.
Like so many good huckster schemes, they are vague about their promises, the cure is simple, and they cleverly link their claims to actual legitimate research which has indicated the adverse health effects of stress. Brinkley did the same thing in his time, riding on the popular wave of research into the processes of human and animal glands.
And it’s not just these easy-to-spot scams which feed on our desires. What about cosmetic surgery, anti-aging skin creams, and botox?
Plastic surgery certainly has its useful place in medicine. For victims of maiming and scarring accidents, for reconstruction of body parts, for attempts at repair of a birth disorder — these are all legitimate uses. But for anti-aging and augmentation purposes? I say poppycock!
The facts, to me, are these — a face lift does not make you look younger. Oh, your wrinkles are gone, sure, but you don’t look like you’re 20 again. You just look like someone who has had a face lift. That’s it. What’s worse is that the more a patient convinces themselves that they look better, the more operations they have, until eventually they wind up looking like a freak, like Joan Rivers, who I think is a dead ringer these days for that Madame dummy in the 1970s ventriloquist act Wayland Flowers and Madame.
And yet, the people who have had these procedures croon at one another about ooooh, how much younger and sexier they look now. And tell others how if they just got rid of those crow’s feet they’d look 15 years younger. What a load of crap. It’s mass hallucination.
Like huge fake boobs. These things in no way resemble real breasts. Implants don’t actually make a small-breasted woman look like she was born with big boobs. It just makes her look like she had a boob job. But nobody cares.
The bottom line truth is, thanks to clever marketing from cosmetic surgeons to the porno industry, melon-shaped fake boobs have become a sexual fetish. It’s similar to those members of that African tribe, who drill holes in their earlobes to accommodate wooden disks, which they then increase in size over time through stretching, because big disks in your ears are considered sexy as hell. These giant fake boobs implanted for purely cosmetic reasons are no different from African wooden disks. But nobody is going to admit that.
What about botox? It makes you look younger! Not really. It just paralyzes parts of your face to decrease the appearance of wrinkles or to prevent them from forming in the future. Yeah, it sort of works — as long as nobody notices the wrinkles on your hands or your knobby old knees and elbows. And what is the price of a wrinkle-less face? You end up looking expressionless, like a zombie. You lose all those invaluable facial clues which humans require to communicate with one another properly.
And we have no idea what the long-term effects of these botox injections might be. Whatever. You didn’t see the Elizabethans getting all worked up over what might happen to them if they kept smearing lead creams on their faces. As long as their skin was pure white, who cared? Quit being a pussy.
None of these three popular treatments actually deliver what they promise, but through the power of delusion and vanity this country has legitimized this century’s version of goat testicle surgery.
There’s one born every minute — or millions upon millions, as the case may be.
Maybe people just can’t help it. We know, deep down, when something is too good to be true, but we must want this thing so badly that even a miniscule chance of getting it will convince us to line the pockets of swindlers.
It’s too bad. Unless you’re a charlatan, AMA certified or not.