Return to Syllabus   Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; phone: (408) 924-5378

Baglia, J. (2005). The Viagra ad venture: Masculinity, media, and the performance of sexual health. New York: Peter Lang.

Note: These comments are not designed to "summarize" the reading. Rather, they are available to highlight key ideas that will emerge in our classroom discussion. As always, it's best to read the original text to gain full value from the course.

This is chapter four of Baglia's book.

Baglia begins by contextualizing the Viagra campaign within the history of advertisements that employ interventionist preventative medicine, exploiting anxieties to sell products that may not be necessary to purchase. Inspired by this technique, “pharmaceutical companies have moved from manufacturing products to manufacturing medical conditions that their products treat” (p. 60). Thereafter, Baglia identifies several components of the Viagra campaign: television commercials, brochures and pamphlets, LifeDrive Magazine, promotional videos, print advertisements, and a book: Viagra: The Remarkable Story of the Discovery and Launch. These texts form a constellation of artifacts employed by Baglia to study the mediated construction of male sexual health as a kind of performance.

Following this overview, Baglia conducts an analysis of the ways in which Erectile Dysfunction (ED) replaced "impotence" as a dominant terminology for male sexual difficulties, and how ED becomes detached from the psychological domain and added into the physiological sphere. Here, the Viagra campaign concentrates upon the body as the most meaningful site to understand ED. At this point, Baglia comments on the increasing number of bodies for which Viagra is marketed before focusing on ways in which ED’s apparent prevalence may be a corporate construction. To that end, he notes that Viagra’s “Sexual Health Inventory for Men” is designed so that virtually any variation from a particular norm of sexual satisfaction results in a suggestion to see a doctor about Viagra.

At this point, Baglia turns to an analysis of how Pfizer's promotional materials rely upon stereotypes of male identity. At first, he explores Viagra advertisements that draw from the iconic sportsman, such as Rafael Palmeiro, arguing, “Viagra both reinscribes the phallic power of heterosexual penetrative sex and connects traditional American males with each other through the promise of youthful virility” (p. 79, italics in original). Baglia also analyses the “stud” found in some Viagra ads who carries a quiet confidence because of his use of the drug: “he comes and goes as he pleases” (p. 80). Briefly, Baglia concentrates his analysis on the race of the “stud” appearing in the “Joe” commercial: " Pfizer once again gets to have it both ways: Joe exemplifies black male potency, power, and (implied) size while also being quiet, confident, and cool...Pfizer plays both with and against the image of the powerful sexual black man" (p. 81).
Baglia concludes this section by noting the larger role of the “strong, silent type” within Viagra discourse.

The final component of this chapter explores the rhetoric of “intimacy” in Viagra advertisements. Here, Baglia emphasizes how the term becomes interchangeable with “penetrative penile-Vaginal intercourse” (p. 85). Once more, the physical act of sex trumps its interpersonal, psychological, and emotional context: “Pfizer’s singular use of intimacy as a substitute for sexual intercourse is a glaring example of how science defines reality” (p. 87). At this point, Baglia concludes the chapters and previews the analysis that follows.

[Return to Syllabus]