Renaissance Column

DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12



CRIS COHEN

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CRIS COHEN is a staff humor columnist for Renaissance Magazine. His work is also published weekly in three California newspapers and four online humor magazines.


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You Call This a Side Effect?

CRIS COHEN

Orlistat

There's this commercial that I see every morning for a drug that supposedly helps you lose weight. It also apparently switches your Excretory System to the setting marked "Unstoppable." Because who wouldn't want to go through their day battling random colon activity?

Most of this commercial is just some guy telling you about the benefits of the product. But at the very end you hear an announcer casually say that if you use the drug "you may experience increased bowel movements, an urge to have them and an inability to control them." See, for me that just cancels out anything else they said in the ad. I don't care if they said that their drug will help me win the lottery, if it's going to put my large intestine on overdrive, I'm going to pass on this one.

And I know that there are people out there who really want to lose weight, but would anyone really sign up for something that could be painfully debilitating? "Darlene looks fabulous now. She's going to have all the guys in town after her once she can walk erect again." I mean they actually used the words "an inability to control them." There's no way that can be good. Sure, on the one hand you are slimming down and looking great, but on the other hand you may never be able to leave the house again.

What's really amazing is that the drug makers consider this a side effect. Out-of-control bowels are not a side effect. Out-of-control bowels are an emergency, one that may require you to call in an ambulance, the paramedics, and possibly a couple of branches of the armed forces. Side effects are small annoyances. Side effects don't make you want to surround your house with police tape or one of those tents that fumigators use.

And it's amazing that this commercial is allowed to run on television, because if you listen to the warning - and it's a little hard to miss - it's one of the most disgusting things you've ever heard. I mean, there's one part of the warning message that's really gross. It's not the kind of thing you want to hear if you're planning on eating sometime this month. I won't go into the details, but let me just say that it involves the term "discharge." And really, when you're talking about these kinds of "side effects," "discharge" is not a term you want to hear. At that point it ranks right up there with "irreversible accident" and "burning sensation."

But they're allowed to throw around that kind of language just because they're discussing a medical product. If a sitcom tried to use that same dialogue, it would be censored from now through the rest of the fall season. You'd still see the actors walking around, but you'd just hear the "bleep" sound continuously for a half an hour. And if a kid ever tried to repeat the warning from the drug commercial in school, they would wash his mouth out with soap and any number of household cleansers that happened to be lying around. Heck, they'd raid the custodial closet for materials.

"What's this liquid?"

"We use that to disinfect the outdoor basketball courts."

"Great. Bring it along."

And how did the FDA let this product get to market? Theoretically the whole purpose of that organization is to protect the public from drugs that might, say, cause an excretory nightmare, the likes of which has never been seen on this planet. I mean, if this got through, what other side effects are being dispensed by doctors and pharmacists? Could spontaneous combustion be far around the corner?

BOOM! "Wow. That's some nasal decongestant. That blew his head clean off."

Personally I think the only way the makers of this drug could redeem themselves would be to change their statement of the intended purpose of the drug. Thus they would now recommend this product for anyone who wanted to experience unstoppable bowel activity. Of course they would warn that a possible side effect of the drug is that you could lose some weight.

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