This contemporary (around 2003) play dramatizes real events from 100 years ago that you may have already heard of surrounding the legal trials of some factory girls who sued their employers to pay for the terrible mouth cancers they contracted through long exposure to Radium. As always, our Forum discussion will stick closely to the text, and what the text is saying about social justice, medical authority, corporate responsibility, and media representations of all those things. But as you read, I think you’ll be struck by how “modern” the events of 100 years ago may feel. While our society has made drastic advances in medical research, drug and chemical safety, government regulations, workers’ rights, and fair access to the legal system, we still may have some of the problems this play tackles. Think about, for example, the constant push for “tort reform” which would limit individual’s abilities to sue corporations that wrong them or doctors who make mistakes. Think about how pharmaceutical companies still aggressively advertise their drugs, sometimes trying to almost bribe doctors to prescribe them, and how that sometimes creates problems (some of you will remember how Vioxx was a fabulous fix for arthritis pain, until it was withdrawn because it was causing many heart attacks). Think about public health issues like the lead contamination in the Flint Michigan water system. Or about how long tobacco companies tried to hide the link between smoking and cancer. Think about how many phony nutritional supplements are out there still today—A governor of Virginia was convicted for taking money to promote a bogus pill called Anatabloc. Or about how often an internet ad will promise something like “One Weird Trick to Kill Diabetes” and it is, of course, just a scam. Think about the public health uproar about Ebola in the USA and that really messy mix of news reporting, opinion, public health officials, and reckless politicians (many of you will remember how, in a panic, the governor of New Jersey ordered a totally healthy nurse quarantined against her will just because she had been to Africa, and stoked public panic over it). This is just a long roundabout way to say that, while our task here is to interpret what the text is saying, not import our own opinions onto the text, and not to go off on flights of fancy about “real life” it is worth remembering, as a deep background to the class, that what literary texts say is important. This one is still being staged and performed, and it might very well be nudging public opinion on all sorts of these issues. Food for thought!
What is Radium Girls trying to tell us about the intersection of Medicine and Money? By Medicine, you can broadly imagine any aspect of healthcare, drugs, caregiving, and scientific research, and by Money you can imagine not just pocketbook issues like selling or buying healthcare and prescriptions, but also the larger economic picture of business, capitalism, corporations (and their advertising). As you think about that primary intersection, you may also wish to consider the role of the Mediain the play (though its possible to write a good post that doesn’t dwell on media), and by media here we are talking primarily about news reporting, but also advertising and really any form of representation—including gossip and rumor. Some students could also comment on the law as an institution—trials, courts, lawyers, liability, etc., but I couldn’t think of a clever “M” to bring that into the picture.
Finally, your post this week must make its argument by, in part, an analysis of at least one moment of theatrical montage—two (or more) juxtaposed scenes that, together, make further implications or deeper suggestions or pack a stronger ideological punch just by being placed near each other. We usually think of “montage” as a term for film/cinema, but it works for this play as well—see the video lecture for some clarification.
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