THIS IS A COLUMN I didn’t want to write. Too much has been written about sex in the consumer press, right? It’s getting to be downright boring.Well, not exactly — not since the advent of the Potency Pill. Over the past couple of weeks, Viagra has become an obsessive topic for magazines (a Time cover), columnists (a Maureen Dowd diatribe), not to mention dinner table conversation. “I can’t believe how this subject dominates conversation at even the most elite parties,” reports a friend who is well connected in New York. Hence, this column. While Viagra’s every implication has been scrutinized in the media, one key arena has been left unexplored: Show business. This surprises me, for I think that the message of the Potency Pill will resonate across the entertainment industry in many important ways. First, a quick briefing for the uninitiated. Viagra, which is made by Pfizer, has taken off faster than any new drug in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. With 10,000 new prescriptions being written each week, it’s left other hot new products like Rogaine and Prozac in the dust. And what does it do? Taken an hour before sex, Viagra goes to work on the enzymes in and around the erectile tissue to deliver a urological miracle. Even a self-doubting wimp suddenly becomes a priapic prince. THE SUDDEN ADVENT OF VIAGRA has been a boon to standup comics, whose audiences have tired of White House jokes. Even normally somber finance shows, like “Wall Street With Louis Rukeyser,” recently sprinkled a few minutes of Viagra humor between Pfizer’s earnings projections. But the implications go far beyond this. Consider the cataclysmic impact of the Pill on entertainment a generation ago. Almost overnight there was a sexualization of movies and TV. Films like “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” or “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” became pervasive. Characters in movies suddenly were saying anything and showing everything. Those two arcane words “full frontal” became commonplace. And now along comes the Pill’s sequel. Will the effect be as widespread? Probably not. After all, the language of our pop culture already is so permissive that it’s hard to imagine any further ramification. On the other hand, let your imagination roam a bit. After all, we’re talking about the sexual empowerment of the geezer set. If that isn’t a social revolution, I don’t know what is. Take the self-image of our aging action stars. Buoyed by their new vascular virility, I can see Charles Bronson and even Sly resurrecting themselves yet again. The Lemmon-and-Matthau movies clearly have run out of steam, but now they can return as “The No Longer Grumpy Old Men.” Indeed, why not let Matthau star in another sequel to “Free Willy,” now that the title takes on loftier meaning. The hot new zit epics on TV like “Dawson Creek’s” are running out of plot lines. Surely it would be possible to introduce older men as sexual rivals — to keep those snot-nosed teens on their toes. THERE ARE MYRIAD POSSIBILITIES for remakes as well. Now that Warren Beatty has resurfaced, there is surely a chance to remake “Bonnie and Clyde.” We all remember Clyde’s little problem — a quick encounter with Viagra would quickly change all that. Indeed, if he were hip to pharmaceuticals, it would be hard to imagine Clark Gable saying “I don’t give a damn” at the end of “Gone With the Wind.” The opportunities for product tie-ins are extraordinary. Think of “My Giant,” “Mercury Rising” or Michael Moore’s “The Big One” — where were Pfizer’s ad men when these movies were opening? Inevitably, I suppose, there will be a Supreme Court confrontation about the entire issue of tumescence. On those rare occasions when there has been male full-frontal nudity in films, the actors have been subjected to derision for their meager stature — remember Richard Gere in “American Gigolo,” not to mention Tom Cruise in “All the Right Moves” (as Liz Smith reminded us last week, for reasons that elude me). Even in the case of “Boogie Nights,” Mark Wahlberg had to state upfront that a clumsy prosthesis was introduced at the end of his film. Given the advent of Viagra, surely male actors will no longer be photographed in a disadvantaged state. Yet how will the courts respond, not to mention the ever-edgy code? If “the erection is the last gasp of modern manhood,” as Camille Paglia declares (she bills herself as a postfeminist), can the courts let this opportunity wither?
- Triptyk Studios, New York, New York
- Petrol Advertising, Burbank, California
- Bridgewater Associates, Westport, Connecticut
- Company Confidential, Aspen, Colorado
- Save the Children, Fairfield, Connecticut