When it came to pharmacological solutions to life's despairs, Aldous Huxley was ahead of the curve. In Huxley's 1932 novel about a dystopian future, the Alphas, Betas and others populating his "Brave New World" have at their disposal a drug called soma. A little bit of it chases the blues away: "A gramme" — Huxley was English, remember, spelling included — "is better than a damn." With a swallow, negative feelings are dispelled.
说到以药物手段来医治生活中的绝望，奥尔德斯·赫胥黎(Aldous Huxley)可谓走在了时代的前面。在赫胥黎1932年的小说《美丽新世界》(Brave New World)中，生活在那个反乌托邦未来世界中的阿尔法、贝塔和其他种姓的人类手头常备一种名叫“苏麻”的万能灵药，只要一点点就可以驱散生活中的阴霾。“服药胜过受煎熬。”只要吞下药丸，负面情绪也随之烟消云散。
Prozac, the subject of this week's video documentary from Retro Report, is hardly soma. But its guiding spirit is not dissimilar: A few milligrams of this drug are preferable to the many damns that lie at the core of some people's lives. Looking back at Prozac's introduction by Eli Lilly and Company in 1988, and hopscotching to today, the documentary explores the enormous influence, both chemical and cultural, that Prozac and its brethren have had in treating depression, a concern that gained new resonance with the recent suicide of the comedian Robin Williams.
本周（指9月22日那周）的"Retro Report"（以重新审视历史上的重大事件为主题的系列纪录片）的主题百忧解(Prozac)和“苏麻”当然不是一码事，但其宗旨却并无不同：对某些人而言，服用几毫克这种药物总比应付生活中的大堆烦恼合算多了。继回顾了1988年美国礼来制药(Eli Lilly and Company)推出百忧解的经过之后，这部纪录片又将视角转回当下，从化学和文化的双重角度探讨了百忧解及其同类产品在抑郁症的治疗领域造成的巨大影响。由于喜剧演员罗宾·威廉姆斯(Robin Williams)不久前自杀，抑郁症又成为当今人们关注的热点。
In the late 1980s and the 90s, Prozac was widely viewed as a miracle pill, a life preserver thrown to those who felt themselves drowning in the high waters of mental anguish. It was the star in a class of new pharmaceuticals known as S.S.R.I.s — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Underlying their use is a belief that depression is caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Pump up the levels of this brain chemical and, voilà, the mood lifts. Indeed, millions have embraced Prozac, and swear by it. Depression left them emotionally paralyzed, they say. Now, for the first time in years, they think clearly and can embrace life.
Pharmacological merits aside, the green-and-cream pill was also a marvel of commercial branding, down to its market-tested name. Its chemical name is fluoxetine hydrochloride, not the most felicitous of terms. A company called Interbrand went to work for Eli Lilly and came up with Prozac. "Pro" sounds positive. Professional, too. "Ac"? That could signify action. As for the Z, it suggests a certain strength, perhaps with a faint high-techy quality.
(X is a pharmacological cousin to Z. Both letters are somewhat unusual, worth many points in Scrabble. It is surely not a coincidence that a striking number of modern medications contain either Z or X, or both, in their names, like Luvox, Paxil, Celexa, Effexor, Zantac, Xanax, Zoloft, Lexapro and Zocor, to name but a few. Not surprisingly, confusion can set in. Zantac or Xanax — remind me which one is for heartburn and which for panic disorder?)
Pendulums, by definition, swing, and the one on which Prozac rides is no exception. After the early talk about it as a wonder pill — a rather chic one at that — a backlash developed, perhaps unsurprisingly. Grave questions arose among some psychiatrists about whether the S.S.R.I.s increased chances that some people, notably teenagers, would commit suicide or at least contemplate it. No definite link was confirmed, but that did not end the concern of some prominent skeptics, like a British psychiatrist, Dr. David Healy. He has dismissed the notion of S.S.R.I.s as saviors as "bio-babble."
If some users deem Prozac lifesaving, others consider it sensory-depriving. A loss of libido is a common side effect. Some writers and artists, while often relieved to be liberated from depression's tightest grip, also say that Prozac leaves them mentally hazy. In his 2012 book, "Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder," Nassim Nicholas Taleb offered this: "Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire's ‘spleen,' Edgar Allan Poe's moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many other poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced."
有人觉得百忧解可以救命，其他使用者则认为它剥夺了人正常的生理感觉。百忧解的一个常见的副作用是丧失性欲。还有一些作家和艺术家声称，虽然百忧解将他们从抑郁症的魔爪之下解脱了出来，却也让他们精神恍惚。纳齐姆·尼古拉斯·塔利布(Nassim Nicholas Taleb)在他2012年的著作《反脆弱：从无序中受益》("Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder")中提出：“如果百忧解早在上个世纪就问世的话，那么波德莱尔(Baudelaire)的“忧郁”、埃德加·爱伦·坡(Edgar Allan Poe)的浪漫主义情怀、西尔维亚·普拉斯(Sylvia Plath)的诗歌、以及那么多其他诗人的哀叹，所有那些有灵魂的作品都将遭到扼杀。”
Then, too, S.S.R.I. critics express doubts that these drugs have proved themselves significantly more effective than placebos. Some among them question the very concept that serotonin levels, on their own, cause depression or prevent it. One psychotherapist in that camp is Gary Greenberg, an author of several books on mood disorders. Writing in The New Yorker last year, Dr. Greenberg said that scientists had "concluded that serotonin was only a finger pointing at one's mood — that the causes of depression and the effects of the drugs were far more complex than the chemical-imbalance theory implied."
此外，SSRI的批判者们还怀疑这些药物的效果是否显著优于安慰剂。其中一些人质疑单凭血清素水平是否就足以导致或防止抑郁症。心理治疗师加里·格林伯格(Gary Greenberg)就属于这一阵营，他撰写过若干本关于情绪障碍的著作。在去年的《纽约客》(The New Yorker)上，格林伯格博士写道：科学家们认为，“血清素只是影响个人情绪的一个因素，抑郁症的成因以及药物的效应远比化学失衡理论所描述的更加复杂。”
"The ensuing research," he continued, "has mostly yielded more evidence that the brain, which has more neurons than the Milky Way has stars and is perhaps one of the most complex objects in the universe, is an elusive target for drugs."
More broadly, this retrospective on Prozac introduces a discussion of whether the medical establishment, and perhaps society in general, has gone too far in turning normal conditions, like sadness, into pathologies. And have we paved a path — shades of soma — toward wanton reliance on drugs to enhance life, not to conquer true illness?
This is what a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Kramer, has called "cosmetic psychopharmacology," a Botox approach, if you will, to matters of the mind: Why not take Prozac and its S.S.R.I. mates even if you are not clinically depressed but believe that they can boost your confidence, or maybe help you make a stronger pitch at the sales meeting?
A response from others in Dr. Kramer's field is that we are taking traits that are normal parts of human nature and casting them as diseases simply because remedies now exist. For instance, shyness is now regarded by some as a condition in need of treatment. In its more severe form, it is placed under the heading of social anxiety disorder. Then there are those much-heralded life enhancers, Viagra and its erection-aiding cousins. They are marketed not only to men with sexual dysfunction but also to those whose aging bodies are enduring normal wear and tear.
One area of shyness that the S.S.R.I. class has helped overcome is discussion of depression. Decades ago, Hollywood stars and other celebrities dared not touch the subject. Now they routinely go public with their anguish. Robin Williams was an example.
Of course, there are those in other realms of society for whom the topic remains taboo. Take one man who confesses to his wife that he is on Prozac but cautions her to tell no one. "I'm serious," he says. "The wrong person finds out about this and I get a steel-jacketed antidepressant right in the back of the head." This is Tony Soprano talking to his wife, Carmela. An extreme example from a work of fiction? Sure. But in all likelihood many Americans have similar fears about what others might think, and keep depression to themselves.