Friday, August 14, 2009

A Few Simple Steps to Happiness

Scan the "health" magazines at Wal-Mart and you will recognize that versions of the same articles are published over and over.

There is always a story on how to quickly obtain a flat abdomen; the best way to lose weight; and the keys to higher quality sex. Freud famously wondered what women want, and apparently to this day no one knows.

Not even women. Especially not women.

The same holds for men, whom the magazines always portray as sleek, competitive business types obsessed with sports, sex with women, alcohol and adventure. But most men are not like that, just as few women achieve the weird look that marks the American female ideal.

Lists on the cover sell magazines, so you see "10 ways to trim fat," "12 days to six-pack abs," "26 ways to drive him wild in bed," "100 ways to get any woman you want," and so on. Have your cake and eat it too, in five easy steps.

All of the articles repeat the same advice, which everyone already knows: eat less, exercise more, and improve communications with your partner.

These adolescent issues coagulate in a new HBO series called "Hung," which features an impoverished man with a large penis who becomes a male prostitute for straight women. His pimp, a sensitive woman, has to keep reminding him not to behave like a Neanderthal.

The series is very amusing, and is sure to increase orders for cockeyed "penis enlarging" pills. These pills are sold in spam that you probably automatically discard. Yet these products are out there and even advertised on television.

This whole industry is an exercise in the placebo effect, because biologically speaking, there is no nostrum that will enlarge a specific part of the anatomy. Usually, things that make body parts bigger are bad.

Steroids increase muscle mass while destroying the liver and causing other unpleasant effects.

A steady diet of alcohol will enlarge one's liver to the point that it is a mass of fatty cells that no longer function. And, of course, no one wants to bulk up with cancerous cells. Bigger lymph nodes, larger eyeballs, enlarged gallbladders, swollen appendixes, growing prostates, thickened airways -- all bad, very bad.

Add it all up and neither men nor women take any prizes for brains, health or emotional well-being.

Maybe Freud was asking the wrong question.

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