No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880

No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880

No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880

No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880

Synopsis

From Victorian anxieties about syphilis to the current hysteria over herpes and AIDS, the history of venereal disease in America forces us to examine social attitudes as well as purely medical concerns. In No Magic Bullet, Allan M. Brandt recounts the various medical, military, and public health responses that have arisen over the years--a broad spectrum that ranges from the incarceration of prostitutes during World War I to the establishment of required premarital blood tests. Brandt demostrates that Americans' concerns about venereal disease have centered around a set of social and cultural values related to sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and class. At the heart of our efforts to combat these infections, he argues, has been the tendency to view venereal disease as both a punishment for sexual misconduct and an index of social decay. This tension between medical and moral approaches has significantly impeded efforts to develop "magic bullets"--drugs that would rid us of the disease--as well as effective policies for controlling the infections' spread.

Excerpt

When No Magic Bullet was first published in early 1985, the extent and consequences of the AIDS epidemic were far from clear. This remains true. But in the time since then a great deal has become clear. One thing is certain: the epidemic is a public health threat of great magnitude. AIDS is a disease which will be with us for some time; there will be no simple answers to the complex social and medical problems it poses. Contemporary events are dangerous ground for any historian, but the history of sexually transmitted diseases speaks clearly to the current health crisis and may serve to inform how we come to understand AIDS. This new edition thus has an added chapter which analyzes the meaning and impact of the early years of the AIDS epidemic and puts it in historical perspective.

AIDS, a terrifying and tragic epidemic, reminds us of the power of biological forces in determining the quality and meaning of human existence. These biological forces, however, are shaped and transformed by social and cultural forces. By examining attitudes and responses to the disease, we may be able to understand better the process by which disease is defined. And ultimately, this understanding may facilitate rational interventions that will slow and ultimately stop the course of this epidemic.

Cambridge, Massachusetts August 1986

A. M. B.

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