The Placebo Effect

How did you and your husband respond?

Zoloft and Ritalin SR for Aiden, and Adderall XR for Jenna. It did the trick for a while. The only thing that pissed me off was that our insurance didn’t cover it because the kids were on Phalanx.

How long had they been on Phalanx?

Since it became available. We were all on Phalanx. “Piece of Phalanx, Peace of Mind.” That was our way of being prepared… and Tim buying a gun.

Pgs. 65-66 from the account of Mary Jo Miller of Troy, Montana

The particular passage I have chosen is an account from Mary Jo Miller. She is the architect and mayor of a Zombie-proof housing community. In her account, she details how her average American family encountered an attack by zombies. In the context of World War Z, the narrator has already spoken to the creator of Phalanx and heard the accounts of a variety of different sources.

Within this particular excerpt, there is an overall metaphor that can be related to economics. For example, the phrase “Zoloft and Ritalin SR for Aiden, and Adderall XR for Jenna,” implies to me that Zoloft, Ritalin SR, and Adderall XR are simply crutches. By administering these drugs to her children, Mary Jo Miller is simply avoiding the root cause of the problem. Similar to an economy, there can be crutches that the government can provide to struggling industries. The government can give out subsidies on goods, create price ceilings and floors, bailout an industry, impose trade tariffs, reduce taxes, and utilize a variety of other “solutions”. Really, by doing these things, the government is ignoring the root cause of the problem. In the 2008 market crash, the government bailed out several major banks and corporations despite the fact that these organizations were utilizing sub-prime loans or risky business practices. In this situation, Mary Jo is the government, and her children are the struggling industries. The medications act as the economic crutches that are holding up the industries.

Next, the line “pissed me off was that our insurance didn’t cover it because the kids were on Phalanx,” seemed to be quite ironic. It is ironic that Phalanx, of all medications, was the drug that caused the family to have to pay out of pocket for their other medications. Phalanx, as the reader knows after the narrator’s interview with the creator of Phalanx, is merely a placebo. It did not work on the virus that created zombies. Phalanx is an example of the failure of the FDA and government to recognize an improperly marketed and ineffective product. Phalanx is an example of greed and self-interest in the global capitalistic economy.

Following this, “Piece of Phalanx, Peace of Mind” also struck me as ironic. The phrase actually seems to be foreboding. The word “phalanx” means ‘any body of troops in close array’. The word, by nature of definition, literally means protection. In the word’s true definition, it means an army united for a common purpose. Yet Phalanx the drug is far from that. Really, in this case, its meaning more closely follows ‘an army united to make money.’ Phalanx was the by-product of greed. Its creator saw the opportunity to profit off of the fear of the virus, and utilized it to line his pocketbooks. Typically, when one has the protection of a police force and military to keep him or her safe, he or she will have peace of mind. This is true of many developed countries, where most of its citizens are kept safe by its safety forces, and thus are able to have peace of mind over their safety. However, with a contagious disease, typical safety measures are unable to keep people safe, because the attacker is something that is too small to be seen, and thus too small for a soldier to fight. “Piece of Phalanx, Peace of Mind” translates to ‘portion of the army, peace of mind,’ yet this is untrue. With this false product, any peace of mind created is unfounded.

Lastly, when Mary Jo mentions her husband Tim buying a gun to help them be prepared, it seemed to be a very American thing to do. Instead of taking precautions to avoid infectious agent contamination, their first response was to find some sort of brute force to protect them. However, a gun is not effective unless it is readily accessible and its owner truly knows how to use it. Otherwise, the gun is simply there to make its owner feel better about its potential. A gun cannot shoot itself or identify when there is a danger present. The gun represents another potential economic safety measure that seems to be helpful, but in reality is just a false hope.

Overall, this passage was quite striking in that it was the account of an average American family. The nightmare of any family during this time period must have been that zombies would come into their home and harm their children. For the Millers, this was a reality. The whole except can be tied to an overall metaphor seen in World War Z of capitalism and its downfalls. This excerpt primarily showcased economic crutches used, and how they provided false hope.






3 thoughts on “The Placebo Effect

  1. Reading this passage, I had not even considered it being a part of a metaphor for the inherent greediness in the American economy, but I think it is a very interesting take on it.
    Additionally, I agree with you on the commentary regarding the placebo effect, but I found myself wondering if the placebo effect has any value or if it only stands barrier to clarity. Despite Phalanx being completely useless as a protectant againt the virus, it is able to give peace of mind and I would argue that has some value.


  2. I thought your perspective was very interesting, because I blogged about the passage directly after in which we discover that Phalanx is actually a placebo. I actually looked at your initial metaphor of Mary Jo being the government bailing out her children differently. I don’t think Mary Jo could be analogous to the government since she didn’t know, unlike the government official being interviewed, that Phalanx was a placebo. Also, I don’t know if the placebo acted as a bailout as much as it did as a way of reducing the hysteria. According to the interview which I blogged about, the government official seems to be more concerned about his voting base who would lose trust in authority if no medication was created. Not only is the government ignoring the root cause, I also thing the government isn’t trying to help the people at all and is instead simply protecting itself.
    What I really enjoyed in your article was your interpretation of “A Piece of Phalanx, a Piece of Mind.” I didn’t know previously that phalanx literally meant a body of troops, and I can see how its true definition is ironic compared with its actual purpose in the book as a placebo.


  3. The concept regarding “crutches” was very interesting in the sense that throughout the book, instances where characters avoid the root cause of the problem is frequently observed. Instead, they simply try to distract themselves; like the Zoloft, Ritalin SR, and Adderall XR, they numb themselves to the real problem at stake. Perhaps the way Mary Jo Miller reacts to Mrs. Ruiz moving to Alaska demonstrates such nature of humans. She thinks it “was the stupidest thing [she’d] ever heard” (Brooks 65). Rather than taking the zombie attack as a serious threat, enough to make people relocate, she dismisses the possible anxiety immediately. To alleviate any source of anxiety in the family, Mary Jo Miller resorts to Zoloft, Ritalin SR, and Adderall XR. This then raises the question: is it in our nature to avoid facing problems? Is it a natural response to distract ourselves from anxiety? From this idea, I then thought about the surgeons, donors and recipients involved in the Chinese organ transplants earlier in the book. It would have been an extra stress factor to think about the possible transmission of disease through the transplant. Perhaps the recipients were too consumed with surviving, and avoiding any hindrances to that ultimate goal, that they did not tackle the risk of transmission of disease. Such drive to numb ourselves from the threats and risks popping up, in the patients’ case, towards receiving the organ, and in Mary Jo’s case, in the stress-free daily life eventually leads to much dire consequences. The patients’ refusal to register illegal organ donation as a possible source of disease transmission leads its spread worldwide. Mary Jo’s refusal to register the zombie attack as an impending threat ultimately places her family at the brink of death (67). In such ways, the idea that ignorance of smaller problems—the act of distracting ourselves from the smaller risks—ultimately leads to much dire consequences seems to be a possible overarching theme.


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