PCP Abuse: NIDA Research Monograph 21 (August 1978)

Step back into a time of avocado green, angel dust, and fun fonts in government documents.

From the Forward:

Phencyclidine (PCP), or “angel dust” as it is more commonly known to drug users, posed until recently a relatively modest problem. While some illicit use occurred as early as the mid ‘6Os, the drug’s initially poor street reputation seemed to make it decidedly unlikely that it would ever become popular as a drug of choice.

More recent events have made it abundantly clear that our initial optimism was poorly founded. A change in mode of use from oral ingestion to smoking or snorting, which may enable the user to better control aversive consequences of use, together with the ease with which PCP can be synthesized, have markedly changed the phencyclidine abuse picture.

In one year (from 1976 to 1977) the number who had used phencyclidine as measured by NIDA’s National Drug Use Surveys nearly doubled in the 12 to 17 year age group. Among young adults between 18 and 25, the number of PCP users increased nearly fifty percent in that same year. Although the level of use detected was still modest, there is good reason to believe that the standardized indicators of the extent of PCP use and of its adverse consequences represent significant under-estimates of the seriousness of the problem. Clinical reports have also indicated that phencyclidine use can precipitate violent acting out and seriously self-destructive behavior as well as psychotic thinking and behavior.

The full document is available here as a 337 page PDF.

PCP is a dissociative anesthetic and NMDA receptor antagonist related to ketamine, the darling of the new rapid-acting antidepressant set. A recent summary in Medical News Today noted its popularity has waned quite a bit since the 70s:

The extent of use of PCP appears to be falling. In 1979, 13 percent of high school students said they had tried PCP. By 1990, that figure had fallen to 3 percent.

Results of a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, published by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), show that, in 2015, 0.2 percent of 12- to 17- year olds had tried it at some time in their life.

 

angel dust_what everyone should know about PCP

Oglesby EW, Faber SJ, Faber SJ. (1979). Angel Dust: What Everyone Should Know About PCP. Lega-Books.

 

A selection of chapters from the NIDA monograph:

PCP has a notorious reputation for inducing psychotic and violent behavior (NIDA, 1978):

Clinical reports have also indicated that phencyclidine use can precipitate violent acting out and seriously self-destructive behavior as well as psychotic thinking and behavior.

. . .

Chronic phencyclidine use has culminated in a picture of violent and aggressive behavior, paranoia, delusional thinking, and auditory hallucinations. In most cases no known behavioral disturbance or psychiatric problems preceded the use of phencyclidine.

from PCP Commercial

 

A 2013 article in Addiction.com, however, said these claims are overblown:

But even though angel dust can cause a variety of psychotic symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, disorientation and a feeling of paranoia, a normally nonviolent person is not going to suddenly become a vicious, marauding maniac simply because he has consumed this substance. Nor is he going to gain extra strength while under its chemical spell: most people arrested for drug crimes go quietly or with minimal fuss when they are taken into custody, so when a person high on angel dust goes on the attack, it can catch everyone off guard.

 

Macabre circus or important case study or hyperbole or all of the above?

This brings me to my main interest in the topic: Aaron Hernandez. Ex-NFL football star, PCP addict, convicted murderer, suicide by hanging, and CTE brain of the month. In the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John Branch made the startling statement that the brain of Aaron Hernandez presented an opportunity to study a case of “pure” CTE:

What made the brain extraordinary, for the purpose of science, was not just the extent of the damage, but its singular cause. Most brains with that kind of damage have sustained a lifetime of other problems, too, from strokes to other diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Their samples are muddled, and not everything found can be connected to one particular disease.

In my main blog, I’ve been struggling to write a post that highlights the misleading nature of this claim. How much of that was Branch’s own hyperbole? Or was he merely paraphrasing the famous neuropathologists who presented their results to the media, not to peer reviewers? Is it my job to find autopsied brains from PCP abusers and suicides by hanging? Searching for the latter, by the way, will turn up some very unsavory material in forensic journals and elsewhere. At any rate, I think much of this literature glosses over any complicating elements, and neglects to mention all of the cognitively intact former football players whose brains haven’t been autopsied.

 

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#FakeBudget

america first budget.png

This thin 62 page PDF (which includes 8 blank pages) is a poorly documented and fanciful précis of the Bannon/Trump blueprint for “deconstruction of the administrative state.

Trump with Bannon as Grim Reaper

The proposed budget would eliminate the following federal agencies:

For biomedical scientists, the most distressing section was this:

  • Reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending relative to the 2017 annualized CR level by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion. [NOTE: this is a 19% cut from current budget of $30.3 billion.] The Budget includes a major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities, including: eliminating the Fogarty International Center; consolidating the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within NIH; and other consolidations and structural changes across NIH organizations and activities. The Budget also reduces administrative costs and rebalance Federal contributions to research funding.

This is extremely alarming (but so vague and poorly written that it’s hard to infer the exact intent here). The NIH has broad bipartisan support, so such a massive gutting is unlikely. On the other hand, Trump has said, “I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.”

The document is filled with unsupported claims:

  • Eliminates $403 million in health professions and nursing training programs, which lack evidence that they significantly improve the Nation’s health workforce. [NOTE: Where is this evidence?] The Budget continues to fund health workforce activities that provide scholarships and loan repayments in exchange for service in areas of the United States where there is a shortage of health professionals.

…and meaningless hand-waving:

  • Invests in mental health activities that are awarded to high-performing entities and focus on high priority areas, such as suicide prevention, serious mental illness, and children’s mental health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be among the hardest hit, with 3,200 fewer positions and a 31% cut in funding. This is no surprise, since deregulation is more important than clean air and drinkable water.

Those of us with a conscience don’t have to accept this sadistic budget by Bannon and co., which is designed to outrage and infuriate. Write or call your representatives NOW.

“Complaining Shrinks the Hippocampus” – the study that doesn’t exist

gray739-emphasizing-hippocampus

The “complaining is bad for your brain” trope is making the rounds again. In How Complaining Rewires Your Brain For Negativity, Dr. Travis Bradberry (“Author of #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and president of TalentSmart, world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence”) claims:

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus—an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

What is this compelling research from Stanford? A link to an article in Fast Company, Why Complaining May Be Dangerous To Your Health (1/12/15):

A half hour of complaining every day physically damages a person’s brain, according to research from Stanford University. Whether you’re the one griping or you’re the one listening, exposure to negativity peels back neurons in the hippocampus—the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive function. Over time, complaining becomes a habit. If you’re surrounded by complainers, then you’re more likely become one.

The research on “peeling back neurons in the hippocampus” is a link to a non-existent article in iaap-hq.org. Pulling up the extinct page in archive.org yields this gem, Complaining Hurts Your Brain (3/27/14):

Scientific research from Stanford’s medical school revealed that exposure to 30 minutes of negativity every day (including negative news on TV) can physically damage the brain. It damages the neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive functioning. This is significant because research also shows that in Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage.

Now let’s look for a study where the participants had their brains scanned, watched 30 minutes of negative news every day for three months, then had their brains scanned again. For good measure, we should assign half of the participants to a control condition, where they are forbidden to watch negative news for three months. Then we can compare hippocampal volumes in the two groups.

You know where this is going. The peeling hippocampus study does not exist. It’s completely fictional.

Further Googling pulls up a 2012 article from the Community Corner section of the Carlsbad Patch, Stress and Negativity May Change Size and Function of the Brain:

Robert Sapolsky is a professor and researcher in the field of stress and the effect it has on health. For the past three decades Sapolsky has been studying how the mind and body handle stress. In an interview with Stanford Report, he said:

It’s becoming clear that in the hippocampus, the part of the brain most susceptible to stress hormones, you see atrophy in people with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. … There’s a ton of very exciting, very contentious work as to whether stress is causing that part of the brain to atrophy, and if so, is it reversible. Or does having a small hippocampus make you more vulnerable to stress-related traumas? There’s evidence for both sides.

Ah ha, Robert Sapolsky, a famous professor at Stanford. He’s best known for his research on the negative effects of stress in baboons, who generally do not watch TV, neither in the wild nor in captivity. Here’s a 2000 review article on Glucocorticoids and Hippocampal Atrophy in Neuropsychiatric Disorders (cited over 1,000 times):

An extensive literature stretching back decades has shown that prolonged stress or prolonged exposure to glucocorticoids—the adrenal steroids secreted during stress—can have adverse effects on the rodent hippocampus.

Yes indeed, the invasive studies that examine actual neurons in the hippocampus are in rodents.

Sapolsky continues:

More recent findings suggest a similar phenomenon in the human hippocampus associated with many neuropsychiatric disorders. This review examines the evidence for hippocampal atrophy in (1) Cushing syndrome, which is characterized by a pathologic oversecretion of glucocorticoids; (2) episodes of repeated and severe major depression, which is often associated with hypersecretion of glucocorticoids; and (3) posttraumatic stress disorder. Key questions that will be examined include whether the hippocampal atrophy arises from the neuropsychiatric disorder, or precedes and predisposes toward it…

Notice that both here and in his 2007 Stanford News quote above, he questions the direction of causality.

So where did the complaining and negative news come from? The Carlsbad Patch article 1 also linked to Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain (8/12/12):

Do you hate it when people complain? It turns out there’s a good reason: Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways, according to Trevor Blake, a serial entrepreneur and author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. In the book, he describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session.

“The brain works more like a muscle than we thought,” Blake says. “So if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.”

Even worse, being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity–including viewing such material on TV–actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus. “That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving,” he says. “Basically, it turns your brain to mush.”

Ah ha, so we can finally blame serial entrepreneur Trevor Blake, who made up the whole thing. Or at the very least, extrapolated wildly from studies in monkeys and rodents. From Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life:

like-watching-fearful-news

[so Mr. Blake actually used the more accurate “pruning back” not “peeling back”]

What about complainers? 2

chronic-complainers

Oh no!! This blog post is increasing the rate of cell death in my hippocampus!

But think about it… reading Donald J. Trump‘s toxic and negative (and horrifying) tweets is raising our anxiety. Does complaining about them make it any worse?

 

link to HuffPo via Neuroskeptic

 

Footnotes

1 The Carlsbad Patch article by is actually the best of the lot.

2 The unclear origins of this claim were also discussed by the skeptics at Stack Exchange.

Slogans for Liberals in the Trump Era

slogans_small signs of normality.png
quote from Autocracy: Rules for Survival, by Masha Gessen.

My previous post on October 27 featured the Inflammatory Essays of Jenny Holzer (1979-1982).

REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE

FEAR IS THE MOST ELEGANT WEAPON

THE END OF THE U.S.A.

Then the unthinkable happened. Some of these scenarios actually came true on November 8, 2016. Trump is appointing white nationalists and right wing hard-liners to key posts in his administration. Like many others, I’m still in a state of shock.

Inspired by Holzer’s Truisms (1978-1983), Canadian writer and visual artist Douglas Coupland created Slogans for the 21st Century (2011-2014).

i-miss-my-pre-internet-brain

These were featured in a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which I wrote about in my main blog (Welcome to Douglas Coupland’s Brain).

The recent ugly turn of events has inspired me to create Slogans for Liberals in the Trump Era, based on Coupland’s designs. Some of the slogans were made up by me, others taken from recent news stories and credited as such.

slogans_NOSTALGIA BUSH.png

Steve Bannon is truly scary:

‘Darkness is good’

Washington (CNN). Steve Bannon has no regrets.

The ex-Breitbart executive, who serves as Trump’s chief strategist for the new administration, told The Hollywood Reporter that “darkness is good.”
“Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing,” he said in an interview published Friday, his first outside of Breitbart since the election.


slogans_how do you like your disruption.png
quote from Silicon Valley Helped Create Trump, and That’s Bad for It, by Noam Cohen.

slogans_identity liberalism.png
quote from The End of Identity Liberalism, by Mark Lilla. I do not agree and thought it was a terrible essay.

slogans_identity politics1.png

slogans_identity politics2.png

Trump doesn’t seem to like the NIH, which is very alarming to scientists:

…I can tell you, because I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.

slogans_NIH.png
Feel free to use this sign on social media and around the lab (along with any of the others).  Proper credit would be appreciated.

slogans_NOSTALGIA REAGAN.png

FORCE ANXIETY TO EXCRUCIATING LEVELS OR GENTLY UNDERMINE THE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

“Fear is the most elegant weapon, your hands are never messy”

Many people are familiar with Jenny Holzer‘s Truisms (1978-1983), but fewer know about her Inflammatory Essays (1979-1982). Amid the surreal reality show that is the 2016 US Presidential election, Holzer’s words from 35 years ago ring true today.

REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE.

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950 [no title] 1979–82

 

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950 [no title] 1979–82

 

MEANINGLESS PLATITUDES WILL BE PULLED FROM TONGUES AND MINDS

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950 [no title] 1979–82

 

THE END OF THE U.S.A.

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950[no title] 1979–82

Opium for Separation Distress in Victorian-era Infants

Infant's Delight Mother's Joy

“I haven’t heard that morphine or buprenorphine is recommended for human babies who cry persistently and excessively,” I declared in a post about Opioid Drugs for Mental Anguish on my main blog.

Silly me! In a comment on the post, Ray Davis said…

An earlier generation of field-researchers found it quite (and sometimes permanently) effective: http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health4.html

The article on Opium and Infant Mortality states:

Medical officers were convinced that one of the major causes of infant mortality was the widespread practice of giving children narcotics, especially opium, to quieten them. At 1d an ounce laudanum was cheap enough — about the price of a pint of beer — and its sale was totally unregulated unitl late in the century.

Indeed, the New York Times of 1879 reported a terrible opium poisoning that caused the death of a one year old child.

Opium - The Cause of a Child's Death

 

There were other dangerous “soothing” products of the day with quaint and reassuring ads. One can imagine that administration of these potions was not limited to teething and bowel complaints. The U.S. National Library of Medicine has a lovely collection of these.

Baby Ease

 

The Quack Doctor has a great post on Atkinson & Barker’s Royal Infants’ Preservative, which “has been acknowledged the best medicine in the world.” Ingredients included 1 dr. Laudanum, an old-timey tincture of opium.

Atkinson's and Barker's Royal Infants Preservative

Six drops of this fine medicine was enough to kill a six week old baby in 1886.

Lest you think that in the modern era, we know better than to poison our children with such foolish remedies, there was a recall of a dangerous product in 2009. The recall was “in response to a reported case of potassium bromide poisoning in an infant, associated with the use of a locally purchased teething product.”

The name of this product? Monell’s Teething Cordial (Cordial de Monell para la Dentición).

Monell's teething cordial 2009

Autonomy and Exploitation in “The Tribe”

I saw the brutal and breathtaking film The Tribe the other day. It was about decay and violence and sex as violence and belonging and exclusion. It was about a thuggish gang of high school students at a Ukrainian boarding school for the Deaf. Peeling paint on the walls of the ugly claustrophobic corridors and stairwells sets the tone. The landscape was filled with graffiti and burned out cars and dilapidated buildings. No future and beyond hope.

The teachers enforced no rules and looked the other way at systematic violence as a way of life. Not only that, adults helped facilitate the criminal activity (along gender lines): robbery and physical assault for the boys, and prostitution for the girls.

The film was filled with constant dialogue but none of it was spoken. The non-professional actors communicated via Ukrainian sign language.

There were no subtitles.

This was the central conceit of the film: the audience is forced to interpret the story by watching the characters gesture, decoding their facial expressions and body language. Which is not all that hard for many of us to do* (in broad strokes, at least), but the nuance is lost.

But nuance was not the point here. The ambient sounds — roaring traffic, crunching leaves, footsteps on snowy sidewalks, knocking on windows, slaps, fists hitting flesh — were all amplified, or at least it seemed that way. The nihilism was overwhelming. And the violence (including sexual violence) was…. very disturbing, to say the least.

The overall critical reception of The Tribe (along with work by lead actors Hryhoriy Fesenko and Yana Novikova, director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, and cinematographer Valentyn Vasyanovych) has been glowing: a rating of 78% on Metacritic and 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Autonomy or Exploitation?

But was Slaboshpytskiy exploiting these young members of the Deaf community (with whom he could not communicate directly) by exposing them so completely (emotionally as well as physically)? Fesenko and Novikova appeared completely nude in sex scenes that were used in promotional material.

image

 

image

Exploitation

Two underage girls were shown as willing participants in the school prostitution ring, pimped out by their classmates and teachers, engaging in grubby and degrading truck stop sex. The director chose not to show us the emotional toll such sex work would have, instead justifying it as their only way out… out of the depressing institutional school, and out of the country (to Italy).

But here I should let Yana Novikova speak for herself:

“With great fear I anticipated seeing myself naked on the big screen, and this feeling of alarm didn’t leave,” Novikova says in an e-mail interview. “I was so uncomfortable. I had a desire to hide from everyone and everything under a chair. I thought if I played it badly, the audience will laugh at me.

“And then the movie ended, the credits went, and they turned on the lights. The reaction of the public dumbfounded me: Someone cried, someone was in a chair and just sat, covering their face. And then everyone rose and started applauding, turning to us. They shouted ‘Bravo!’”

Autonomy

Novikova said in the interview that she always wanted to be an actress. How many acting opportunities are there for young Deaf Ukrainian women? Zero, except for this one. And here “we” the hearing should consider the possibility of a wider autonomy for the members of an insular community — autonomy for both the actors and their characters in the film. The latter is a more problematic notion, since they’re underage victims of institutional neglect.

Novikova continues:

The brutality and nihilism exhibited by mere teenagers in the film is astonishing. The situation is murky: Are these students purely victims of predatory teachers or willing collaborators in their own degradation?

“I was told stories about corruption in deaf boarding schools, particularly between the years 1990-1996,” says Novikova, 22. “I think it is a bit of both. Each is feeding the other, like an addiction.”

Importantly, the characters existed outside of and apart from the world of the hearing. They’re allowed to be as bad as the rest of us. It’s the viewers who are the marginalized ones, who must figure out what’s going on. To dismiss this as a “silent” movie is to ignore the centrality of signing in the Deaf community.

…and Back to Exploitation

The director had the two lead actors watch a number of movies with explicit sex scenes, like Last Tango in Paris, 69 SongsShortbus, and Salò. And the one that raised a red flag for me, Blue is the Warmest Color, which I thought was extremely exploitative and male-gazy (but that’s another story). More from the interview:

…She grew more comfortable having to undress after seeing “Blue.”

“I understood that cinema sex is about love, about knowledge of and  discovery of sexuality, not just about erotic scenes,” Novikova says. “This rich character history, the frank work of the actors shook me. I literally fell in love with the lead actress.

“And then Miroslav told me that the movie “Blue Is the Warmest Color” received an award, the Golden Palm in Cannes,” she adds. “I asked him, ‘And what is this Cannes?’ … Miroslav promptly explained it to me. And I lit up. I imagined presenting myself on the red carpet, in a beautiful dress, under flashes of cameras. In my head, it was as if something clicked: Can it be, ‘The Tribe’ — my one and only chance to become a professional actress? It gave me internal strength, and I declared to Miroslav: ‘I will do everything, I want to receive the Golden Palm.’”

With “The Tribe,” Novikova did walk the red carpet under flashes of cameras in a beautiful dress at the Cannes Film Festival.

And another male director convinced (manipulated/exploited) another young female actress into performing nude/explicit scenes…. yet we shouldn’t deny Novikova her autonomy.

The Deaf Community Speaks Out

The most important opinions about this film aren’t mine, they’re those of the Deaf Community. And here the reviews are mixed.

Charlie Swinbourne: Has The Tribe changed what a deaf film can be?

Significantly, there are no subtitles and no voiceover. The audience is asked to understand the film by picking up on the actors’ physical expressions as they sign to each other – almost like watching a silent film. Because sign languages vary in countries across the world, British deaf people are likely to understand as little as anyone else.

At first, this is deeply unsettling. Ten minutes into the film, I wasn’t sure if I could carry on watching it. I’m a film-maker and scriptwriter, and words are important to me. As a deaf person, I also wanted to know exactly what they were signing to one another, and where the plot was going. Having spent hours painstakingly adding subtitles and voiceover to my own films and programmes, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the decision to give no access to the dialogue was a cop-out.

Then I started to pick up on the characters’ relationships, changes in mood, and began to understand what was going on. Cleverly, by removing subtitles the audience is forced to engage more with the deaf characters, to really look in order to understand. I can’t deny that there’s also something I quite like about hearing people being put into a position we deaf people often find ourselves in – having to figure out what is being said.

What’s also different about the film, from a deaf perspective, is how extreme the story is, and the world it depicts. Most deaf programmes or films face restrictions because they are made to be shown before the watershed in daytime hours where signed TV shows tend to be aired. Consequently it’s rare to see a film with deaf characters where adult themes are explored. In my view, the themes are not simply explored for effect in The Tribe – they are justified by the story that’s being told.

Raymond Luczak: NO MORE SAVAGERY, PLEASE: A Deaf person’s review of the film The Tribe

The assumptions that a hearing person, uninformed about Deaf people,  would be encouraged to make on the basis of this film would naturally be very different from the assumptions that a Deaf viewer would make. This is why, whenever hearing people make films about us, we Deaf people are naturally concerned about whether something on the screen will reflect badly on us. The Deaf community in America has been fighting against the closure of Deaf residential schools, which is an important battleground for several reasons. …  For a Deaf person, a language that’s fully accessible is generally more powerful than ties to a biological family that doesn’t make enough of an effort to include her in the family conversations around the table. It is through language, not blood, that we feel whole and connected. In this context, Sergey’s desire to be part of a group who fully understands his language is entirely understandable.

Yet I suspect that for many Deaf Americans still hurting over the closure of certain Deaf residential schools, it would indeed prove troubling to watch a group of Deaf teenagers behave so badly toward each other in this film.

. . .

In this film, almost everyone is exploited, but make no mistake: This is above all an exploitation film made by hearing filmmakers. It is useful to ponder what the term truly means, and I quote Wikipedia here: “Exploitation film is an informal label which may be applied to any film which is generally considered to be low budget, and therefore apparently attempting to gain financial success by ‘exploiting’ a current trend or a niche genre or a base desire for lurid subject matter. The term ‘exploitation’ is common in film marketing for promotion or advertising in any type of film. These films then need something to exploit, such as sex, violence, or romance…” However it may be shot at a cool distance, The Tribe has luridness in spades. It would be most interesting to learn what the Ukrainian Deaf community thinks of the film itself, beyond the thrill of seeing their friends up there on the screen.

 

Gratuitous Abortion Scene

Here we come to the most serious WARNING for those who wish to see The Tribe. No one will be able to convince me that the unbearably long (7 min 30 sec) and gruesome bathtub abortion scene is anything other than an affront to the audience. After an extended argument with her roommate (who we imagine is trying to dissuade her), Anya (pregnant by classmate Sergey, who steals to get the money) heads out alone to the illegal “provider.” The abortionist is a grim and expressionless woman from the Dead Ringers school of gynecological torture. The bathroom is filthy and painted with the same sloppy blue and white institutional paint seen everywhere else. I’ll spare you the full image.

image

Hearing Anya cry out in pain and agony was the most disturbing aspect of this savage act (and the entire film). We’ve heard no utterance from her up until this point.

I thought the abortion scene was completely unnecessary, and I’m not the only one. But it follows the Director’s gendered curriculum of boarding school violence: rape (and now gynecological butchery) for the girls, head bashing for the boys.

It took me a while to recover from this scene. But I eventually wondered, was the director trying to say something about abortion in contemporary Ukraine? Seems doubtful to me. It’s actually Russia that has the problem with high abortion rates, according to this 2012 paper:

Divergent Trends in Abortion and Birth Control Practices in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine

Since the end of the 1990s, the Russian government switched to archaic ideology in the area of reproductive health and family planning and neglects evidence-based arguments. Such an extreme turn in the governmental position is not observed in Belarus or Ukraine. This is an important factor contributing to the slowdown in the decrease of abortion rates in Russia.

In the end, I might consider how Ukrainian politics influenced The Tribe, but that would be pointless because I’m no expert. So I’ll let an article from The Ukrainian Weekly have the last word:

There is a scene where two administrators (also mute) who arranged for an Italian visa for two young girl students, ceremoniously trot out the vodka bottle – just like some real life administrators from that part of the world. As we recognize more and more tableaus that ring true, we begin to realize the full tragedy of what we are viewing – this is a film about a society that has regressed to a primitive state, it is about the desperation of people caught in a dysfunctional hell-hole. Who has not been disturbed by the crumbling buildings, the disinterested apparatchiks and other weasels, the quiet desperation of the long waiting lines, and the skinhead punks in Ukraine? – only this time they just happen to all be deaf… Our emotional response is undeniable. And with this, the director has achieved his goal.

 

Footnotes

* … no judgment meant against neurodiverse people who might find this difficult and perhaps frustrating. Which would be an interesting topic, about another community…

** First posted on my ridiculous tumblr as Complete Autonomy or Exploitation in “The Tribe”. After I realized the piece was getting longer (and more serious) than expected, I decided to post it here as well.