One of the surprising things about this week’s feature story had to do with online use of the word Viagra. See, it’s become blacklisted, spurned. It’s a toxic word from the perspective of e-mail spam fighters.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that erectile-dysfunction drugs are the products most identified with spam, that one in four spam messages is trying to sell Viagra. Somehow, online pharmacies (often international ones) and spammers have figured out ways to get around firewalls so as to make big profits selling the drug without a prescription. In turn, spam-filter programs have grown more aggressive. At our shop, most every e-mail message containing the word Viagra gets red-flagged and whisked off to spam jail.
As you can imagine, this made communicating about this week’s feature story rather difficult.
Funny things happened.
In the early days, “Viagra and the culture of manhood” feature writer R.V. Scheide sent e-mails about the story that simply wouldn’t get through. Sometimes I’d find them in the spam catcher; sometimes they seemed to disappear altogether. Pretty soon, Scheide figured out we needed a code to communicate about the story. Viagra became “the v-word” or simply “v.” It felt like we were back in sixth grade talking in code to fool the teacher.
(Even when the e-mails did get through under our new guise, they would enter my in-box with a red-hot chili symbol, meaning, I guess, that the e-mails contained “hot” or sexual content.)
Well, Scheide’s story was worth all the hassle. His article presents the untold story of what’s been happening with the little blue pill since its birth in 1998. Among other things, “Viagra” reveals that such drugs are being marketed to an increasingly younger audience of men and that many who take the drug don’t need it, at least for any medical condition. (Hint: Apparently, there’s a 12-step program for recovering Viagra users.)
Thankfully, the story’s out now, and I can stop worrying about the spam filter secreting away my e-mails. But maybe that’s wishful thinking. Readers surely will want to respond to the story, and their e-mails, no doubt, will need to be escorted out of spam oblivion, too.