Wednesday, June 23, 2021

NOPE!!! Contagion And Anti-Prophylactic Delusions Of "Love" Utterly Disgust Me...,

daily.jstor |  Deriving from the Greek words for “before” and “guard,” prophylaxis refers to a variety of precautionary measures designed to predict and preempt a negative outcome, primarily in a medical context. Vaccines fortify the body against certain viruses; condoms and other prophylactic barriers can prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STIs; and routine screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies are designed to detect and neutralize issues in their early stages.

However, at the time that Fitzgerald wrote the lyrics quoted above, prophylaxis was most frequently invoked as an extension of eugenic ideology and practice. Marshalling the white supremacist science of “racial hygiene,” doctors became amateur sociologists recommending “prophylactic” solutions to social problems. These solutions included both “negative eugenics”—the institutionalization and forced sterilization of prostitutes, poor women, women of color, and disabled people—as well as “positive eugenics,” which attempted to increase the birthrate among white, upper middle class, nondisabled, and neurotypical families.

Consider, for example, these remarks by Dr. R.M. Funkhouser which link the science of preventative medicine to private decisions around romantic courtship. This advice appeared in a 1913 issue of the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association just one year before Fitzgerald wrote “Love or Eugenics”:

The quality of human beings should count and not quantity. Is it not wiser and better that prophylaxis precede than wholesale destruction follow?… The general knowledge of the laws of heredity should be more largely disseminated and marriage should primarily depend on the desire to produce ‘worthy’ offspring with the best qualities.

To be clear, when Funkhouser weighs the benefits of “prophylaxis” against a future of “destruction,” the calamity he is referring to is the imagined contamination and degradation of white bloodlines. Prescriptions like these were echoed in countless medical publications of the period and strongly influenced both public policy and popular culture. The same year, the United States Surgeon General, Rupert Blue, advocated for the use of “eugenic marriage certificates,” which would certify the mental and physical health of both partners in advance of their wedding.

A eugenics marriage certificate

By the end of the decade in which Fitzgerald was writing, state fairs across the country would begin to hold “fitter families” contests, transforming these medical recommendations into a recreational pastime. Making an anxious spectacle of the usually unmarked category of whiteness, middle class families competed for “top honors” by undergoing a series of mental and physical evaluations designed to test their eugenic fitness. Winners were announced and ribbons were awarded—though any family that scored a B+ or higher was presented with a medal bearing the inscription, “Yea, I have a goodly heritage.”

Arguably, Fitzgerald is poking fun at practices like these; his lyrics appear to satirize prophylactic marriage and invite skepticism around the wisdom of applying the “laws of heredity” to mate selection. While Dr. Funkhouser would no doubt advocate choosing a “prophylactic dame” over “kisses that set your heart aflame,” the plot arc of the musical validates the opposite outcome as the charming Celeste wins out over the eugenically “fit” Clover.

 

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