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Drug Culture Midterm
Prior to this course, I had a very narrow interpretation of drug culture in regards to film. The films I was most familiar with were those that focused on marijuana such as Cheech and Chong films, Pineapple Express, Half-Baked, and the Harold and Kumar trilogy among others. Additionally, the only other heroin-centric film I was aware of was Trainspotting, and the only other cocaine-centric film that had made an impression on me was Blow. However, as the term progressed, I became aware of how the general public perceived these drugs and how addiction was depicted in films.
Additionally, my definition of drug culture expanded to include things that are not necessarily consumed but that still alter a person's perceptions or contribute to addiction. These different types of addictions and mind-altering phenomena are most evident in Videodrome and The Social Network.
There are several films that have impacted me so far in the course. Of the public service announcements and films, A Day In the Life of Donny B. impressed me because of its depiction of an addict and the public's reaction. Throughout the film, Donny B. is shown to have lost his way in life due to a heroin addiction. He does not appear to have any purpose in life other than getting high, which ultimately forces him to lie, cheat, and steal to get enough money for his next fix. One of the things that astounded me about this film is that no one was willing to step up and intervene to attempt to break Donny B's habit. He is continuously referred to as being socially and morally dead, but the same could be said about the people who watch him spiral out of control and do nothing. I was also impressed by The Terrible Truth and its commentary on marijuana, heroin, and morphine. It was interesting to see how the formation of addiction was perceived in the 1950s; marijuana was considered a gateway drug that would completely destroy and alter a person's life after a single use. However, the most absurd thing about this PSA is how it played upon the Red Scare of the time and how it argued that using drugs was part of the Communist agenda. Reefer Madness also made an impression on me because the film was just absurd and comedic even though that was not its purpose. This film was over the top in narrative and approach, especially in its claim that marihuana is a violent narcotic. Given what we know today about the drug, its effects do not resemble those in the film. In fact, in comparison to the other films and shorts we watched during the course, the way marijuana is represented in Reefer Madness resembles the effects of other drugs such as cocaine, heroine, and possibly a hallucinatory drug such as PCP, peyote, or mushrooms.
Videodrome also created a lasting impression due to its alternative approach to addiction and its commentary on the desensitizing power of the media. In Videodrome, television programming is used to simulate addiction; in the film, Max Renn gets sucked into the world of Videodrome and the only way he can escape it is through death. The Videodrome causes him to hallucinate, become impulsive, and become irrational and violent. In a way, Videodrome reminded me of The Matrix in how it used mind-altering devices and forced the characters and the audience to question what was real and what was not.
Throughout the films we have watched, there are patterns that have arisen in both narrative and content. For instance, in the public service announcements such as A Day in the Life of Donny B, The Terrible Truth, and Drugs are Like That, a pattern of the evils and dangers of drugs arises. These public service announcements attempt to steer individuals away from drug use through fear and by commenting on how an individual changes through drug use. Of these three films, I think the most successful short is Drugs are Like That because it does not set out to scare individuals into never touching drugs, but rather it makes the subject approachable and easy to understand. There are no hidden political agendas in the film -- as was seen in The Terrible Truth -- and the film helps to establish that drug awareness begins at a young age.
In the case of Reefer Madness, Videodrome, Altered States, and The Social Network, these films comment on the dangers of addiction and excess, which are not necessarily caused by the use of drugs. As absurd as Reefer Madness is, it comments on the dangers of getting involved in drug trafficking and the seedy underbelly of drug culture. Videodrome and The Social Network comment on the addictive nature of media; in Videodrome television simulates addiction whereas in The Social Network, social media creates a new addictive environment. In The Social Network, addiction is represented in the amount of time is spent creating the site and the need to branch the network out across the globe. In social media, people develop the need to be constantly checking their Facebook for updates and fear that if they are not online, they will miss something important.
Based on the films and shorts we have watched in class, drug films can be classified based on the overall message they convey. For example, the public service announcements approach drug culture from a serious standpoint and aim to educate the public about the dangers of drug use and abuse. This concept can also be applied to Successful Alcoholics, which depicts Lindsey and Drake -- the titular alcoholics -- attempting to come to terms with their addiction and their everyday lives. Films can also be classified on how drugs and addition are portrayed. For instance, Reefer Madness, Altered States, For His Son, and Successful Alcoholics focus on the effects a specific drug have on users. Altered States, specifically demonstrates how drugs can alter an individuals perceptions and goes one step further and manifests these hallucinations into a physical form, which not only affect the user, but also those around him. On the other hand, in The Big Lebowski and Out of the Blue, drugs are not the main focus of the film, but rather contribute to the behaviors of the characters. A third category of "drug" films, as demonstrated in the course, are films in which an object or behavior lead to addictive and destructive behavior, such as in Videodrome and The Social Network. While these films do not focus on drugs, they do focus on the mind-altering effects of media. By bringing attention to how people can be addicted to other things besides drugs, these films help to raise awareness of addiction and how it is not limited to substances, but how it can also manifest itself in other ways.
Based on the readings, music, and films we watched in class, I would be interested to see how drug use for religious purposes, or in religious contexts, are depicted in film. Throughout the course, we have seen how drugs have been negatively viewed by society in the public service announcement videos, how drugs can destroy a person such as in Successful Alcoholics, and how drugs are a part of everyday life, such as in Out of the Blue and The Big Lebowski, however, the closest the films got to demonstrating drug use in a religious context was in Altered States when Dr. Edward Jessup takes part in a religious ceremony that involves hallucinogenic drugs. To an extent, The Big Lebowski shows drug use within a religious context as The Dude's attitude and approach to life is laid back, but is not without purpose. While drugs appear to disrupt Dr. Jessup's perception of reality, drugs in The Big Lebowski enhance his perceptions and actually appear to help him cope with the obstacles of everyday life to an almost medicinal extent. The readings provide a lot of background on drug use throughout history, yet there are very few films that incorporate this historical use into their narratives.
During the course of the class, there are several films and scenes that have been especially memorable and created a lasting impression. One of the most memorable, and more easily relatable moments occurs in Successful Alcoholics when Lindsey and Drake wake up in the middle of the kitchen after one of their drinking binges. This scene highlights the irresponsible decisions that can be made when under the influence of alcohol, especially as Lindsey discovers her laptop submerged in the sink. This film is more relatable than the others because of the accessibility of alcohol. Unlike marijuana, heroin, or other hallucinogens, alcohol is available to most adults over the age of 21. Another memorable scene occurs in the film Reefer Madness as Blanche jumps out of a window in order to avoid having to testify against Ralph. This scene is memorable because of how irrational it is. Rather than face…[continue]
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