Smoke in your eyes?: Stoner films
There's something in the air. The whiff of change? Or maybe just rank hypocrisy. In a recent study by the US National Institute of Drug Abuse, 42 percent of Americans said they had used marijuana, and 16 percent had tried cocaine - a statistic that would include both President Bush and Barack Obama. (Though John McCain has no record of drug abuse, his wife Cindy has confessed to stealing Percocet and Vicodin from her own medical charity to feed her addiction.)
All this is in the past - no politician is going to admit to smoking a joint every now and then, and in fact most elected tobacco smokers are careful to keep their habit out of the public view. Likewise, it's become quite rare to see ordinary movie characters lighting up a cigarette - at least in Hollywood movies.
Marijuana is something else entirely. Pot used to be the preserve of the counter-culture, but as the baby boomers and the hippie kids have grown up and had kids of their own, soft drugs have been thoroughly mainstreamed to the point where it's hard to think of a major filmmaker who hasn't, at some point, celebrated the mighty weed.
Showing pot-smoking may not be the same as endorsing it, but the vibe in films as many and varied as The Big Lebowski, Dazed And Confused, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Jackie Brown, Juno, The Savages and so on is not exactly condemnatory.
In Jonathan Levine's teen comedy The Wackness, released this week, our hero (Josh Peck) is saving up for his college fund by selling bags of weed from an ice-cream cart. He also pays his grateful psychiatrist - played by Sir Ben Kingsley - in kind. The shrink says things like, "Sometimes it's right to do the wrong thing, and right now is one of those times", and even joins his young patient as he peddles his wares.
This isn't the only movie with a drug dealer as hero. Earlier this year we had Charlie Bartlett, in which the eponymous rich kid wins friends and influences people by dispensing prescription drugs obtained from his private army of therapists. While the moviemakers admire Charlie's entrepreneurial spirit, they were more sceptical about the hard-drinking habits of his mom and his school principal (played by Robert Downey Jr).
Then there's Pineapple Express, a self-styled "stoner action movie", starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as two dope heads (Franco is the dealer, Rogen is his best customer) who go on the run after witnessing a drug murder. Produced by Judd Apatow, this is another taboo-testing comedy claiming, not poetic license exactly, but the privileges of amorality in return for our knowing enjoyment. Even so it feels like a rather dubious badge of pride when our heroes finance their escape by selling pot to school kids.
"Everything is better with weed..." Rogen declares at one point, and the actor has made no secret that he shares his character's opinion.
We've come a long way from the inane scaremongering of the 1930s and the notorious Reefer Madness - the kind of thing parodied in the black and white prologue to Pineapple Express, which features Bill Hader from Superbad as an army test subject who smokes marijuana in a controlled experiment - and immediately exhibits alarming anti-authoritarian tendencies.
What sort of progress this represents I'm not sure, but at least you don't have to be stoned to enjoy these movies, unlike those terminally dopey Cheech and Chong flicks from the 1970s. It does make you wonder, though, now that we've had Harold and Kumar, and Jay and Silent Bob, and Seth and James, and Josh and Sir Ben, and Cheech and Chong... Dudes, where are the stoner chick flicks?
The Drug Squad
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