High Comedies Great Moments in the Drug War Kulturkampf

By Gillespie, Nick | Reason, June 2008 | Go to article overview

High Comedies Great Moments in the Drug War Kulturkampf


Gillespie, Nick, Reason


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If the recently concluded HBO series The Wire is arguably the most aesthetically accomplished fictional indictment of the decades-long war on drugs, there is no shortage of contenders for the most absurd bit of prohibitionist agitprop, from the unintentionally hilarious 1936 movie Tell Your Children (better known as Reefer Madness) to the widely parodied 1987 public service announcement in which the role of"your brain on drugs" is played by an egg frying in a skillet to an early 1990s TV ad in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles counsel a grammar school kid offered a handful of joints ("Get a teacher," advise the Turtles, "get a pizza, get real").

Here's a short magical mystery tour, culled from the foggy memories of reason's editors, of anti-drug messages that made childhood just a little more bearable. And drugs--even NoDoz--just a little cooler.

* "Marijuana ... is the Hula Hoop of the Jet Generation!" Produced in the late 1960s by the American Medical Association, this anti-cannabis commercial featured animation groovier than the film Yellow Submarine and a detailed list of just how fun it is to get high. "The human brain," notes the serioso narrator, "is hardly a Tinker Toy." But judging from the spot's graphics, it sure looks like one, especially if you've been smoking dope.

* Drognet's "Blue Boy" Episode. Clocking in at number 85 in TV Guide's 1997 list of the best w episodes ever, this segment told just the facts about LSD--and a face-painting hippie called Blue Boy, who overdosed on the stuff after being arrested by Sgt. Joe Friday, played by three-pack-a-day smoker Jack Webb, who died in real life of a heart attack at age 62. Honorable mention: the "Big High" episode, in which two cannabis-craving parents get stoned and let their child drown in a bathtub. "After 25 years on the job, it's finally happened," groans Friday's partner, Bill Gannon. "I'm going to be sick."

* Sonny Bono's Secret Message. "If you become a pothead," the curiously speech-slurring future congressman warned in this 1970 PSA, "you risk blowing the most important time of your life: Your teen age [sic]." The pitch might have been more effective if Bono's eyes weren't quite so red--or his jumpsuit so golden and shimmery.

* Stop the Madness! This star-and-monkey-studded mid-'80s video is the Citizen Cocaine of Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign. (The First Lady even has a cameo.) Featuring past and future drug users ranging from Arnold Schwarzenegger to David Hasselhoff to Whitney Houston--and a spasticated spider monkey dancing to the strains of a Herb Alpert trumpet solo-"Stop the Madness" didn't just make a case forgetting high (anything to stop the "Stop the Madness" video!

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