Prime Time Goes to Pot
BY CHRISTOPHER GILDEMEISTER
Since the earliest days of the 20th
century, there have been legal prohibitions against the use of marijuana.
This legal disapprobation was generally accompanied by societal disapproval
of the substance, at least until the late 1960s when an extensive drug
subculture manifested itself and began to flourish. Yet even then, the
enthusiasm for marijuana was an “underground” one, rarely acknowledged or
even mentioned in mainstream entertainment (with the exception of some rock
This situation has altered in recent years.
With the exception of the Cheech & Chong movie series, prior to the
mid-1990s, “stoner films” glorifying the use of marijuana were rare; but
popular culture since that time has seen an explosion of pot-themed movies.
This trend shows no signs of abating; indeed, the new movie
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo
Bay is set for release on Friday, April 25th.
This film, a sequel to the 2004 picture
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, will again enlist teen viewers’
enthusiasm for the dope-smoking duo – an enthusiasm hyperbolically
proclaimed on certain Internet sites. One Internet Movie Database
commentator says that the movie’s “multicultural slackers” are “American
every-men that we can all relate to…incredible human characters who are
struggling with real challenges around parents, romance, friendship, the
law, and race.” One wonders whether today’s teens and young adults
universally agree that two moronic potheads are the finest representatives
of their generation; but regardless, this movie will join many others in
displaying a casual attitude toward marijuana consumption, if not actually
And where movies and other pop cultural
phenomena tread, TV follows.
Television programming, like most other
mainstream American popular culture, has generally avoided positive
portrayals of drug use, especially by teens; but under the influence of
other forms of entertainment, now TV is also taking a more casual attitude
toward marijuana. For many years, the stereotype of the use of marijuana by
musicians has been a mainstay of late-night talk-show banter; but only
relatively recently has such dialogue expanded to prime time.
That ‘70s Show,
given its time-period setting and its obsession with the raciest and most
counter-cultural elements of the era, made endless references to the use of
marijuana. That program is still prominently to be found in reruns on local
and various cable channels. Newer shows have done nothing to diminish the
enthusiasm for marijuana.
In an extended storyline last November on the
CW network’s teen-targeted sex series Gossip Girl, teenager
Nate’s father was shown to be a cocaine abuser. Nate’s mother was in denial,
and later blamed Nate for his father’s drug problem, saying that Nate’s
misbehavior caused his father’s stress. And on the March 3rd
episode, Blair complains about her mother using a hookah at a
Moroccan-themed party by asking, “Why do you have to celebrate by turning
our penthouse into an opium den?” Blair’s mother callously replies, “Why
not?” Such scenes demonstrate that drug use is a bad thing, and portrays
teens as noble and virtuous for opposing the use of drugs by their parents.
However, the program has also multiple
instances of teen drug use without any stigma attached to such behavior. On
the September 19th episode, Chuck asks Nate if he wants to go get
some "fresh air" and mimics smoking a marijuana joint. Blair pulls Nate
away, causing him to tell Chuck he will smoke pot with him later. And in a
later episode in the series, several teens are shown passing a joint around.
rightly condemns parental use of drugs like cocaine, pointing out the
tremendous harm drug use can cause -- but then assumes that underage teens
drinking and smoking marijuana is harmless and normal.
The latest example of the casual attitude
towards marijuana use on television occurred on the April 17th
episode of the formerly family-friendly but now louche NBC comedy My Name
Is Earl. This program has gone to pot in more ways than one in recent
seasons – but never more literally than in this episode, which finds Earl’s
father Earl Sr. narrating a flashback which shows how an encounter with a
would-be drug dealer’s satchel of marijuana caused comedic hijinks (such as
Earl’s mother cutting off and trying to eat her own hair). But while
throughout lip service is paid to the fact that marijuana is illegal,
nevertheless it is shown to be a positive influence. At the end of the
episode, Earl Sr. reveals that the dope-filled incident made him happy,
because buying from the drug dealer gave him a chance to become a hero –
with the result that, indirectly, marijuana was a beneficial presence in his
In addition to the many moments portraying
marijuana use as comedic and not harmful, this episode offered an additional
wink to the pro-marijuana crowd. Like the upcoming Harold & Kumar
movie, the Earl episode was released as nearly as possible to the
date April 20th – the number “420” being drug subculture code for
Thus prime-time television has joined the
growing enthusiasm for portraying marijuana use as harmless and even
beneficial – even among teens. For parents concerned about their children’s
health and the possible ill effects of such use, this trend is one more
source of concern…and one more way the entertainment industry makes being a
parent a greater challenge than ever.