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Govt. Milks Stoner Stereotypes in Anti-Pot Propaganda Film

<i>Stoners in the Mist</i> is one of the most offensive and outrageous pieces of anti-drug propaganda ever produced.
 
 
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Note: This essay originally appeared in High Times Magazine.

[Scene:] suburban neighborhood ... Daytime: Our host, Professor Barnard Puck, and his trusty assistant, Baldric, cautiously scan for some unseen creature. Puck motions Baldric to the house on the left. Baldric sneaks off, taking slow, cautious steps. Puck addresses the camera.

Professor Puck: It is a beautiful day. And while most people are out and about enjoying friends, activities, life in general -- the creature that we seek is sedentary, uninspired, and remarkably unmotivated. My associate and I are in search of the lair of a magnificent specimen: the mature stoner.

So begins the script of one of the most offensive and outrageous pieces of anti-drug propaganda ever produced. Part Reefer Madness , part Birth of a Nation (the notorious 1914 film that was condemned by audiences for its hateful and overtly racist portrayal of African Americans), Above the Influence 's faux documentary, Stoners In The Mist , is a film so prejudiced that even the White House -- which commissioned the interactive video -- is hesitant to promote it.

Available online at the AbovetheInfluence.com website (a project of the White House's multi-billion dollar National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, Stoners In The Mist is a series of vignettes -- each designed to grossly exaggerate and exploit common pothead stereotypes. But promoting falsehoods about the physical and mental effects of weed is nothing new for federal politicians and bureaucrats. What sets Stoners In The Mist apart from prior examples of government-financed anti-pot excrement is the film's shocking and exceedingly malevolent tone.

In this case, cannabis consumers are portrayed, quite literally, as less than human. Rather, they are mockingly characterized as wild game -- to be hunted, tagged, and bagged by the film's 'Crocodile Hunter' inspired narrator. Once captured, the so-called 'stoners' are subjected to a myriad of mental, physical, and psychological tasks -- such a navigating a simple obstacle course and catching various objects thrown to them at close range.

Naturally, the film's 'stoner' subjects fail to perform even the most rudimentary tasks competently -- including remembering one another's names ("In his current condition the stoner exhibits an inability to communicate effectively," the hosts informs us.) or bathing ("In fact, we have learned through our intensive research that both male and female stoners tend to lack the motivation to maintain proper hygiene.") The mockumentary's slanderous message: marijuana smoking turns human beings into animals -- a denigrating theme the film's host gloats about repeatedly.

"The stoners' fascinating courtship rituals highlight the extreme difficultly these animals have fitting into other social groups," 'Professor' Puck states matter-of-factly, having dropped all pretense that his 'stoner' subjects are even capable of human traits, rational thought, or communication.

In another scene, the host refers to pot smokers as lab "specimens" whose safety requires them to be locked up in an "artificially controlled environment" (a not-so-subtle endorsement of jail, perhaps?)

In yet a third vignette, a "pack" of 'stoners' are tracked by the 'professor' and his assistant and eventually collared with a radio transmitter. ("The creatures are docile and unresponsive," the host observes.)

Finally, in a closing monologue that could be readily interpreted as the director's justification for current federal drug policy, 'Professor' Puck summarizes the cannabis consumer as "a tragic species…. They are an endangerment to themselves and to the public in general."

Categorically offensive? You bet. So much so that even the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy -- which is estimated to have spent some six-figures in taxpayers' dollars (NORML recently filed a federal Freedom of Information Act Request to learn the exact total; the White Houses' reply failed to provide an answer.) to produce this dreck -- is having second thoughts? Perhaps.

To date, the White House has made little, if any, effort to promote the interactive website -- which, in addition to the exploitive vignettes, includes the online game "Mission to Cannabis Isle," some funky jungle theme music, and a pop quiz full chocked full of disinformation (A case in point: "What has more cancer-causing chemicals: marijuana smoke or cigarette smoke?" The correct answer, according to the film's creators, is marijuana smoke. The actual answer is cigarettes.

So far, none of the vignettes have been broadcasted as public service announcements on radio or television. A teaser for the film appears on youtube.com (Naturally, the viewers' comments portion of the site has been disabled for the video), but has gone virtually unnoticed in cyberspace -- attracting a pitiful 6,900 visitors in twelve months. Even the AboveTheInfluence.com site seems to be shying away from the film. As of this writing, the website's homepage displays prominent links to various Above The Influence PSAs and user-submitted content, but features nary a peep about Stoners.

Ironically, it appears that the only folks tuning in to Stoners In The Mist are, well, stoners. Various drug law reform groups (as well as the political gossip website Wonkette have weighed in with scathing critiques of the online film, no doubt stimulating the bulk of the website's otherwise nonexistent traffic. In hindsight, it's almost hard to imagine precisely whom else its creators could have been hoping to attract. Clearly, the film's content is far too derogatory and over-the-top to appeal to it's supposed target-audience (teens), and its premise is far too juvenile to gain interest among the general public.

Could it be that the ONDCP spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to purposely produce a film that would only be taken seriously by those whose job description includes castigating the very agency that commissioned it? Now that would be a parody worth talking about.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC.

 
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