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production and distribution of illicit drugs had almost never been a television series' subject until the arrival of the highly acclaimed television series Weeds on Showtime and Netflix. Together, Showtime and Netflix establish an enormous audience base for the show depicting marijuana. Popular music artists such as Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dog often boast in their songs about the hefty amount of pot they smoke daily. Does popular culture have any connection to American society's recent acceptance of marijuana socially and politically? Jenji Cohen's Weeds and popular rap/hip-hop music show how popular culture reflects and perhaps even affects a growing social and political acceptance of marijuana in an increasingly libertarian society. Weeds portrays marijuana itself as harmless, maintains a sophisticated attitude towards the drug and for the most part, uses light-hearted humor. Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dog claim to use the drug daily and manage to be successful figures with many devout fans. The History of Marijuana in Society To understand marijuana's connection with American society, it's important to look at its history and to look back at studies done in the later half of the twentieth century. In the chapter "Marijuana Overview" in Rober Emmet Long's book Drugs and American Society, several studies on cannabis are presented. The book was published in 1986 which goes to show a historical account of studies done on the drug in the twentieth century. Long writes that there are limitations of marijuana research, but includes a study utilizing surveys to show marijuana use in the United States. National surveys have found that "over the past 20 years there has been a
Crawford 2 marked increase in the acceptability of occasional marijuana use among adolescents and young adults, although there has been some degree of increasing disapproval since 1980" (Long 117). The survey goes to show that before the twenty-first century, marijuana use had been on the rise. Popular culture promoting marijuana acceptance doesn't really appear until the twenty-first century but it is important to note that marijuana use was on the rise before this. In the 1980s, marijuana was as much of a social taboo as it was in preceding decades, but despite the drug being a social taboo, adolescents increasingly engaged in using the substance. The national surveys in the 1980s also show that the drug had become more controversial at towards end of the twentieth century. This controversy could possibly be a precursor to modern controversy in the twenty-first century. In decades before these surveys, it would be safe to say cannabis use was found among isolated groups of spiritual experimenters especially those of the 1960s, and remained uncontroversial. But in the 1980s, as these groups of users broadened, especially in adolescents, more controversy on the use of cannabis was generated. This growth marks a period of transformation from spiritual experimentation to common use in society seen at the brink of the twenty-first century. As use became more common, American popular culture in the twenty-first century starts to reflect the new commonplace of marijuana use. But shouldn't popular culture have done this in the late twentieth century when drug use was on the rise? The answer is no most likely because society still didn't accept its use. It wasn't until the twenty-first century that 14 states would pass medical marijuana laws and this occured during the same time that Showtime's Weeds depicted marijuana. The subject would reach popular culture with sophistication and purpose of reflecting and exposing the commonplace of cannabis use. Weeds and Breaking Bad
Crawford 3 It's important to note how marijuana is depicted in popular culture in comparison to harder drugs to explain marijuana acceptance. Federal law categorizes marijuana with harder drugs but popular culture seems to differentiate marijuana from harder drugs. The physical danger of marijuana doesn't even compare to the physical danger of harder drugs. Weeds shows an illicit drug with questionable danger while Breaking Bad shows an illicit drug, methamphetamines, with certain danger. Both shows go to prove how marijuana is not a dangerous substance. Breaking Bad's depiction of methamphetamines and Weeds' depiction of marijuana are complimentary in separating these drugs: Weeds' characters laugh in the back of a van ("Lady's a Charm") while Breaking Bad's characters tweak before beating someone to death ("Seven Thirty-Seven"). The shows complement each other in that Weeds depicts marijuana as harmless and Breaking Bad depicts harder drugs are harmful. Breaking Bad's methamphetamines depict what Weeds' marijuana is not, and that is a drug that induces violence, overconfidence, and addiction. Neither show seems to be depicting marijuana as evil. Both shows imply that the sale of illicit drugs has social implications that make illegal distribution an evil. The first way they do this is by disrupting the image of the mother and of the father. The characters don't disrupt the common intentions of a parent: they want what's best for their children financially and so they sell drugs. But with the social implications of selling drugs in a large scale operation comes concerning effects for Nancy and Walter. Nancy's son, Silas, starts his own operation of drug sale ("Doing the Backstroke") and her other son, Shane, becomes violent and ignores rules and laws ("All About My Mom"). Walter's son looks to his uncle Hank for guidance more than he does to Walter and he notices fake behaviors in his father. Although Nancy and Walter are able to provide for their children, their means of doing so seems to affect their children in a way not usual by the means of a normal mother or father.
Crawford 4 The shows also imply that the sale of illicit drugs has actual repercussions that make distribution seem destructive of moral values. Nancy and Walter become progressively greedy when their efforts as drug dealers bring them financial success. There are lots of times where their financial rewards are threatened, but they keep securing their assets in cash and assets as drug dealers. As the characters continually succeed even after their success is threatened, they develop greed for money. Nancy's greed gets her involved with larger, more violent suppliers and but is justifiable as she is widowed. Walter's greed leads to violence and a total loss of a sense of morals. Walter's greed may not even be as justifiable as he wins his battle with cancer. Marijuana distribution seems to be just as serious and violent of a business as methamphetamine distribution. By depicting illicit drug sale as an evil while depicting marijuana use as not an evil, the shows seem to carry the implication of promoting the legalization of marijuana. This implication deems relevant to the political issues of their time as the supposed legality of marijuana is being debated in many states. Marijuana has recently been made legal in Colorado and Washington while being prescribed medically to patients in even more states. Although this implication may not have been the intention of the shows' creators, the fact that they do depict any drug sale as morally destructive and violent inducing while depicting marijuana use as harmless, they have the overall effect of promoting the informal marijuana movement seen across the nation. Illegal drug sale is associated with gang violence and marijuana hasn't even been proven to be associated with any physical dangers. Legalizing marijuana is predicted to have the effect of eliminating illegal drug sale and thus the gang violence and loss of moral values that seem to go with it. Much of the influence of the violence in Weeds and Breaking Bad stemming from gang involvement reaches Nancy and Walter's children and that hits hard to the average American.
Crawford 5 Weeds and Breaking Bad seem to reflect society's growing tendencies towards accepting marijuana use in a legal sense. Both shows' creators probably didn't have the intention of promoting marijuana use. But through their depiction of drug sale as harmful to individuals and marijuana use as not evil, the shows inadvertently support the movement to legalize marijuana in the United States. Given the popularity of the shows, the success of Weeds into a 8 season series, and the appraisal of Breaking Bad, it wouldn't be hard to argue a connection between the ideology of the shows and the ideology of the marijuana movement. Algorithms based on popularity affect which shows appear first in the instant viewing service of Netflix. Both shows appear on the home screen of this service along with many documentaries on the legalization of marijuana. Is Netflix trying to legalize marijuana? Probably not, but the common subject of marijuana and drugs on the widely popular television and movie service may be saying something about how popular culture is reflecting the attitude towards the once tabooed drug. Maybe Netflix even has the ability to affect how audiences view marijuana and their decision when its legalization is on the ballot. Weeds, Counterhegmony, and Race From further analysis of Weeds, it can be concluded that the show eliminates stereotypes and preconceptions about marijuana as a taboo. In an academic article titled "Smoking The Other: Marijuana And Counterhegemony in Weeds," Dusty Lavoie writes "Weeds [has] transgressive self-conscious playfulness with stereotyped ethnicities, loopy plotlines, and counter hegemonic dialogue. Cultural/political implications follow" (Lavoie 1). Through playfulness with counter hegemonic dialogue, cultural and political implications reflect America's growing acceptance of marijuana. But before this can be proven, it is important to define hegemony and show how Weeds acts to resist and counter the hegemony that has been enacted to label marijuana as a taboo.
Crawford 6 The idea of hegemony is central to the article's discussion of Weeds and marijuana. Lavoie defines hegemony as when "a provisional alliance of certain social groups can exert 'total social authority' over other subordinate groups, not simply by coercion or by the direct imposition of ruling ideas, but by 'winning and shaping consent so that the power of the dominant classes appears both legitimate and natural'" (Lavoie 3) Marijuana is subject to this hegemony; the dominant classes of America, probably during the 1960s, achieved consent that the drug was as much of a detriment to society and individuals as any hard drug. It is easy to see how this resulted in social authority over those who didn't see marijuana as a taboo. The United States government classified cannabis as a schedule I drug and so marijuana was not only outlawed through political means, but also carried the label of a taboo by the social authority implied by law. Lavoie argues that Weeds counters and resists the hegemony of marijuana by "inviting its audience to formulate and reformulate their personal opinions about marijuana as it exists in American suburbia" (Lavoie 3). The portrayal of marijuana in the show allows audiences to formulate opinions about the drug by challenging race associations. Marijuana is not only the show's subject, but Weeds also acknowledges "the existence, use, transfer, and enjoyment of marijuana in white suburbia" (Lavoie 5). Society often associates the drug with the black ethnicity of America: it isn't uncommon for one to visualize a drug dealer as a black (or another ethnicity of a minority group) gang member from a particularly rough suburban. This could be a result of the portrayal of drug dealers in popular culture and also holds true in Weeds: the dealers Nancy competes with are black and the suppliers she works for are Hispanic. By including Nancy in the trade, the show now introduces the white ethnicity into the equation. Many other white characters in the show use marijuana and are shown enjoying the drug. Doug Wilson, played by the hilarious actor Kevin Nealon, is a leader of the town council in the first few seasons of Weeds and is shown
Crawford 7 laughing and enjoying pot quite frequently. Preceding racial ideas about marijuana are challenged as it is shown to be prevalent in white society. Unfortunately, when it comes to marijuana, society tends to make the stereotype that minority groups are associated with drug trade and use. This can only be explained by the prevalence of drugs in rough suburban areas often populated by minority groups. But Weeds is the best example of a piece of popular culture that challenges this conception for one drug: marijuana. The hegemony surrounding marijuana is resisted in Weeds. As racial stereotypes with marijuana are eliminated, so can the association of marijuana with harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and meth be eliminated. As the hegemony associated with marijuana is resisted, so can the preexisting conceptions of the drug as a taboo be eliminated and allow for audiences to create their own opinions. Weeds certainly reflects how America is accepting marijuana into society. If not, why does Jenji Cohen portray cannabis as commonly enjoyed in even white society and why is Weeds so popular? Recent political occurrences such as the legalization of marijuana in two states seem to be affected by such reformulation of the conceptions behind marijuana. Are laws legalizing marijuana being passed as a result of the elimination of its taboo label? If not, why hasn't marijuana been legalized before these reformulations? Popular Rap/Hip-hop Music: A Final Note Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dog are successful figures in the music industry and oftentimes in their music, they boast about the amounts of cannabis they smoke daily. (Caramanica). Conclusion Popular culture reflecting American acceptance of marijuana use is clear, but how about popular culture affecting acceptance of the drug's use? (Dobuzinskis).
Works Cited "All About My Mom." Weeds. Showtime. Portland. 31 Aug. 2009. Television. Caramanica, Jon. "Rapper Reaches Back Well Before His Time." New York Times 31 Mar. 2011: 7. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. Dobuzinskis, Alex. "Weed Grows in Pop Culture: Pot Use Seen in Movies, TV | The San Diego Union-Tribune." Weed Grows in Pop Culture: Pot Use Seen in Movies, TV | The San Diego Union-Tribune. Reuters, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080808/news_1c08pot.html>. "Doing the Backstroke." Weeds. Showtime. Portland. 13 Aug. 2007. Television. "Lady's a Charm." Weeds. Showtime. Portland. 23 Jun. 2008. Television. Lavoie, Dusty. "Smoking The Other: Marijuana And Counterhegemony In Weeds." Substance Use & Misuse 46.7 (2011): 910-921. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. Long, Robert Emmet. "Marijuana Overview." Drugs and American Society. New York: Wilson,
Crawford 9 1986. 109-133. Print. "Seven Thirty-Seven." Breaking Bad. AMC. Portland. 8 Mar. 2009. Television.