When it comes to propaganda, presentation and a strong message are always emphasized over the facts. Modest contemplation gives way to grandiose presentations, usually about the virtue of one route versus the evil of another. Reefer Madness is an incredibly important film, not because of its direct impact, but because of what it represents. Its message about the use of marijuana was so widespread and ingrained into our culture, that only after 77 years has public opinion on the soft drug started to recover.
The film itself was not a big hit at its time of release. In fact, it’s known more as a satire nowadays than anything else. But, what is extremely important is that the attitude, and the ignorance exhibited by the film was not entirely foreign at that time. Simply, people thought pot was dangerous. They thought it would destroy our youth culture, replacing a wholesome family oriented society with madness, violence and chaos. This isn’t to suggest that people with more conservative sentiments towards social change are always incorrect, but in this case, I believe history has vindicated the drug’s advocates.
The film’s plot centers around a variety of high school kids who are convinced to try the drug by a shady peddler. What follows is the most ridiculous series of events imaginable; rape, murder, vehicular homicide…if you can name it, chances are it is in this film. The sad part of it is, some of it has some truth to it; people on pot probably shouldn’t drive on public roads, but any good this film could have done with that message alone was washed away with the pure absurdity of the behavior exhibited by those on the drug. Anyone familiar with the drug, or those who use it frequently know that it is extremely passive. Instead, here it is seen with the effects much closer resembling cocaine.
It takes a real sense of humor for even the most staunch anti-drug advocate to get through this film. As a matter of fact, it might be tougher for people against the legalization of marijuana because it presents such a laughable case. We prescribe and pass over the counter thousands of drugs far more dangerous and less useful, yet due to a mixture of politics and culture (but mostly politics) Reefer Madness was born to mold public opinion against the use of the drug, but it didn’t really need to.
There is a dichotomy on the public opinion of weed; age. Older generations have a tendency to be vehemently against it, while the youth is a strong proponent for its legalization. I am afraid that this is one particular issue where there is no real debate; the message of Reefer Madness is laughable. Yet, so many people believed this film, or heard about it from others, parents, and government officials that they resist any evidence to the contrary.
This says a lot about people in general. If you appeal to their emotions, especially at a young age, you can get them to believe something that is absolute nonsense. This raises questions about the ability of people to think for themselves. Dictatorships have been propped up through the use of propaganda, and if the populace is unable to think for themselves, it doesn’t bode well for any of us.