April 27, 2016

UGARTE | Laughter: the best medicine?

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This past Thursday, some friends and I went to go see Dave Coulier, who many will remember as Uncle Joey from Full and Fuller House, perform stand-up on campus. Coulier was outrageously funny and was well-received by the crowd. During a break from his comedic remarks, towards the end of his set, he asked his audience to think about how much better the world would be if we all just loved each other a little bit more and essentially incorporated a small inspirational speech in his act. I had never really thought of any connection between activism and comedy and did not entirely realize the somewhat significant connection until reading a relevant New York Times Opinion piece. The article was on a Saturday Night Live skit that recently aired. The skit was a fake commercial advertising for “Heroin A.M.,” a drug advertised to parents consisting of heroin, caffeine and “a small pile of cocaine.” While, personally, I thought that, at face value, the skit was amusing and laugh-worthy, many people (law officials included) were upset by the commercial’s alleged disregard for the potent heroin problem in the U.S. In fact, officer Dale Schmidt who was interviewed by CNN regarding the commercial, voiced his opinion that the commercial “glorified” heroin use and was ultimately disrespectful of users and the officials who must prosecute them; he even finished his statement by claiming that he knew people were in tears after viewing the mock advertisement.

As a student taking a “Drugs and Society” sociology class this semester, I am not unaware of the extent of the heroin problem that plagues the United States; however, I would strongly disagree that the comedic skit was encouraging or “poking fun at” the issue and its severity. If anything, the commercial mocked the absurdity of the commonality of the drug and its use is rather than the users themselves. The commercial was supposed to appeal to adults who would enjoy using this fake drug, and none of the other adults or kids in the commercial questioned its place in a suburban home which was otherwise very classic “American Dream” looking. To me, this fact, if anything, seemed to urge viewers to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness that heroin is so common that it seems like Nyquil or Advil – just a mundane household drug.

Moreover, I think the mock commercial also shattered a couple pervading stereotypes about drug use with a refreshing take on the issue. Rather than the stereotypical sketchy individual in a sketchy alley with his or her sketchy friends, those using Heroin A.M. in the advertisement were in a presumably middle or upper class from a suburban neighborhood, looking very presentable and not the least bit  run-down. The commercial exposed the extent of the heroin problem, demonstrating its reach into different communities that may not resemble those that stereotypically house heroin users.

During the last scene of the commercial, a mother, who is presumably high on heroin, is shown ready  to drive a school bus of excited children to work. While it had comedic intentions, I think that the scene could actually be taken as a reminder that anyone, anywhere, could be a drug user and that no one is safe from the effects of heroin addiction – drugs do not only affect the user. The final shots of this mock advertisement, could be taken as a wake up call regarding this issue.

In the opinion piece that inspired mine, Ford Vox states: “Our actors and comedians are a critical part of the mix. Comedy serves an important function in society when it comments on challenging issues such as the heroin epidemic precisely because it’s neither politically correct nor comfortable.” His statement is an important reminder that, for some people, it is much easier to laugh at the absurdity of an issue than to digest the entirety of its weight, and seeing as not everyone processes information the same way, laughter can be a useful tool for those who try to deal with an issue that may make them uncomfortable. Commentaries in comedy such as the SNL skit or even Dave Coulier’s gentle reminder to be more caring, can be both useful and effective tools in activism, and while they may not be well-received by everyone, their influence on some is nonetheless valuable, and if nothing else, even if received poorly, the comedic remarks instigate further discussion and awareness concerning the identified issues.

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