The scariest film I have ever seen. I had only lived for seven years when I watched it but thirteen years and dozens of horror movies later, most of which rattled me to my core, The Boy Who Was Swallowed by the Drug Monster still checks out.
Vince Jackson’s parents are getting a divorce. He befriends a miscreant who lets him borrow his “magic pipe” (pot) so he can feel better. Eventually, the miscreant says Vince must start coughing up, so he starts stealing money from his parents to keep getting high. Every time the video shows Vince smoking, you can see the eerie image of a monster in the smoke and hear its insidious laugh. It is ominously excited that Vince is getting more and more hooked.
One day Vince experiments with psychedelics. While he is tripping, the drug monster appears out of nowhere and eats him alive. The monster then leaves a fake Vince in his place that becomes a miscreant in his own right. It ends with the announcement that this is a true story (I only learned metaphors years later) and shows Vince at his current residence at the time, prison, where he advises us not to follow in his footsteps. The story was written by Vince’s mom, Sue Jackson.
As soon as it ended, my hand shot up and I frantically asked whether the drug monster was real before. No, I didn’t do drugs. Nesquick was my fix, so I figured the drug monster wasn’t motivated to come for me anyways. He was so petrifying, however, that I still needed to know I was safe. My teacher saw the fear in my eyes and was caught between the drug monster’s apparent success in terrifying us away from drugs and the realization that as children we were already terrified of monsters and the video may have created more problems than it solved. She hesitated a “no.” However, we should still never ever do drugs because they were very bad and they seemingly made people horrible if not monsters.
There are obvious reasons why the video is misguided. For one thing, Vince didn’t know what to make of the “magic pipe” when it was introduced to him because he had no candid dialogue about drugs beforehand. The taboo nature of the topic continued to suppress this dialogue, and he never initiated it with his parents himself. Had that conversation occurred, maybe they could have intervened earlier. The implications reach further than drug education for children. They extend to how we view drug users, and how those views are created.
The consequences of drug stigma are often more severe than drug use itself, and I’m not just talking about “stigma” as shame for being different. For drug users, it also presents in the epic failure of the War on Drugs, waged during Nixon’s presidency and marching on alive and well under the Trump administration. How could a war on Americans be publicly supported for so long? Ask the politicians who are “tough on drugs.” For decades, they spooked families about a massive drug crisis corrupting American values and civility and promised to punish the evil drug users and pushers preying on their bright-eyed children. One by one, people of color who demanded humanity were ushered into the prison-industrial complex. One less dissenter = one less “criminal.” Two birds, one stoned individual. They were relieved of any human rights they had before incarceration and this assembly line Nixon structured still runs like a fine-tuned machine.
The rhetoric behind the War on Drugs is a monster because although it is political theater, it sets reality. Parents who were stricken with fear did their fair share to spread more through an anti-drug orthodoxy movement that infused energy back into politics and vice versa. “Drugs” are now a longstanding national concern, even though the true impact of drugs has never even come close to matching the hysteria invoked by both politicians and parent-activists.
People who are at risk for health problems because of drug use, struggle with drug addiction or both are also casualties, figuratively and literally, in this war. Bans on basic health care users need to survive, such as syringe exchanges or supervised injection sites, are human rights violations. These are injustices that criminalization and dehumanization enable: if you’re not clean or don’t get clean then you might as well rot. Any drug users who dare seek help run the risk of identifying themselves, ending up incarcerated and still in need of healthcare, addiction treatment or both. If we were to center drug policy on public health instead of moral condemnation, then it would have to be sacrificed as an issue that reliably helps Republicans appear tough on crime and Democrats appear tougher on crime (there is yet to be a significant link between drug use and crime, although more drug prohibition tends to increase drug-related crime).
It’s why Press Secretary Sean Spicer makes the dangerous, misleading and perhaps deliberate conflation of opioids and marijuana, why Attorney General Jeff Sessions detests marijuana universally (never mind its medical value) and why President Donald Trump rages at the drugs “pouring” into this country and “poisoning our youth.” In line with these statements come new battle plans that bolster drug law enforcement and conversely render the public health of drug policy, the “soft side,” a non-priority.
Vince Jackson died on July 3, 2015 from what was said to be a drug-related death, may his soul rest in peace. Despite my criticism of his mother’s initiative to prevent drug use, I don’t fault her for how she perceives her son’s story. It was an account that screamed what our country’s leaders have been preaching for years, messages to which they rightly predicted parents who deeply loved their children would lend their full-throated support. My only thought at learning of his death was whether it could have been avoided if we lived in a country where drug users were treated as people and not political pawns. My plea is that instead of debating the morality of drug users, we must hold accountable those who stage these debates in the first place. It’s high time we identify who the real monsters are, and see the lies in what they say.
Narayan Reddy is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Reddy, Set, Go appears every other Monday this semester.