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Monday, August 27, 2007

Reefer Madness 2: Even Madder

Some of you, particularly those of you who have my odd taste in films,* may be familiar with the classic film "Reefer Madness." For those who don't know already "Reefer Madness" is a 1936 film intended to warn parents, and teens, of the dangers of smoking marijuana. The dangers listed included rape, murder, insanity, and of course, death. Given that I have known folks who use marijuana regularly without experiencing any of these side effects, I'm a little skeptical of the movie's arguments. That said, heavy users of marijuana have always seemed to me to be less happy, less productive, and less fulfilled in their lives than non-users,** but I suspect that's a consequence of an attempt to self-medicate an underlying problem, and not of the drug itself. In any case, dated though it may be, "Reefer Madness" stands as an argument against drug use.

And now, in the early twenty-first century, we have a sort of belated sequel. For those who are wondering if I've lost my mind, I'm referring to the recent mainstream movie "Knocked Up." Knocked Up is the exciting story of an independent young female named Allison who gets a promotion, has a one night stand to celebrate, and ends up carrying the child of Ben. Ben, for his part, is a 23 year old unemployed would-be porn mogul who spends his days playing video games, goofing off with his unemployed friends, and smoking a lot of marijuana. Let me say that again: smoking a lot of weed. We're talking a level of consumption that might require mechanized farming. These two crazy kids have a lot of twists and turns, enjoy some nutty adventures, and have the obligatory break up and reconcile cycle that we all know so well. But, in the end, they fall in love and have their baby together. Cue the closing music. Now, you might watch this film and wonder if I don't have it backwards. Ben, after all, is a pretty nice guy, despite being so high most of the time that he could wave to the International Space Station and expect a response. He's funny, more or less decent, and tries in his spectacularly incompetent way to be supportive and genuine. So, it seems that according to "Knocked Up," the consequence of consistent marijuana use is to be doomed to have sex with Katherine Heigl. Yeah, that'll deter a lot of teenage boys, I'm sure.

The funny thing is, though, at a deeper level, "Knocked Up," may well convey the same message as "Reefer Madness." While a nice guy, Ben is depicted as being ultimately irresponsible and unable to sustain a mature relationship with another person or be an adequate father. A significant plot point is when he realizes his own worthlessness and decides to "shape up," moving away from his loser friends, getting a real job, bathing regularly, and beginning to take responsibility for himself and his impending fatherhood.**** The closing scene of the movie features Ben driving a shiny volkswagon Jetta through traffic with his new baby, and Allison, laughing in the back seat. It's almost an anthem to suburbia. All we needed was to put them both in Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts, and we would have been golden.

It's not just Ben, either, who gets a sort of makeover. Allison, who was working at "E! Entertainment Television"***** discovers that, contrary to expectation, the network is excited she's pregnant and viewers at home love watching a pregnant woman. So, hey, I guess women don't really lose their jobs for starting a family. Indeed, she seems happier now that she has a child than she did before as a single professional woman. Good thing Ben saved her from a dreadful life of profession success! There's also Allison's sister and her husband who have quite possibly one of the most screwed up marriages I've ever seen depicted in a comedy. The sister, Debbie, spends the movie constantly ripping on her husband and coming to the painful revelation that she's not a single twenty-something anymore but is, instead, a respectable mother who should act her age. Her husband goes through some sort of similar transformation relating to the fact that he shouldn't have interests outside the home but it was too badly depicted for me to really figure out what was supposed to be going on. Or maybe I was too disturbed by their horrendous relationship to tumble to the hidden message. Granted, there was some genuine humor involving these two, such as when the brother-in-law is discovered to be sneaking around so that he can play fantasy baseball, rather than have an affair.****** Unfortunately, the degree of venom in their relationship was just a tad off-putting.

I'm not condemning "Knocked Up," although I didn't like it. Obviously I'm not praising it either. It had a lot of good humor that was, unfortunately, lost in a morass of depressing, horrifying muck. I think I just wanted to note that, whether they will admit it or not, this move ends up conveying the sort of message that Focus on the Family should love: women are happiest as mothers, marijuana is bad, consuming nice things is good, and the proper response to an unintended pregnancy is to get married.

Ah, that crazy reefer madness.


* By which I mean bad taste.

** Doubtless this remark will provoke a certain amount of protest from marijuana fans. I don't care. You can have your opinion that we should all toke up every morning, I can have mine.*** Heckle to your heart's content.

*** i.e. that we should not toke up every morning. Shit, people, I don't even drink, what the hell do you think I'm gonna say?

**** It often vexes me how movies depict this sort of process as being easy. In reality people work for years to obtain success and financial security but, in the movies, take a shower, shave, and go job hunting for a day and success will be yours. It reminds me of nothing so much as the "training montage" from "Team America: World Police."

***** I always think that E is ironically named since it's so "entertaining" that it usually makes me want to kill myself rather than watch.

****** As a man who enjoys rather tame hobbies, I laughed a lot at this.

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6 Comments:

Blogger maxliving said...

When director/producer Judd Apatow was on The Colbert Report, Colbert pointed out that each of Apatow's films sinks to a lower moral ground. 40 Year Old Virgin was about a man saving himself for marriage, Knocked Up was about staying together for the sake of the kids, and finally there's Superbad, which is about teenage guys trying to get girls drunk so they can get laid.

Now that I think about it, Superbad also has unrealistic morals. (*spoiler alert*) The boys end up not getting laid, the hostess of the party who the protagonist wanted to get drunk is a teetotaller, etc. Still a very funny movie though.

Monday, August 27, 2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger yli said...

i just saw 'knocked up' recently and felt ambivalent about the movie. i thought that the ending with Ben's transformation into a responsible father-type was sloppy -- up to that point, i thought the movie was quite good at keeping it real. but it went all rosy with the happily ever after idea.

i didn't get the message that marijuana was bad -- i think Ben's dad used to do that when he was young and he turned out to be doing okay in middle age, even capable of giving his son the golden advice of getting a job. it also seemed that you can just quit marijuana like turn a switch (as easy as getting an office job with no prior employment history).

(by the way, i meant 'done with commenting on this post' not 'this blog' in my last comment. also, is comment moderation really that necessary? you can always delete unwarranted comments afterwards which i think would save time since they're normally very rare...)

Monday, August 27, 2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Yan,

The moderation is basically because I got sick of comment spam- people trying to sell things via comments. You're right, it's easy enough to delete comments after the fact but I prefer to do it this way. It's actually less of a hassle for me. I regret that it stifles commenters a bit, but nothing is perfect.

Monday, August 27, 2007 1:34:00 PM  
Blogger Practicing Idealist said...

The most disturbing part of the movie for me was the conflict between the husband and wife, which was followed later by the husband "realizing" that he was the one in the wrong for wanting time to himself (and time to leave his screaming wife alone). It just played into the stereotype that husbands are "whipped" by their wives, and should just do whatever the woman wants. I'm not advocating wives should just do what their husbands want, but rather for some sort of balanced compromise.

Monday, August 27, 2007 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger yli said...

drek - the comment moderation just takes some getting used to (the first couple of times one keeps wondering if the comments ever went thru...)

on practicing idealist's comment: i have a different take on the issue. i'm turned off by debbie's nagging and lack of emotional intelligence as well, but to be fair, she also wanted time outside the family (alone or with her husband), but she didn't just leave for vegas. in fact, she was having fun at the bar and upon a phone call about possible sickness of a child, went home right away. her husband was not trying to leave her alone, he wanted to get away from her *and the kids* -- which is nothing wrong in itself (mothers and fathers alike all want and need time away from their kids sometimes), but the problem is he did (by going to fantasy baseball) and she didn't. in the movie, the husband is obviously more clueless and less involved with childcare than the wife, which is really what most of the wife's gripes were from. in the context of child care and raising a family, the relationship between the husband and wife is not as simple as who does more of what the other person wants.

Monday, August 27, 2007 6:05:00 PM  
Anonymous superdinosaurboy said...

Probably a bit late to leave a comment now. Ho hum. Anyway: I think this film has received quite a lot of criticism, which is somewhat unfair. In brief, I think much of the film is about negotiating expectations of what relationships and parenthood are about, and doing your best to manage in your own way.

So, Ben proposes because he thinks it's the right thing to do, but they don't get married (or at least not yet). His Dad's advice is shown to be unreliable - Ben has to make up his own mind in the end. The network doesn't love Heigl's pregnancy in principle (and evidently one of the execs hates her, and the other's pretty creepy) - they love the numbers she gets them.

And marriage is shown to be at best hard work, and perhaps, at worst, sometimes impossible to keep going.

The film's also got a lot of stick for not taking the possibility of abortion seriously. But really, it's a comedy based around a pregnancy (and the film's too long anyway) - this is hardly an issue worth getting bogged down in, since the pregnancy's an essential plot device.

Annyway, that's my tupenny-worth.

Monday, September 10, 2007 2:02:00 AM  

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