High hopes: how weed has gone mainstream in entertainment
There’s a lot of THC-inspired or related entertainment out there. So much so that “Stoner” has become a genre itself.
In the words of comedian Kat Williams, it has three distinct effects: “Happy, hungry, sleepy. In that order.”
With American states like Arizona and California, plus the whole of Canada, legalising marijuana in recent years, cannabis culture has become much more mainstream and accessible.
Locally, last year saw the start of the decriminalisation of the electric spinach, although nobody is quite sure how much you’re allowed to let flourish next to your dahlias and delphiniums.
It’s been part of local culture for years and the success of the local movie Matwete proves that South African audiences are not shying away from it.
Call it dagga, weed, cannabis, Mary-Jane or (my favourite, coined by Griffin from WatKykJy) Die Rondkyk Rothmans – it’s been around for ages and it’s been present in entertainment for just as long.
In 1936, the film Reefer Madness hit the screens. A work of pure and unadulterated propaganda, the film blames the tantric tea for everything from hallucinations to criminal sprees that would make hard drugs look like underachievers. Obviously not hitting the mark as a deterrent, Reefer Madness has become a cult classic that has even spawned a musical version. More than 80 years old, it’s available for free online.
During the 60s, society became more aware of the recreational use of this “devil’s plant”. There’s a classic scene in the cult classic Easy Rider in which a young Jack Nicholson gets introduced to his first joint, with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper looking on and giving just enough guidance.
Later years saw the introduction of Stoner comedies like Cheech and Chong and the more recent Pineapple Express (and also every Kevin Smith movie ever featuring Jay and Silent Bob).
In television, it’s been around too, although it’s slightly less obvious. That 70s Show always ends with everyone around a table with the camera spinning through 360 degrees from one character to the next. Well, let’s call it “the camera”. But only if the camera is made up of 100% pure Rooibaard rolled in a tight little cylindrical package.
In the 2000s, the euphemistic references were still there, although slightly less embellished. Despite the rather obvious nature of the scenes, it still took me a while to figure out that the “sandwiches” that are shared in How I Met Your Mother were much more about the lettuce than the bread. Considering that the entire series is a story being told to young kids, this is probably still one of the best shortcuts.
Probably the first series to focus on the illicit plant itself was Weeds. It’s about a widow who starts dealing with suburban customers, and it almost reminds one of the movie Saving Grace, in which the death of a husband also leads to the cultivation. But where Grace pretty much sticks to the humour aspect, Weeds quickly takes a turn for the dark and seedy. Suddenly, cannabis isn’t just fun anymore. There’s a dangerous underbelly to every illicit industry and Weeds takes us deep into the heart of the beast. Very literally so by the end.
This dark side of the marijuana industry also surfaces in Bates Motel, when young Norman’s older brother ventures into the shadowy world of illegal growing and dealing in the forests of the northwest coast of the USA. To be honest, the Bates Motel take on ganja growing seemed a bit exaggerated. Guys with semi-automatic rifles guarding crops and whole towns on the take thanks to the toking industry seemed a tad bit dramatic. It’s just weed, isn’t it?
Well, no. It’s not. As clearly illustrated by Murder Mountain. (More on that later.)
If this is all new to you, check out John Marsden in Cannabis: The Evil Weed? on Netflix for the most objective point of view we could find. If you’re more familiar with stoner culture, check out these recommendations:
Our High Five List
Comedian Doug Benson takes on the iconic Comic-Con in San Francisco with some green humour.
Our friends at WatKykJy already raved about this show last year. Now you can watch both seasons and the original web series that gave birth to “The Guy” and his motley crew of puffers in and around New York City.
3Super High Me (Netflix)
Again, comedian Doug Benson, in one of his earlier documentaries about the tree of life. Made in 2007, it’s quite interesting to see the way in which legal and social views on and around cannabis have changed in just over a decade.
Okay, this one slipped past us. Nothing to do with marijuana. “Pot” is used in a more literal sense. This is what happens when you start searching by a synonym. Not quite part of the genre, but SAFTA-nominated and very funny. So, technically, it does belong on the list. Not that we’re saying that you should imbibe and enjoy, but it might just make it even funnier than it already is.
5Murder Mountain (Netflix)
This is where the giggling stops and the munchies get stuck in your throat. This documentary gives a previously unseen look at the world of marijuana as crop and commodity, and the effect it has on people, towns, counties and states. Not only does it look at the history of this plant and the people who cultivate it, but it also hints at the darker and much more violent side of a business that suddenly finds itself out in the open after years of operating in the shadows.
Cooking on High (Netflix)
Exactly what it says. Cooking. With THC instead of MSG. Maybe not the best idea to combine something that gives you the munchies with a food show. Not recommended for those on a diet. But great watching for those who like to Rook en Geniet.
For a foreign (and very funny) take on weed, check out Lommbock. A light and irreverent look at the very serious issues that arise when different approaches to the same substance collide to confound and confuse the life of somebody who’s just trying to do the right(ish) thing. (Don’t worry, the trailer might not have subtitles, but the movie does. )