Reefer Madness is Media Fixation

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, May 11, 2003.

  1. By Kevin Potvin
    Source: Vancouver Courier

    Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada, warned that decriminalization of marijuana might lead to border crossing delays. The warning fuelled opponents of decriminalization, who added economic catastrophe to the list of woes that reefer madness brings.
    A majority of both Canadians and Americans, however, have consistently favoured decriminalization because the preponderant weight of science and personal experience points to negligible negative effects.

    So what's behind the enormously funded, politically supercharged, internationally coordinated anti-marijuana movement? Why is this weed perennially causing rancour among the highest national political offices in the world?

    There are well-documented historical reasons, including the medical profession's abhorrence of an uncontrollable but very effective medicinal substance easily obtained and self-administered, the cotton industry's fierce competition with the industrial hemp industry, and tobacco and spirits manufacturers' competition with marijuana manufacturers for the lucrative psychoactive substance market.

    None of these explain the recent surge in official state interest in the harmless recreational habits of private citizens. The element entering the marijuana battlefield and heating it up again is new communications graduates hoping to prove their theory that the mass media can be used to modify and control mass social behaviour.

    Until Marshal McLuhan's complicated 1960s ideas about media and its influence were finally understood and absorbed two generations later, the use of mass media by agencies like the state to modify and control mass social behaviour was only a suspicion of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists. But now the potential of the mass media for use by the state to alter social behaviour is deeply and widely understood.

    We are now entering the experimental stage of theories of media-generated social control. Marijuana, being an illegal yet widely available and often used substance, provides an excellent laboratory in which to test those theories.

    The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has become the focus of this huge social behaviour experiment. In 1997, the office's mission statement says, it "proposed and received dedicated funding for an historic initiative: a large-scale paid media campaign" implemented in conjunction with "a wide array of non-profit, public, and private-sector organizations, including America's major corporations and media companies."

    The mission statement, aimed at an older generation of U.S. Congress members who didn't get McLuhan, but who control the funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, outlines the theories that will be tested in this experiment: "Media campaigns, in some situations, can be a powerful force for social change" it says. "Media have come to play an increasingly important role in public health campaigns due to their wide reach and ability to influence behaviour in a variety of ways."

    The office points to "embedded messages" contained in Hollywood movies and pop music that influence mass society in their drug choices, and hopes to show that the state can also influence mass society by embedding its own messages in the same media. Through various forms of coercion, including suggestions that to condone the smoking of dope is to aid and abet international terrorism, for example, the office has recruited major corporate and media empires to sign on to the project and provide support-which includes "embedding" anti-marijuana messages in their products.

    So-called "faith-based" organizations, community institutions and foreign governments are being recruited in the same manner. "The impact of drug prevention messages and activities offered in communities across America will be enhanced... and communicated by many voices," the section on strategy says. "Through coordination with community-based organizations, professional associations, the entertainment industry, and the media, those voices will resonate."

    The plan devised by the office and distributed to the "entertainment industry and the media" contains detailed instructions on ways they can help to generate social change. "People underestimate the cumulative probability that an event will occur even if they correctly understand the odds that the event will occur on any one occasion. Expressing cumulative probabilities can be an effective means of enhancing the perceived relevance of a risk," it suggests. Thus, you will find marijuana stories in the mass media discussing the risk of smoking five joints a day for 40 years, and little about the risk of having a joint with friends tonight.

    Canada's social policy has been edging slowly toward the decriminalization of marijuana and the people at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy are concerned, but not because marijuana is a dangerous substance-we all know it isn't. Their concern is that Canada's government will pollute their media experiment and endanger their positive results.

    This might throw into doubt their entire theoretical foundation, which is that orchestrated media campaigns can be an effective tool for modification and control of mass social behaviour, applicable wherever state interests collide with popular sentiment.

    Kevin Potvin publishes The Republic newspaper.

    Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
    Author: Kevin Potvin
    Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2002
    Copyright: 2003 Vancouver Courier

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