Reefer Madness commences with a foreword about the “real public enemy amount one,” marijuana, and issues only get worse from there. More than the ensuing 68 minutes, wayward souls under the influence of pot: hit and destroy a pedestrian with a car unintentionally shoot a teen woman, killing her defeat a gentleman to death with a adhere (as others look at and chuckle hysterically) and soar out a window to their have demise. The concept is crystal clear, but just in circumstance you skipped it, a character provides it instantly to the camera at the conclusion. Dr. Alfred Carroll, a fictional high school principal, tells the audience: “We ought to do the job untiringly so that our young children are obliged to master the reality, simply because it is only by means of knowledge that we can securely guard them. Failing this, the up coming tragedy may perhaps be that of your daughter. Or your son. Or yours. Or yours.” He details his finger at the center of the display just before intoning, drastically, “Or yours.”
This bonkers 1936 film reflected a true drug panic sweeping The united states. The calendar year soon after its launch, the federal governing administration enacted the 1st-at any time tax on cannabis, representing the 1st of lots of subsequent guidelines cracking down on the drug and any individual associated with it. Reefer Insanity captured and capitalized on this hysteria.
Reefer Madness was an exploitation motion picture, one particular of the many movies that mined sexual intercourse, gore, or other tawdry topics for most impact. David F. Friedman, a longtime producer of such movies, described the style thusly in an job interview with David Chute:
The essence of exploitation was any matter that was forbidden: miscegenation, abortion, unwed motherhood, venereal disorder. You could provide the 7 lethal sins and the 12 slight ones. All those subjects ended up honest sport for the exploiteer—as long as it was in terrible style!
Exploitation movies existed on the fringes of mainstream cinema in the 1930s, because their sensationalism stored them out of normal film theaters. But they mirrored actual social anxieties, and none was much more relevant in 1936 than pot stress.
The criminalization of marijuana was then effectively underway, as states ranging from California to Louisiana categorised possession as a misdemeanor. It attained the federal amount with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which positioned a tax on the sale of hashish and laid the foundation for the harsher criminalization that followed.
These legal actions experienced fewer to do with authentic worry of the drug’s facet consequences than with anti-immigrant sentiment. As the political researchers Kenneth Michael White and Mirya R. Holman publish: “The major problem utilized to justify marijuana prohibition through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was prejudice directed at Mexican immigrants in the Southwest.” For the duration of congressional hearings for this legislation, the Alamosan Each day Courier submitted a letter warning of the effect of “a tiny marihuana cigarette… [on] just one of our degenerate Spanish-talking inhabitants.” Community safety officers also claimed that “Mexicans” were advertising pot “mostly to white faculty pupils,” stoking sufficient racial fears to drive the Tax Act into legislation.
Reefer Madness, with its lurid tale of impressionable white young adults pushed to dying and destruction, was extremely a great deal of the minute. As the many years wore on, its relevance waned, and the copyright expired, releasing the movie into the community domain. But its this means shifted considerably in 1972, when Kenneth Stroup, the leader of the Nationwide Corporation for Reform of Cannabis Regulations (NORML), stumbled upon the film in the Library of Congress.
Stroup realized that he experienced something unintentionally hilarious on his palms. He obtained a print for $297 and commenced screening it on faculty campuses. The view functions functioned as fundraisers for his campaign to legalize cannabis, and they had been a hit. Reefer Madness was not only reclaimed by the legalization movement, but recast as a beloved cult comedy—another “so negative it’s good” movie to be appreciated ironically.
Reefer Madness nevertheless enjoys that position nowadays. It is appeared in Mötley Crüe new music videos and in other motion pictures, even if only as a shot of the famous poster on a faculty dorm space wall. Showtime aired a musical spoof in 2005, starring Kristen Bell and Alan Cumming, following a profitable phase musical model in Los Angeles. Though Reefer Insanity was designed to exploit the taboo subjects of its working day, it has stayed a aspect of the cultural dialogue for a surprisingly lengthy time—thanks in section to Stroup, and in element to the timelessness of marijuana panic.
JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and college students. JSTOR Day by day readers can obtain the initial investigation behind our article content for absolutely free on JSTOR.
By: David F. Friedman and David Chute
Film Comment, Vol. 22, No. 4 (July-August 1986), pp. 32-39, 42-51
Movie Modern society of Lincoln Centre
By: Kenneth Michael White and Mirya R. Holman
Race, Gender & Class, Vol. 19, No. 3/4, Social Justice, Environmental Justice, New Racism, and Race, Gender and Course (2012), pp. 75-92
Jean Ait Belkhir, Race, Gender & Class Journal