Kurt Wellman

Kurt Wellman

Social Justice Solutions | Student Liaison
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The American media monster is obsessed with the use and misuse of narcotics and designer drugs: from the Television shows of the 1980’s, where Miami Vice injected million-dollar cocaine deals straight into the cerebral cortex of everyday America, to the breakaway hit of this generation, Breaking Bad, which put a high school chemistry professor into the driver’s seat of a multi-million dollar methamphetamine cooking ring; these shows painted a sensational and ridiculously flawed picture of narcotics use, narcotics dealing and manufacturing into the minds of the average American. These stories are what the consumers want. People gravitate toward this excitement and it has been a guilty pleasure of Americans to indulge in these dark drug dealing fantasies for some time.

I want this article to examine some of the origins of this fascination, and when I begin to investigate origins, one movie and one-movie alone stands out, and that is “Scarface.” This film was released in 1983 during the cocaine epidemic when the “Cocaine Cowboys” ruled the streets of Miami. The film’s context showed a snapshot of Cuban culture, what it was like to be a refugee, and some of the choices that refugees faced when coming to a new country. The movie portrays those who came over in the Mariel boatlift as low-life criminals, and paints a very negative picture of Cuban refugee’s and their contributions to our society. The movie takes the American ideals of hard work, integrity and honesty, and perverts them with a chase for power, money, and respect that can only be obtained from killing people and selling cocaine.

Tony Montana’s rise from a penniless Cuban refugee to a multi-million dollar drug kingpin shows a very seductive trajectory. It offers a way up and a way out of institutional and generational poverty. It dangles a proverbial “golden carrot” in front of those who are so desperately searching for a way out of the ghetto. This film has become a pop culture icon, and one cannot even fathom the damage this film has done to the minds of young Latino and African-American youth. The question that we need to try and answer from a scientific standpoint is, “Is there a positive correlation between this movie and an increase in consumption and/or sales of controlled substances?” Is this movie just entertainment or does it influence behavior?

According to Sharrett C. (2001, 07), Hollywood is completely lacking in any form of “Social Conscience,” and is just as complicit as the Cartels when it comes to picking a side on the “War On Drugs.” In this article, Sharrett, who is a professor of communication at Seton Hall, takes us through a scholarly and enlightening look at the cinematic war on drugs where he begins with a firm foundation in the 1930s and traces Hollywood’s evolution and fascination with the drug counter-culture and covers all major movies in all major eras with depth and dexterity. Sharret shows us in startling detail that Hollywood’s view of addiction is that it is as “American as apple pie,” and that the selling of drugs is just another twist to the “rags to riches story.” Although quantitative data is lacking in this article, an educated reader can see a positive correlation between Hollywood’s portrayal and acceptance of drug use and society’s acceptance. I think this article is important and paints an accurate picture, but I think overall, the research is lacking when it comes to the quantitative data. We know that the Media takes a pro-drug approach, but we can’t say with any degree of accuracy that 15 people became addicts after watching Scarface, which leaves us tethered firmly to the realm of speculation.

The psychological ramifications of Hollywood’s unadulterated love affair with the drug counter-culture are very hard to ignore. The question that begs to be answered is how much do these movies influence the minds of the youth? Also, do such movies influence or not influence people to ingest substances? Or are they pure entertainment?

The studies need to be much more focused and much more informative before we begin to regulate and censor the film industry. We live in a culture where competition, acquisition and winning are the benchmarks and measurements of success. We demonize the country of Mexico, blaming our consumption of drugs on them; we don’t take responsibility and ownership for our own part of the “Drug Wars.” We as a society want to escape; we want to find a way to anesthetize ourselves from the drudgery of life. We take pills for every ailment and believe in utilizing the fine art of chemistry to help us cope. Drugs have been with us since the beginning of time and will always be with us. For many years, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous held the keys to the recovery kingdom, but there is a new wind blowing, and the future will include terms like, “Harm Reduction” and “legalization.”  The U.S. Government has little credibility with the average person. We remember clearly and vividly the Iran-Contra scandal and the CIA smuggling cocaine. I personally believe that if the Government were to step in and censor the movie industry that it would be an act of hypocrisy. I would much rather see a change of conscience in the American public where movies that glorify drugs no longer are box office hits.


Sharrett, C. (2001, 07). Cinematic drug wars. USA Today, 130, 35.

Retrieved 26 March 2014 from http://search.proquest.com.

By Kurt A. Wellman,
Student Liaison

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