“Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t handle drugs.”Robin Williams
Drugs, or drug culture, are often associated with tie-died t-shirts, the south Americas, the 70’s, rock and punk music, and ultimately, Snoop Dogg. Yet, in between those stereotypical manifestations of the junkie lifestyle, there are deeper, subtler, more complex – that is not to say better! – forms of culture, critique and commentary hidden. Drug usage is often seen as a form of escapism, associated with a strengthened tendency to ´go with the flow´, as an uncontrollable entering of a world other than the capitalist reality the rest of sober society lives in. And although the life, or world, of the average addict or regular user might be utterly different from the routine of those working 9 to 5, it is the similarities or the grey area between the two that makes drug culture so significant.
First of all, a reappearing theme within drug culture is waiting, or procrastination. The subtitle of Hunter S. Thompson’s infamous Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is “A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” even though throughout the novel, all they do is sit around hotels and drive across and around the city, obsessively consuming, food, drugs, and alcohol; Requiem for a Dead Dream follows around three people, desperately trying to find their big break from a life they ultimately cannot get out of; and lastly, Irvine Welsh named his novel Trainspotting, since, for him, being addicted to heroin is similar to spotting trains: infinite and useless. The titles of these works of art alone, in combination with the content they represent, illustrate a sense of waiting, procrastination and an avoidance, or impossibility, to reach the truth that would make Samuel Beckett jealous. Even in a movie like Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke plot-holes are not being resolved, and a true conclusion is never reached, which does not matter, since these smalls voids are easily filled by comedy and the taking of more drugs.
This very post-modern, self-conscious, never ending rotation around central truth becomes more significant by it being subtly connected to capitalism and ‘ordinary’ life. The constant juxtaposition between capitalist reality and the junkie lifestyle effectively, through comparison, brings both together. On the Velvet Underground’s first album, similarly named The Velvet Underground & Nico, the song Heroin, written some years in advance by Lou Reed, displays shooting up as a “very big decision”, to “nullify my life”, and as an alternative to
“all the jim-jim’s in this town,
and everybody puttin’ everybody else down,
and all the politicians makin’ busy sounds,
and all the dead bodies piled up in mounds.”
A comparable pattern can be distinguished in Iggy Pop’s hit song Lust for Life, in which “beating my brains with the liquor and drugs” has been substituted for a lifestyle in which
“I’m worth a million in prizes,
with my torture film,
wear a uniform,
all on a government loan.”
One of the most explicit examples may be gained from Trainspotting’s probably best known excerpt, in which choosing life, is choosing “sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth,” to which the alternative is choosing heroin. All of these examples show that drugs are presented as an alternative for ordinary life, and that both, one through ideology and consumerism, and the other through the repeated taking of substance, are ways to fill our endlessly meaningless time on earth. In Heroin, Lou Reed again and again states that “I guess that I just don’t know” and in Trainspotting the choice for heroin remains artfully unmotivated by the phrase “Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” In short, by representing capitalism and drugs as two simple answers to this existential crisis, the two are made equal, and therefore display how everyone is in effect a true junkie at heart.
It is this constant sense of analogy that makes drug culture so striking to me. By combining the in gutters manifested world of drugs with the mundane world of capitalism, addiction becomes a personification of post-modernism: progressively and repeatedly trying to find satisfaction, while increasingly quickly awaiting death. In this way drug novels get the ability to portray a helicopter view of average life, and to distinguish the essential patterns all of us have to give in to in the end. A savage journey to the heart of the American dream that never reaches its destination. Drug culture is not only reactionary, provocative, or merely superficial, nor only about bright colours, or Snoop Dogg, instead, it is something still worth study and heavy thought.