Hollywood has had a rocky relationship with marijuana. As a plot device, weed has been depicted as both a wondrous, life-giving MacGuffin and a poisonous, mind-shattering tool of the Devil. Because of marijuana’s tricky connotation with an audience, screenwriters can adjust the drug to fit a wide variety of scenes to evoke a particular reaction. And often that means bending the reality of the situation.
Only in recent years has marijuana been consistently portrayed as the innocuous social drug it truly is. Before then, we had glimmers of accuracy in a sea of fictional dropouts, biker gangs, and “Just Say No!” ads. There was Dazed and Confused — so authentic and believable, it may as well be classified as a documentary alongside Doug Benson’s Super-High Me. There’s also Lindsay Weir’s panic attack on Freaks and Geeks — a scene which could easily be a re-enactment from creator Paul Feig’s life.
But by and large, screenwriters have taken great liberty with the realities of marijuana — despite their presumable use of the drug throughout the writing process. Sometimes shocking, other times hackneyed, but almost always hilarious, here are the most unrealistic weed scenes from TV and film.
10. Revenge of the Nerds - Wonder Joints
Rarely is college given an accurate portrayal. Between nonstop hijinks and keggers where women regularly disrobe, a campus onscreen is a far cry from our actual years of higher learning. So while our suspension of disbelief is naturally tested when a group of maladjusted geeks manage to organize a mixer with the heads of a black fraternity and dozens of co-eds, it’s completely shattered when they’re all willing to partake in joints larger than ballpark franks and immediately turn into giggling, oversexed hedonists. Not exactly the type of crowd to treat a controlled substance as if it were a punch bowl.
9. American Beauty - Ricky Fitts, Retailer
A midlife crisis is capable of many impulses: quitting your office job, splurging for a vintage car. But no amount of middle-aged disillusionment could possibly justify spending $2,000 for an ounce of weed. Neighbor Ricky Fitts peddles his cannabis “genetically engineered by the US government” to protagonist Lester Burnham. “Completely mellow high,” Ricky insists. “No paranoia.” Aside from the fact that this DNA-splicing weed is complete fantasy, Lester barely objects after Ricky mentions the price — even after Ricky offers an ounce of his regular stuff for $300. An arguably better deal, paranoia and all.
8. Friday - Talking Head
The effects of marijuana are well-documented. Rapid heart rate, dry mouth, increased appetite, red eyes, and — if it’s a product of Hollywood — intense, horrifying hallucinations. No matter how clear a fictional character’s psyche is, a few hits off the pipe is able to produce unbelievably vivid phantom images. Such was the case for Craig Jones after smoking a fraction (!) of his friend Smokey’s unlaced joint. Without a single ‘shroom or tab in his system, Craig sees the disembodied head of Smokey’s dealer in his cupboard, chastising him for dipping into his product. After experiencing a visual and auditory hallucination to that degree, an irate dealer would be the least of your problems.
7. Breakfast Club - Emilio Unhinged
Jesus, Bender, what was in that stash? In the middle of Saturday detention, our lovable, ragtag teens take a little smoke break… in the school library, a few yards from Principal Vernon’s office. Brazen? Extremely. Believable? Hardly. But while our leads display a shocking amount of composure for students in the midst of an expellable offense, classmate Andrew Clark is flipping out — literally. Displaying the effects of what can only be prison-grade PCP, Andrew shadow-boxes out of an office, headbangs around the mezzanine, and finishes off his violent outburst with a deafening, glass-shattering howl. So seriously, Bender, what was in that stash?
6. Dragnet - School Filmstrip Propaganda
To fast-talking, straight-laced Joe Friday, marijuana isn’t a gateway drug. It’s an unavoidable path to roping off your arm and spiking a vein three months from your first toke, no exceptions. Throughout the series, Friday and his fellow flatfoot would encounter one tie-dyed space cadet after another — their minds so far gone from several trips too many. And as those dirty hippies squint and jive their way through the interrogation, the starter pistol to a life of psychedelics is always the same: marijuana, revealed with an orchestral strike more suitable for a murder-suicide than a few stray roaches in a fringed leather vest.
5. Road Trip and Dude, Where’s My Car? - Man’s Best Friend
Stoners and their dogs have a symbiotic relationship. The owners provide food, love, and shelter. The pups provide the respect that’s absent from their masters’ human relationships. It’s a sacred bond that warms the heart and fills a void, but even a mind clouded with bong resin can tell the difference between their dog and a smoking buddy. Road Trip and Dude, Where’s My Car?, however, removes the line between the species with ludicrous results, i.e. verbalization and paw prehensility. At least Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is more realistic in its portrayal of a few jackasses getting a dog high.
4. The Cosby Show - Wandering J
Cliff and Clair Huxtable are renowned for being excellent guardians, as long as you disregard a wholly inconsistent parenting style which punishes Vanessa for wearing makeup with more severity than when they found a joint in Theo’s notebook. Sure, they believed their son’s story that he didn’t know where it came from, but in order to do so, they had to consider many implausible explanations of how it got there. Like, say, Theo’s classmate was fiddling with the joint in class and had to quickly hide the evidence once the teacher walked into the room. Did he palm it? Stuff it into his pocket? Nope! He slipped it inside his classmate’s notebook and didn’t bring it up after class. But the matter was settled once he stopped by the Huxtable household to explain the whole situation — something no Brooklyn high school student would ever do.
3. Training Day - Smoking at Gunpoint
In his Oscar-winning turn as Alonzo Harris, Denzel Washington accomplished two things: He turned the trope of a mismatched cop duo on its ear, and he gave the most hammy, over-the-top film performance this side of Mommie Dearest. But it’s not just bellowing his superiority to King Kong. Alonzo displays sociopathic behavior beyond a dozen Vic Mackeys, and that includes forcing his colleague Jake Hoyt to smoke confiscated marijuana. At gunpoint. While stopped in the middle of an intersection. Afterwards, Alonzo reveals the weed’s been laced with PCP, securing the film’s genre as Fantasy rather than Crime Drama. Even if he was decked out in a King Kong outfit, the scene couldn’t be less realistic than it is already.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Drug PSA - Pushy Pusher
Ah, the 1980s — when public service announcements would have you believe dealers actually forced people to take drugs. Or, at the very least, mocked them for abstaining. In the hallway of a school which apparently commingles junior high and elementary students, a post-pubescent dealer flashes three joints to a kid half his height, weight, and age. When the tot hesitates, the pusher invokes the time-tested chicken imitation. Yes, with the elbow flaps. With the support of cartoon reptiles, our cornered child strikes back with a bulletproof comeback: “I’m not a chicken! You’re a turkey!” He shoves the physically imposing student aside and leaves the dealer with his head hung low. The interaction between Donatello and Michelangelo is more authentic.
1. Reefer Madness - The Whole Damn Thing
This 1936 cautionary tale depicts the effects of marijuana with roughly the same accuracy as the film 2001 has with depicting the year 2001. Rather than feature a group of wayward teens sitting around a friend’s living room, idly chatting before hitting a matinee and laying waste to a few milkshakes at the malt shop, Reefer Madness shows high school students in their forties react to weed through hallucination, amnesia, insatiable lust, unquenchable rage, and out-and-out insanity. Why, it’s as if the church group who funded this picture had some sort of agenda or something! But by simulating the effects of weed in such a laughably false manner, the creators turned the film into an illogical marvel and the anti-pot movement into an ineffectual farce. In fact, the film would actually be a blast to watch with all its inaccuracies if the sentiment behind it wasn’t so devious and mean-spirited. But after watching it, you can always shake off the underlying feeling of hostility and vicious fabrication with something more upbeat and genuine — like Dazed and Confused.
So maybe there’s an upside to marijuana’s unrealistic portrayal after all.
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Mike Schuster has somehow molded a lifelong proclivity of crackin’ wise into a steady paycheck. He is a staff writer for Minyanville.com and a survivor of chronic petulance.