by Scarlet Palmer on 18/02/2014 | Cultural

I like to be high, but I’m not a ‘stoner’

It’s my favourite altered state. I like to be high a lot. I also like to have an active social life, a fulfilling amount of creative activities, a job that throws me challenges I enjoy rising to, and a nice house filled with good food and clean laundry. These things that I like are not mutually incompatible, and I am not the only person to succeed in achieving all of the above, and more, whilst high.


It’s like this: sometimes people think I’m a ‘stoner’ because I like to get high on hash.

It’s my favourite altered state. I like to be high a lot.

I also like to have an active social life, a fulfilling amount of creative activities, a job that throws me challenges I enjoy rising to, and a nice house filled with good food and clean laundry. These things that I like are not mutually incompatible, and I am not the only person to succeed in achieving all of the above, and more, whilst high.

The ‘stoner’ comfort zone

I like to be high, but I’m not a ‘stoner’
However, this is not the image that the mainstream media likes to portray of people who use cannabis recreationally. It’s a lot easier for everyone to remain in their respective comfort zones if they stick with the traditional image of ‘a stoner’ – young, white, male (how young white males became the poster children for cannabis, as well as everything else worth having, is another question), usually single and without children, wearing sloppy clothes and often sporting distressingly badly maintained dreadlocks. The ‘stoner’ dialogue is usually more of a monologue, punctuated with ‘dude’, ‘riiiiiiight’, and ‘man’ and featuring more long pauses than the entirety of Waiting for Godot*. A safe figure, easy to mock, unthreatening, undisciplined, and devoid of ambition beyond the next bag of weed.

Life imitating art on purpose
This stereotype causes subtle yet persistent damage every time someone uses it, or – worse still – consciously or unconsciously embodies it because they think that this is how a recreational cannabis user is supposed to be. It is strange to me that this stereotype has even been embraced by some canna-businesses as a mascot; rather like actual tigers deciding to adopt Tony from the Frosties box as a representative.

‘Stoners’ are contrived, artificial characters

I like to be high, but I’m not a ‘stoner’
For the sake of brevity, I will not, right now, tackle the serious issue of how changing the race or gender of the character radically alters the common portrayal of regular recreational cannabis users (Harold and Kumar are a rare exception to this, yet their behaviour onscreen ticks many of the ‘stoner’ boxes). Remaining with our Single White Male ‘stoner’, I find it interesting that this stereotype, just like almost everything else in the business of major entertainment, did not happen by accident. ‘Stoner comedy’ is a recognised genre; writers, directors and studio heads all had a hand in the decisions that created it. I speculate about how many of those people are young white men who smoke cannabis. I wonder how many – if any – of them are remotely similar to the image they are perpetuating and making money from. Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen perhaps come closest, but – crucially – they are both highly successful. Success is not a ‘stoner’ hallmark.

The role of this archetype in contemporary cinema (rather than specific ‘stoner movies’) is generally comedic, with characters having either no impact on the plot, or an unwitting major impact that they remain unaware of. It’s true that this trend goes back way beyond Cheech and Chong. Shakespeare has his character Puck describe the villagers who provide comic relief during ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as “hempen home-spuns”, although here the hemp is being worn rather than smoked; and the character of the fool or buffoon has been a comedy staple for many hundreds of years. It’s the incessant contemporary coupling of this character with cannabis use that bothers me. To make the obvious comparison, alcohol use is portrayed onscreen in a huge number of different contexts – positive, negative, comic and tragic – without being linked to a specific set of character traits.

Floyd, father of ‘stoners’, vs. Brad, father of six

I like to be high, but I’m not a ‘stoner’
Brad Pitt’s character Floyd in ‘True Romance’, too high to realise he’s putting his friends in danger from gangsters (or even that he’s talking to gangsters), is possibly the archetypal example of the ‘stoner’; the entire movie ‘Pineapple Express’, winner of Best Comedy Film at the 2008 High Times Stoney Awards, was inspired by Floyd. Legend has it that Brad was genuinely high for his scenes. It is a curious fact that Mr Pitt has frequently acknowledged that, until recently, he was a regular recreational cannabis user – and yet he displayed none of the behaviour commonly attributed to ‘a stoner’. None.

Oh, for a world where smoking cannabis was linked to the stereotype of having a great career, a loving spouse, happy children and being voted Sexiest Person Alive. This is absolutely the mainstream image of recreational cannabis users I’m going to shamelessly perpetuate in 2014. Who’s with me?

*Waiting For Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett, characterized – like many of his works – by the long silences between spoken lines.

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Russ Hudson

Excellent article, Scarlet. This is a problem for me as well. As the owner of a marijuana-related website, I struggle with developing a careful public profile, while actually keeping the fact that I am an avid marijuana user completely secret. I still fear persecution; especially when I am in the United States. In fact, of the 200 or so friends & family on my personal Facebook account, I'd say that less than 5% of them know that I have anything at all to do with marijuana.

Unfortunately, it is still necessary for good upstanding citizens like me and you to hide the fact that we use cannabis from certain factions. There are still risks involved, and that's not going to go away soon, I fear. It'll be a few more years, and then we'll still deal with residual prejudices for decades afterward.

But, the "times they are a-changing!" and I think within the next year or two I will come out of the proverbial marijuana closet. It's all part of the changing of the cannabis quo. I wrote an article about this but from an entirely different perspective. I recently came back to the US after living in Barcelona (after I wrote the article), and I found that things had changed a little bit, even in rural Vermont and Maine. People were starting to recognize different strain names, etc. It's getting better.

Anyway, I actually get a little peeved with some of the movies you mention. It's frustrating that people who use cannabis are portrayed in this manner for two reasons; 1> it's not even really funny 2>I've been smoking for nearly a quarter century, and I have never met a single cannabis user who acted like this.

Generally I can see where some stereotypes were derived, but I've never been able to see this with marijuana.

Peace

-Russ

19/02/2014

Scarlet Palmer

Thank you Russ! I'm glad to hear you're seeing signs of progress in the U.S. despite your perfectly reasonable fear of persecution.

I'm lucky in that I don't have to hide my cannabis use from anyone, but I do resent being stereotyped as lazy, unmotivated, dumb, and so on, simply because I enjoy smoking!

Hopefully we will see a shift in this perception over the next few years and the 'stoner' will be seen as just as much of a hackneyed, lowest common denominator attempt at humour as the 'clumsy drunk'.

xxx

Scarlet

27/02/2014

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