Sunday, August 30, 2015

31 Day Miami Vice Challenge, Day 30: Portrayal of Drug Use and Drug Users on Miami Vice

I really did choose the more complex challenges for the end of the month, didn't I? Today's challenge actually ties into yesterday's, something I didn't actually intend when I selected the order, but hey! It makes for a nice segue.

So that is where I'll start. Drug users in Miami Vice tended to be people of color, unless the episode was meant to discuss how innocence was lost. In "Little Prince," the informant/arrestee was a young wealthy man who used drugs to escape feeling ignored and abandoned by his businessman father, and in "Trust Fund Pirates," the twenty-somethings that are the titular pirates feel disillusioned by their fluffy little lives and are pretty much racist, saying things like South American drug dealers "ruin things for Real Americans like you and me." In contrast, like I said yesterday, anyone who was not white was just supposedly following the path of their forefathers, like it was genetic or some shit. Despite this, most of the drug users were painted in a sympathetic light, unless they were dealers themselves. Then they were shown to be smarmy and seductive, like Giancarlo Esposito's character in "The Dutch Oven."

Of course, this show did happen to air during the Reagan administration, one that began the "Just Say No!" program, so it was almost required that drug use was expressly displayed as dangerous and would end your life in horrible ways. And Miami Vice certainly did that. Now, I'm not promoting using drugs here, and hard drugs like cocaine and heroin - the usual drugs on Miami Vice - are incredibly bad for your body*. And drug dealers can prey upon people, like children or addicted individuals, so it's not like what Miami Vice aired each week was beyond a possibility of being real. Like I said back on Day 25, much of the violence of Vice was just a mirror image of how things truly were, but a lot of the anti-drug hysteria of the 1980s (continuing into the 1990s) was fueled by an aspect of yesterday's challenge: racism. Look, white kids, do you want to be like these non-whites? Struggling to make a dollar, stabbing each other in the back, living off your taxes? Forget institutionalized racism or a host of other reasons why one may turn to escapism, manufactured or otherwise; it's the drugs.

In some ways, Miami Vice succumbed to the cultural pressure of demonizing drugs and, in others, circumvented it. I can't necessarily say that it was particularly successful in either avenue, seeing as the positives on both sides are negated by the negatives: a zero-sum game. The show ended up being gritty and idealistic, all at the same time, which, to be honest, is kind of confusing. It's not like I don't like nuance in my story-telling, but I feel like, if the creators didn't have to be a certain thing so that censors wouldn't go nuts because FAMILY VALUES, they would have been able to balance the opposing viewpoints, kind of like how Law & Order tried - and sometimes succeeded - when discussing events in the plot. But we got what we got. Oh, well.


* However, I am one of Those People who believes that drug use should not be criminalized and that the number of deaths from drug abuse would decrease with regulation and minimum standards, but that is another subject to be discussed at another time by someone who is much more informed. 
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