Pop Culture
Feb 27, 2024, 06:27AM

Cocaine Isn’t the New Pot, Is It?

Looking at this TV sketch, I could swear.

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I guess I always thought that marijuana was one thing and cocaine something else. Now cocaine appears to have moved into the space that marijuana used to occupy. Marijuana’s legal and cocaine’s the extra bit of fun that’s obtained from sketchy characters who are full of crap about what they’re selling. Having slipped into this new cultural slot, the scary old product’s been normalized. Cocaine’s now the occasion for “wouldn’t you know it” humor.

I saw a Saturday Night Live clip and it… alarmed me? Struck me. It’s a sketch about two regular guys in the mens room of a nightclub (“The girls here are insane!”). The white guy, tapping his nose, wonders about buying some coke (“The only thing that would make this night even more perfect is if we could score a little something”). Four cocaine dealers appear, one after the other, and they pitch their wares. This is by means of “It’s so white” metaphors, a series of gags that’s really the point. Starting with bunnies making snow angels on clouds, we proceed to cocaine so white that its dad sends it rent, so white that it’s written and directed by Noah Baumbach, so white that it has a bottle opener on its flipflops (one takes on faith that very white people someplace, preppies maybe, are doing this), and what I consider the winner, so white that it says “Let me scoot right past you.”

The sketch ends with a big hand from the crowd, a noisy and excited hand, as for “Black Jeopardy.” Race gets people jacked. But no one has remarked on cocaine’s role in the sketch. I would’ve guessed that the sketch couldn’t work, that the audience would be expecting some kind of dangerous awfulness to be caused by the drug. I also would’ve guessed that the network censors would bar the sketch for fear of the response from drug counselors, parents groups, and relevant federal agencies. I wouldn’t have guessed that the sketch would get put on, that I’d see it, and that 30 minutes later I’d think “Wait a second, that was cocaine. Weird, no one else seems to have noticed.” Yet those were the events.

When the raunchy old-days Saturday Night Live presented cocaine, it was something insidery and cool. A blackout sketch with John Belushi was basically a commercial for the drug. There’s Beethoven at the piano and he’s getting nowhere; then he does a toot and instead of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” he’s playing “My Girl.” You see the role of in-group appeal and cultural snobbisme. The show’s sketches about the rock business tended to feature Bill Murray (satin warmup jacket) as Jerry Eldini of Polysutra Records, helping backup singers and impatient producers to coke off the back of his hand (“Go”). Coke wasn’t something people did, it was something insiders did, creators and behind-the-scenes types.

After that not much coke humor on Saturday Night Live, not for decades. Now the topic resurfaces and it’s mundane, anybody’s business. The nightclub sketch closes on a “They’ll do it every time” kind of note, as in ancient cartoons about irritating poker players and big-talking bar regulars. After all the bragging about purity, one of the customers wants to know if the stuff has any fentanyl, and right away the dealers change their tune. They never said anything about there being no fentanyl! Funny because it’s true, I guess. I suppose a lot of people must have bought cocaine and found fentanyl in it. An ordinary experience, like seeds and stems. But if cocaine’s the new pot, I say it’s no wonder we’re in trouble.


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