The media often portrays drug use, and television is no exception to this inclination(Strauss, 2005). Popular examples of television programs that depict marijuana use are Entourage and Desperate Housewives (Strauss, 2005). Showtime’s new show Weeds focuses on Nancy Botwin, a pot-dealing suburban mother. This critically acclaimed dramedy has already garnered a Golden Globe for Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of Nancy. The show also has created controversy because of claims that it glorifies drug use. The popularity of programs depicting substance use requires an examination of their themes and the potential impact on the public. This week, Addictions and the Humanities discusses Weeds. Does it represent a new reality or does it just popularize marijuana use? In our discussion, we consider scientific evidence, the show content, as well as some implications of drug use portrayal.
Jenji Kohan, a creator and producer of Weeds, asserts that the show is “ presenting this [marijuana use] as something that’s everywhere and cuts across political, ethnic, and religious lines.”(Strauss, 2005) In one sense, he is correct. Drug use rates are about the same across inner cities, suburbs, and rural areas (Chen, Sheth, Elliott, & Yeager, 2004; Scheer, Borden, & Donnermeyer, 2000). So, we might agree that Weeds provides awareness about an issue that impacts all communities. Nancy Franklin reviewed Weeds for The New Yorker and found that “the show itself doesn’t appear to be taking sides when it comes to the legality and morality of marijuana-dealing or possession or use” (Franklin, 2005). However, the disarmingly open-minded nature of the show might be viewed as sympathetic of marijuana use, and perhaps drug use in general (see, for example, its online dictionary http://www.sho.com/site/ weeds/bts.do). This, of course, has some public health officials and others alarmed. Tom Riley of the Office for National Drug Control Policy, for example, insists that shows like Weeds take part in “ ‘Hollywood’s embellishment of marijuana’ ”(Strauss, 2005).
Although it is uncertain whether Weeds is part of a systematic movement in support of marijuana use, it is important to consider some possible impacts that this and similar such shows might have on society. Science suggests that media can influence behaviors. For example, the more adolescents are exposed to movies with smoking the more likely they are to start smoking (Dalton, Sargent, et al. 2003). Furthermore, the likeability of film actors and actresses who smoke (both on-screen and off-screen) relates to their adolescent fans’ decisions to smoke (Distefan, Gilpin, Sargent, & Pierce, 1999). Interestingly, movies tend to stigmatize alcohol and tobacco less than other drugs (Cape, 2003); yet, the media provides many positive messages about drug use (Will, Porter, Geller, & DePasquale, 2005). It is possible that such favorable portrayals lead to more use. People critical of such shows have noted that “ ‘when glamorization of drugs has climbed, changes in teen attitudes followed’ ” (Strauss, 2005).There needs to be more research investigating direct, indirect, and interactive effects of media portrayals on drug use behavior.
The issue of glamorization versus reality is complicated. Although the creators and producers of Weeds hope to accurately depict drug use, they still need to keep ratings up. Clearly, positive portrayals are more likely to increase ratings and programs might favor acceptance of marijuana use over depictions of potential harms. More research on how media influences drug use is needed in order to evaluate the impact of programs like Weeds. With media and drug use, it is important to walk with caution, as the line between reality and glamorization is easy to cross.
What do you think? Comments can be addressed to Sarbani Hazra.
Image from Showtime Networks. Copyright 2006 Showtime Networks Inc., a CBS Company. All rights reserved. Weeds © 2005 Lions Gate Television Inc. All rights reserved.
Cape, G. S. (2003). “Addiction, stigma, and movies.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 107 (3): 163-169.
Chen, K., A. J. Sheth, et al. (2004). "Prevalence and correlates of past-year substance use, abuse, and dependence in a suburban community sample of high-school students." Addictive Behaviors 29(2): 413-423.
Dalton, M.A., Sargent, J.D., Beach, M.L., Titus-Ernstoff, L., Gibson, J.J., Aherns, M.B., & Heatherton, T.F. (2003). "Effect of viewing smoking in movies on adolescent smoking initiation: A cohort study." Lancet 362: 281-285.
Distefan, J. M., E. A. Gilpin, et al. (1999). "Do movie stars encourage adolescents to start smoking? Evidence from California." Preventive Medicine 28: 1-11.
Franklin, N. (2005). Dealing Housewives. The New Yorker.
Scheer, S. D., L. M. Borden, et al. (2000). "The Relationship Between Family Factors and Adolescent Substance Use in Rural, Suburban, and Urban Settings." Journal of Child and Family Studies 9(1): 105-115.
Strauss, G. (2005). More television characters are going to pot. USA TODAY.
Will, K. E., B. E. Porter, et al. (2005). "Is television a healthy and safety hazard? A cross-sectional analysis of at-risk behavior on Primetime television." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 35(1): 198-222.
Showtime. (2006). Weeds. Retrieved January 5, 2006, from http://www.sho.com/site/weeds/home.do