About this time last year, the final day of New York’s Electric Zoo was canceled after two people died at the festival. Clearly, avoiding any repeat of the whole sorry business is paramount for the festival and its organizers, so this week they released the centerpiece of this year’s attempts to stop people from taking MDMA at Electric Zoo — a two-minute PSA called “The Molly,” which attendees are all required to watch before their wristband is activated. Will it work? No, of course it won’t. When has telling kids “don’t do drugs” ever stopped kids from doing drugs? But still, it’s worth discussing the way it portrays the Evils Of Drugs.
Drug PSAs are pretty much always comedy gold. There’s a rich lineage of ridiculous scaremongering that goes all the way back to Reefer Madness, and if you believed what anti-drugs programs have told you over the years, you’d believe that weed made you talk to dogs and just saying no (to an amazingly epic stash, by the way) would get you a parade thrown by Punky Brewster. All the old classics of the genre are on YouTube these days, largely to be giggled at by people who are at that very moment doing whichever drug the PSA in question is trying to frighten them off consuming. Together, they create a pretty compelling portrait of how useless the entire “Just Say No” approach has been in preventing drug use.
Is “The Molly” any different? Yes and no. It tracks the misadventures of the sort of identikit bro who attends EDM festivals these days — he runs into a pretty girl he knows, then does too much molly, proceeds to make an arse of himself, and by the time he’s recovered his faculties, both girl and festival are long gone. Whoops. The thing is, though, that for all that it’s simplistic, somewhat sensationalized, and aimed a questionable demographic, it’s not a bad depiction of what can happen if you take too much MDMA.
Ecstasy and I have never gotten along particularly well, you see — to paraphrase Marilyn Manson, I liked the drug, but the drug didn’t like me. Or, at least, I tried to like it. I tried very hard for a while. But even small amounts gave me crushing existential comedowns for days, and larger doses… well, if you’ve never been the embarrassing gurning dude who everyone points at the next day and says, “Dude, you were wasted!,” I wholeheartedly advise you to keep it that way. Being an object of fun the next day isn’t great when you’re already coming down like the fucking Hindenburg and your brain feels like a serotonin sponge that has been wrung out and then left in the sun to bake. I occasionally wonder if these experiences in my early 20s were related to the onset of depression not long after. I’ll never know. I don’t regret any choices I’ve made, but I do wonder if I might have made them differently if I’d grown up in a world where the only information you really got on drugs was, “JUST SAY NO, KIDS.”
All of which is to say that, weirdly enough, this is a PSA I can relate to because, well, I’ve kinda been that guy, blacking out and losing hours at a time until some bouncer taps you on the shoulder and then escorts you out of the party. Not for many years, I hasten to add, because lesson learned, and all that, but still, the whole thing’s awfully familiar. Of course, not everyone who takes ecstasy — or molly, or whatever else you wanna call MDMA — devolves into a gibbering wreck. There are people who can take disconcerting numbers of pills and still hold things together. But if nothing else, the number of people who do get wayyyyy too fucked up is significantly higher than the number of people who die from MDMA use, because pretty much no one does that.
The problem with most anti-drug PSAs is exactly this: once you smoke a joint or do a line of cocaine or whatever else and find that, shit, your brain hasn’t turned into a fried egg or transported you to some weird purgatory where Pee-Wee Herman lectures you on the evils of your ways, the whole idea of scare tactics becomes actively counterproductive. I have no doubt at all that “The Molly” will be ridiculed and parodied and memed and probably referenced time and again at Electric Zoo as molly is consumed with abandon. It’s unlikely to stop anyone doing drugs, something that I’m sure the organizers of the festival are as aware of as anyone else.
But still, I do rather applaud Electric Zoo for at least aiming for a dose of realism rather than pointless scare tactics. It would have been far easier to just make a film that said, “MOLLY WILL KILL YOU,” featuring a tragic, photogenic lass who is pressured by her friends into taking drugs for the first time and ends up expiring on the dance floor in the glare of flashing ambulance lights. “Talking tough” and banging on about just saying no are easy ways to look like you’re doing something while doing nothing. This, at least, is trying something different. Perversely, “Don’t do MDMA or you’ll make an arse of yourself” is a far more compelling argument that “Don’t do MDMA or you’ll DIE,” simply because it’s a whole lot more relatable and credible.
You might argue that if the people behind Electric Zoo are serious about harm reduction, they’d be better served putting the money that went into filming this PSA towards hiring a bunch of ambulance staff and accepting that, yes, people are going to take drugs at their festival no matter how much those people are told not to. This is all true, of course, and in an ideal world, we wouldn’t be saddled with stupid drug laws that necessitate this entire charade in the first place. In the world we live in, though, people in the position of Electric Zoo’s organizers have to demonstrate that they’re making an effort to Stop The Evil Of Drugs, and given that this is the case, we’re far better served by such people taking a realistic and pragmatic approach.
It’s sad that remotely realistic depictions of drug use are so few and far between, but in a world where the War On Drugs eats up about $25 billion a year to achieve precisely nothing except making gazillionaires of the type of men who enjoy decapitating people and/or boiling them in acid, every tiny step toward a realistic approach to drug use is a welcome one. Even a silly PSA.