Madison Avenue Enlists
Watching the Oscars, a television production laced with consumerism (and this year patriotism), I suppose I should have expected an inundation of appalling commercials. However, I was not quite prepared for what I encountered.
The US government's Office of National Drug Control Policy sponsors something called the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, part of the indefatigable "war on drugs." One of the Campaign's most recent commercial strategies (launched during the Superbowl) is to link the "war on drugs" to the newly waged "war on terrorism." Ironic, since it is nearly impossible to conceptualize the US ever winning either war with such broadly defined enemies.
Two commercials have been produced by the Campaign which link drug money to terrorism. The first, entitled "I Helped," features teenagers, mostly of minority descent, making shocking statements such as, "I helped murder families in Colombia," and, "I helped kidnap people's dads." These claims are interspersed with teens claiming, "Hey, it was all just innocent fun." The commercial ends with the slogan, "Drug money supports terror. If you buy drugs, you might too."
The implications of this "well-intentioned" commercial are painful. Besides the disturbing connection between drugs and terrorism, the commercial is racist as well as ageistapparently, primarily minorities and adolescents, not mature respectable white adults, use drugs. By targeting the youth of America as accomplices to terrorist behavior because of minor drug use, the US government seems to be ignoring the reality that all kinds of people provide the constant demand for drugs in America.
The second commercial, "AK 47," is structured much like a Master Card commercial. The camera follows a faceless man purchasing various items similar to those used by the men who hijacked the planes on September 11. Even a box cutter is bought. The screen flashes the name of the item followed by its cost. However, instead of the Master Card catchphrase, "Priceless," the commercial closes with "Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."
Here are consumerism and capitalism at their worst. Again, there is the appalling link between terrorism and drugs, yet this time the government plays off of our consumer mentalitymany Americans easily make this connection to Master Card commercials. By referring to another ad (particularly one for a credit card with the potential to put one into debt), the campaign assumes that everyone watching is able to acquire the "finer things in life" with little consequence, whether the money is available or not. We know this is not the case in America.
In a desperate attempt to curb drug use among young people, campaigners have tried to play upon Americans' sense of "duty to their country." George W. Bush said, "It's so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder. If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America." What is most disquieting about this connection is that it places guilt about September 11 on the shoulders of Americans who use drugs.
Since September 11, Americans have been desperate for a scapegoat, both in and out of the country. These latest anti-drug campaigns reek of Joe McCarthy's "red hysteria" and Ronald Reagan's "evil empire." Not only do they search for some sort of scapegoat, they also attempt to "kill two birds with one stone" by cleverly tieing two objectives together. The "war on drugs" is notorious for being a failure. Many Americans believe that the "war on terrorism" has the potential to be successful. It is a weak attempt to siphon some of the anti-terrorism energy and sentiment into the failing drug war.
Commercials like these are frightening. They are one of the most blatant examples of government propaganda from the recent past. As history has shown us, troubled times like these tend to result in irrational thought and behavior. This time, the government has frantically attempted to bring attention to other issues, connecting them to patriotism and national pride as a half-hearted way to spur action among the people.
I, for one, will not be fooled.
Emily Moeller is a first-year student at Syracuse University, and a budding activist both on and off campus.