Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Should Be Taught in School

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the famous novel by Hunter S. Thompson is one of the most known novels about drug use. It's the autobiography of the author's two trips to Vegas with his attorney and their Savage Search for the American Dream. Thompson (going by the name of Raoul Duke) and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo put two different news stories, the Mint 400 event and the Convention of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as pretences for their crazy drug adventures. The novel spirals into an ash cloud of doom and suffering from the first sentences of the book:

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...' And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car."

And two pages later: "We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls."

Along with all the insanely hilarious and purely just insane drug exploits comes a dark theme. Too many times does Duke wake up in a hotel room with a scene of destruction in front of him because of the days before.The year is 1971, ten years after the Counterculture Movement. Ten years after the American Dream, ten years after the emergence of rock, ten years after acid. And ten years later, all was gone. Like a dream, the good times were gone, and all that was left was nostalgia and several crazy drug addicts going on week-long binges. But what really happened in those times? Was it all good? It was mostly Leary's territory, to be sure. As I wrote in my post, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: A Reflection On People, But Mostly Drugs, Timothy Leary was the Berkeley professor who inspired hundreds of young people to try acid and to expand their consciousness. His philosophy was that of doing acid for the spiritual and creative benefits--to enhance your mind and to open the "doors of perception", as Huxley would say. But as I wrote in my post, that mentality is not always so great. As infrequent as bad trips are, if your mentality is to find everything in the trip deep and meaningful, you're going to have a hell of an eight hours and more of a trip. Better to think of it just as a bad trip, rather than something more. But that's not what is actually dangerous. What is more dangerous is the mentality of people to believe in their trips. Here's the thing. I understand if you're doing acid to expand your mind and be more spiritual, but if you're not spiritual to begin with, you shouldn't really become spiritual just because you got high and saw God. Psychedelics, all drugs, are MIND-ALTERING. You will hallucinate and you will feel things that DO NOT EXIST. So tell me, if you are a non-believer sober, why in hell would you become a believer after you come off a trip? I understand if you're already spiritual and you want to become closer to God. That method of getting close to God has existed since the Stone Age. On the other hand, Thompson's (or rather, Duke's) approach to drugs is equally as dangerous. Doing them just for fun all the time is going to fuck with your brain. Even if they don't fuck with you now, they may later. There's that fine, thin balance between being able to function successfully with a drug lifestyle your whole life and not. Even Thompson couldn't, though he couldn't from the very beginning very well either. At the end of your lifetime, if you have kept the relationships that truly mattered to you, succeeded in your desired career, and are not suffering some horrible disease because of your drug use...You are truly a success. Is that even possible? Most people can't do that without drugs. I'll get back to you when I'm on my deathbed.

Nowadays, Health is one of those classes where you learn nothing in. It's an easy course, one you just need to graduate, taught by an obese middle-aged woman. The classroom has abstinence-only posters on the walls and the famous This is your mind/This is your mind on drugs poster tacked on the door. I remember my health education consisted of watching Intervention videos, which as moving as they are, get irritating as fuck after an entire semester. We never learnt about sex, drugs, or even basic health. The class was useless. Before ninth grade, I remember being shown powerpoints of certain coloured pills with the correct names and the street names below them; the physical consequences as well as the mental ones. What they make you feel. Horror stories. In reality, it's not all black and white. And I never learnt that in school. Why not? Because the education system in America is worthless, but that's another thing.* What I think the U.S. needs is unbiased, complete, correct information about drugs (and sex and everything else). We would be in much less trouble if we actually knew what we were doing, instead of crashing around like crazed hippos, being ignorant and arrogant.

In middle school, I read Go Ask Alice. I could write an entire post on how much I hate that book (because it didn't actually happen, because it's factually incorrect, because it's written horribly, etc. etc.) but I won't. That book, as bad as it is, made its point across. I read it several months ago again and I could see why it was so successful. It's shocking. It's also pretty enticing. When I read it when I was in eighth grade or so, I was immediately attracted to the feelings and visions the drugs induced. And on the other spectrum, I was terrified by what I read when Alice spiraled down into addiction. And that's the whole point of the book. Now, Fear and Loathing is a much better book than Go Ask Alice but targets the same point. It's factual on drugs, it actually happened, and it's better written. In addition, it allows you to view the destructive effects of drugs on people and hotel rooms. It introduces you to the Counterculture, to Timothy Leary's mindset, the consequences of the Counterculture and Leary mindset. It portrays both drug extremes extremely well. Though it fails to show the balance that can be struck between the two, I think that's important also. One need only look at the author himself and realize that there was no balance intended (along with the quote above describing all the drugs they had). Thompson went full throttle his entire life, using drugs just for fun, all the time. No, Thompson is not a good model for those who desire to see a successful, healthy person on drugs. No, drugs are not all positive and not all negative. Like anything, they can be used for a good purpose and a bad purpose. Moderation, moderation, moderation in everything. And that is not what I have seen in the majority of people's usage of drugs and that's what I think the real issue is. All in all, the book is horrifying and hilarious enough to go over well with teens, and perhaps parents also. It's truly an addition to the D.A.R.E. collection.

Note: I'm anti-war on drugs, but pro-education on drugs.
*I intend to, one of these days, be a Health teacher. Probably speak to a class about drugs and sex. I think this nation needs better education about those two subjects and I'm willing to help.

No comments:

Post a Comment