If You Drop Your Meth Pipe While Driving, Don't Pick It Up Until You Get to a Stoplight

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The federal government recently unveiled eight new anti-meth TV ads created by J. Walter Thompson. Three of the ads unintentionally indict the war on drugs by showing how prohibition leads to clandestine, unprofessional drug production that poses risks to consumers (impurities in meth) and bystanders (ammonia fumes). An ad that compares a meth user's heart to a racing engine that eventually breaks down is pretty good propaganda, although the logic of the comparison suggests that the real hazard comes from chronic, long-term use, since car engines don't usually blow the first few times you overwork them.

By contrast, an ad featuring a 911 call from a frantic woman whose meth-using boyfriend has just put his fist through a window is probably too over the top to be credible to anyone who has observed people on meth who are not freaking out. Even more misleading is a caption claiming "law enforcement officials report that meth is their #1 drug problem," which is true only if you don't count alcohol and talk only to cops in areas where meth use is especially common. In Washington, D.C., and New York, for example, law enforcement officials would not say meth is anywhere near their No. 1 drug problem.

Two other spots are a bit puzzling. One shows a girl meticulously plucking one of her eyebrows for about 20 seconds, after which a female voice-over says, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you're on meth." Since girls have been known to pluck their eyebrows to improve their appearance, and since at the end of the ad it's not clear this girl is doing a bad job of it, I'm not sure what the point is. Are we to assume the girl, under the influence of meth, will continue plucking until she has no eyebrows left? Or is the message that speed freaks (like the pot smokers that populate the government's anti-marijuana ads) do pointless things, instead of putting their time to productive use?

The other head scratcher shows a guy who gets into a crash because he's reaching for his meth pipe on the floor of his car. This is meant metaphorically: As he crashes, we see people nowhere near the scene being knocked around and injured, and at the end the narrator says, "Your meth habit isn't just hurting you. It's hurting your family, your friends, everyone." The wrecked car is your life on drugs, as it were. The metaphor is less laughable than a fried egg but a little too complicated, I think, for a brief anti-drug ad. On the face of it, the government seems to be saying that smoking meth is about as risky as changing CDs, eating a sandwich in the car, or driving with squabbling kids in the back seat.

[Thanks to Bill Piper at the Drug Policy Alliance for the tip.]

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  1. Oh, great. As if the barrage of nonsensical anti-pot ads we’ve been subjected to lately [“I smoked a joint and it made me want to get chased by junkyard dogs!”] weren’t enough already.

  2. that junkyard dog ad was fucking awesome…when you’re high, i mean.

  3. These spots sound the same as the Montana Meth Project, as described in an article in today’s New York Times. The Times reports that in Montana, the campaign is paid for by Thomas M. Siebel, a software billionaire and part-time resident of that state.

  4. “…instead of putting their time to productive use?”

    Like, say, putting on $1500.- per plate campaign fundraisers, as part of a lobbying campaign to induce the federal government to protect them from their business competitors?

  5. These ads are actually advertising the wonders of drug use.* When, as an ignorant kid, I was exposed to anti-drug propaganda (not so much back then), I couldn’t help but think that the drugs must be really cool if people took them despite all the dire side effects.
    *Related: the advertising works, a little bit: kids exposed to “DARE” advertising in school use drugs slightly more frequently than kids who weren’t exposed.

  6. Yes, our tax dollas hard at work, as usual. I’m sure they’ll be effective, too. Might as well get Mr. Mackey as their spokesman.

  7. I blogged on the Montana Meth Project yesterday:

    centerforadvancedsarcasm.blogspot.com

  8. These ads give me more flashbacks than I need to the good old days in Vietnam, when Armed Forces TV would show “Sergeant Pepper” sucking on a joint and responding to his friends’ protestations with the all-time classic line “Don’t bring me down, man. I’m enjoying the war!” (Naturally, his whole unit would be wiped out.)

  9. Showing a guy who couldn’t get it up and his girlfriend walking out on him would probably be a lot more effective than any of the “oooooh, this is bad, don’t do it even though it feels good” ads.

  10. It is a well known fact that most folks in advertising do a LOT of drugs.

  11. Where’s Juanita/Jane/etc.?

  12. thoreau: Maybe she got busted for drunk driving.

  13. So, how would the legalities work out if somebody put together an ad, namely using the visuals of that young boy left at baseball practice (You were supposed to pick him up. You got high), or that grandma sitting alone in her kitchen (You were supposed to visit her, blahblahblah), but the end of the message was “Please toke responsibly” rather than any blatant anti-drug messages?

    Or, how about a “Citizens for Responsible Drug Use” type group?

  14. I miss the commercial where the hot chick wrecks her kitchen with a frying pan.

  15. Me, too, wingnutx. I keep thinking that if she would just take little E, you would have a night to remember on your hands.

  16. *Related: the advertising works, a little bit: kids exposed to “DARE” advertising in school use drugs slightly more frequently than kids who weren’t exposed.

    The DARE classes certainly convinced me.

    Showing a guy who couldn’t get it up and his girlfriend walking out on him would probably be a lot more effective than any of the “oooooh, this is bad, don’t do it even though it feels good” ads.

    The same can be said for alcohol. They don’t call it “whiskeydick” for nothing.

  17. I wish they’d bring back those fried egg spots. You know: “This is your brain [holding up egg]…this is your brain on drugs [cracking egg into hot frying pan]…any questions?”

    (…this is your brain with a side of bacon and a short stack…etc.)

  18. I live in Montana. Here is a newspaper column I wrote about the Montana Meth Project:

    Kids, meth is bad for you.
    Meth. That?s short for methamphetamine. Some people know it as the poor man?s cocaine. I call it trailer blow, and sometimes Jacob?s Comet.
    Meth, meth, meth, meth, meth.
    You?re hearing a lot about meth these days from the Montana Meth Project. The Montana Meth Project is airing all those meth commercials on radio and TV. Those commercials remind you that meth, or methamphetamine as it were, is horrible stuff.
    It?s a stunningly gruesome body of anti-meth work. Of all the anti-meth ads that our society has been subjected to over the years, these are without question or hesitation the most recent.
    So professionally done are the Montana Meth Project ads that several of them actually made the AdCritic.com Top 20 list. You know you?re doing good anti-meth stuff when your ads are right up there with Levi?s ?Ice Cream Van? and Miller High Life?s ?Girl on the Moon.?
    Yes, anti-meth ads and pro-beer ads, working together for a better America.
    Makes you pluck out your eyebrows, this meth stuff, according to the commercials. Maybe we should call meth users ?tweezers? instead of ?tweakers.? As in, ?Dude, I?m totally tweezin? on this here meth stuff. You got a pair of needle-nose pliers? I?m going to pluck the hair off my back.?
    Personally, I?ve heard meth, or methamphetamine, makes you gnaw your teeth down to a smooth shine, scrub your toilet at 4 in the morning with pipe cleaners and mow your lawn in the winter. And why? Because you?re on meth and people on meth are real energetic.
    Hyper meth-heads.
    Don?t meth with a meth-head! Get it? Meth and mess? Get it now? Pretty methin? funny, don?t you meth, I mean, think? Methinks so! I mean, meth-inks so!
    But seriously, meth. Don?t do meth. Unless it?s the right kind of meth. The right kind of meth is the meth a psychiatrist gives to your kid. It?s called methylphenidate, aka Ritalin. Comes in a bottle and is chemically a cousin of cocaine, unlike the street meth. So it?s good meth. The RIGHT meth. The WRONG meth is the street meth because it?s the bad meth and it is evil like Satan?s hell. Those meth commercials ought to sell you on that idea. That guy freaking out in the Laundromat in his goth robe? He was on meth.
    Did you see his face? Looked like it went through a thresher. Meth face. Modern variant of the gin blossom. If you see your friend break out in a case of meth face, be sure to tell him, ?Whoa. Dude. You got meth face. Maybe you should get some Strident. And quit using meth.?
    You do meth, and you?ll become a meth addict, just like Laundromat boy. You even LOOK at meth and you?ll be trying to squish the spiders crawling all over your body while you?re in rehab. Meth rehab. That?s the worst sort of rehab because meth is so bad! And then maybe you?d star in your own meth commercial. You?d play the part of a person on meth. You may or may not have developed meth face.
    How bad is meth? Meth is Nazi bad. The Web site http://www.meth-is-death.com notes that German soldiers took meth to keep them alert so they were better able to shoot non-meth-head Americans, who, gawl darn it, only got government-rationed coffee in their MRE?s. ?Another big black mark against all things Nazi,? says the anti-meth Web site, a quote I am not making up. They?re right: The American government would NEVER do that kind of thing.
    Do meth, put on a brown shirt and buy a Doberman. You Hitler-sympathizin? meth-head.
    The solution to our meth problem is to ram meth down people?s throats. Not literally, of course. But it is our duty to scare kids into hating meth. We all know that works with kids because of the past ?Just Say No? campaign, which eradicated drugs in the ?80s. Except for meth, apparently.
    So we must mention meth a lot. Meth on TV. Meth on the radio. Meth in the movie theaters. Meth on our billboards. Anywhere kids are. We could turn the McDonald?s M?s into big anti-Meth ads. ?Meth kills. Try a Happy Meal instead,? we could say. ?They don?t serve Happy Meals in prison, where you?ll go to serve a mandatory minimum federal sentence for being an addict,? we could add.
    One day, we will wake up, and the meth problem will be over. And we will look back as we?re snorting our new designer drugs and say, ?At least I didn?t take meth. And it?s all due to those anti-meth ads.?

  19. Does anyone have a link for that junkyard dog add? It sounds awesome.

  20. driving metaphors seem to be pretty common in drug ads, like the anti-pot ones where the stoner runs over a little girl on a bike. seems like a curious choice given that alcohol is far and away the leading recreational drug-related cause of automobile accidents.

  21. “I miss the commercial where the hot chick wrecks her kitchen with a frying pan.”

    Yes, I always thought, “Only under Bill Clinton would a government anti-drug ad featuring an attractive young woman wearing a tanktop and no bra be produced.”

  22. “Only under Bill Clinton would a government anti-drug ad featuring an attractive young woman wearing a tanktop and no bra be produced.”

    OK, that’s definitely one point in his favor.

  23. I agree wholeheartedly that all drugs should be legal, but I’m always amazed by how lightly posted here seem to take crystal meth. Me, I haven’t done drugs for a decade but back when I did I was hardcore about it. I’ve done the lot and speed is WAY more fucked up than heroin, or cocaine, or benzodiazepines, or you name it. I’ve been a junkie, a coke head, and a tweaker and that speed is some scary shit. The things I did and the things I saw my friends do on speed compared to what we got up to on other drugs were just fucking insane.

    Sure, most people who do speed don’t become psychopaths, but if you don’t believe that it takes crazyness to whole new level then you haven’t been paying attention. It is different from any other drug I’ve seen or done and there are few I haven’t done to excess.

  24. “I’m always amazed by how lightly posted here seem to take crystal meth.”

    I could be wrong, but it seems like you’re confusing people’s derision of the government anti-drug propagandists with people’s attitudes towards the drug itself. I’ve never seen anyone say “Oh, meth ain’t that bad,” just “the government is over the top in its anti-meth approach.”

  25. My all time favorite anti-drug commercial was one I only saw twice very late at night. It featured a man covered in grime throwing up into a shit-smeared toilet and then sitting in a dirty bathtub covered in his own vomit, iirc. At the end of the ad a jingle sang, “Everyone’s doing it, doing it, Heroin!” and the word heroin appeared in bright pink, soap-bubble letters.

    It was very surreal. Of course, this was shortly after Trainspotting was released, so heroin was the demon drug du jour. I could never decide whether they pulled it because the images were pretty disgusting or because it was just totally laughable.

  26. speed is WAY more fucked up than heroin, or cocaine, or benzodiazepines, or you name it.

    I respectfully disagree. Powerful drugs have powerful consequences. Different drugs are different. But to place speed in some class of “WAY more fucked up” is needless hyperbole.

    I have known people who lost limbs because they were so drunk they passed out on train tracks, and people who died from heroin overdose.

    Drugs have a power that must be respected. But speed is not some voodoo boogeyman. If you are separating speed from the other drugs, perhaps it is because you are not taking the other drugs seriously enough.

  27. The Web site http://www.meth-is-death.com notes that German soldiers took meth … Americans, who, gawl darn it, only got government-rationed coffee in their MRE’s.

    Modern US pilots get methamphetamine.

    Read all about it:
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/navy/misc/NAVMEDP-6410.pdf

  28. The fucked up nature of speed comes not from the drug itself, but as a result of not sleeping for days and days on end. Drunks and heroin addicts still go to bed at night. Tweakers don’t sleep until their stash runs out, and by that time they’ve already dissasembled the car in the garage, and can’t remember why.

  29. Anti-drug spots infuriate me no end. The thing that pisses me off most is how most people swallow them whole. What we need is an anti-anti-drug backlash. A series of parodies of all the most egregious anti-drug spots.

  30. Here’s one I wrote:

    Setting: Sunny day in the park, father and son taking a stroll.

    Kid: Dad, did you ever do drugs?
    Dad:[stammers] Well uhh

    [guy with large Que cards (QCG) runs up and holds up card that reads:
    YEAH I DID
    AND IT WAS A DUMB THING TO DO]

    Dad: [Looks at card, begins reading, vaguely dispassionate]
    Yeah I did, and it was a dumb ?
    [shakes head begins speaking in engaged conversation voice ]
    Yeah, yeah I did. I did a lot of dumb things too. But I also had some great times. Some of the best moments of my life happened when I was high. Like the first time I made love to your mother.

    [QCG gets panicked look on face. Turns card over and reads it (twice) turns card back around and holds it up, waves it back and forth]

    Kid: Sooooo, you’re saying drugs made your life better?
    Dad: I’m saying that drugs are powerful things. And like all powerful things, you need to have a healthy fear of them. You see son, drugs, like cars, a little knowledge, and religion, can be very dangerous. But they can also be useful and life enhancing when used responsibly. It’s important that you educate yourself on the effects and risks before you start experimenting.

    [QCG rotates the “yeah I did” card to back of stack. He frantically waves the new top card which reads:
    BUT NO ONE EVER TALKED TO ME ABOUT IT]

    Dad: [turns his back to QCG and faces his son] And the biggest risk of all is the fact that they’re illegal. Not only can you get arrested, but if you’re convicted you loose any chance of getting into college or landing a decent job. And of course there’s no FDA or even Consumer’s Reports to ensure purity and quality. For instance, Ecstasy is far safer than beer, but when you buy pills on the black market, there’s no way of knowing what is in them. You could be putting anything from sugar to cyanide in your body.

    [Father and son begin walking again. QCG violently throws the “no one ever” card away. His new card reads:
    DRUGS ARE BAD
    MMMMM-KAY
    He is walking backwards and jamming his finger at his card]

    Kid: So if making drugs illegal actually makes them more dangerous, why don’t we just end drug prohibition?
    Dad: Well it’s like I said son, people do a lot of dumb things.
    [Father and son continue talking and walk off together]
    [QCG trips and falls to ground, cards go flying. Close up on his face ? look of exasperation]
    QCG: I need a drink

  31. That does it, I’m starting my own video production company. Our flagship product will be video of hot-but-angry chicks in wifebeaters smashing things with blunt objects.

    Should be fun to watch after a couple of bong-hits.

    What else should I add?

  32. Warren, you are brilliant.

  33. I’ll second that, Warren – good stuff

  34. The first time I read Warren’s script, I didn’t realize it was his own work — I thought it was a trasncript of an actual South Park script or something.

    It was South Park good.

  35. That was Henry Rollins in the engine break down commercial.

  36. “But speed is not some voodoo bogeyman” No it isn’t voodoo, but as someone else pointed out it does keep a person awake for many days on end and when you combine lack of sleep with the amount of speed needed to stay awake you end up with some profoundly messed up people. My point was that for all the silliness and hyperbole in the government advertisements there is a kernel of truth there about the nature of the drug. I’ve been every kind of addict there is and spent many years in that kind of company and I’ll tell you this for free: speed IS different from the others. It ain’t magic, and it ain’t voodoo, but it can and often does produce results like no other drug out there. It’s simply beyond dispute.

  37. there is a kernel of truth there about the nature of the drug

    I understand that speed can destroy a life, but I think you’re missing my point – just because you didn’t notice the teeth doesn’t mean you weren’t swimming with sharks.

    With few exceptions (weed), there is a danger to every drug. They are like guns – in the right hands they are a tool and/or a lot of fun. But in the wrong hands they can maim or kill. And like guns, the government shouldn’t be involved.

    Just because you lived through it, doesn’t make the drugs you did harmless. In the same respect, there is a kernel of truth about the nature of the other drugs, too.

  38. Has anyone else ever seen the absolute mayhem someone on a PCP high has created, and thought “I’ve got to get me some of that”?

    Am I the only one?

  39. Has anyone else ever seen the absolute mayhem someone on a PCP high has created, and thought “I’ve got to get me some of that”?

    O rly?

  40. Has anyone else ever seen the absolute mayhem someone on a PCP high has created, and thought “I’ve got to get me some of that”?

    Am I the only one?

    Personally, that is one of the few drugs that I’ve never had any interest in trying. I don’t need something additional to send me into a superhuman rage when I’m pissed off. I can do that fine on my own.

  41. “That was Henry Rollins in the engine break down commercial.”

    I like Henry Rollins. His band was good, and his spoken word stuff is brilliant.

    But for the love of God, I wish he would stop being a nanny-statist supporting fuck. I find it annoying that someone so in love with his own freedoms wants to boss others around about theirs.

  42. It was South Park good.

    Awww shucks. Thanks for the ego stroke, now I’ve got a ‘Mr. Mackey on acid’ head.

    I really really want someone to produce that bit, then spread it around via online and public access cable.

  43. Very Peter McWilliams-y, Warren. He’d be darn proud.

  44. I have no opinion either way on the ads, but the one with the plucking eyebrows zooms out to show the fact that her (his? i thought it was a dude) other eyebrow was bloody and missing.

  45. there is only one heroism: you can keep your passion after figure out the truth of life

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