In April 2002, The Simpsons tackled the controversial topic of medical marijuana, with a special episode where "Homer gets addicted to medical marijuana."
In the weeks leading up to its broadcast, med-pot patients and activists circulated alerts on the Internet, encouraging others to watch this special Simpsons episode. Hopes were high that it would blow apart the prohibitionist mindset with pointed sarcasm and quick-witted satire.
Yet sadly the episode failed to meet expectations. Once aired, it generated mixed reviews among activists and layfolk alike. On Internet chat sites some fans hailed the episode as "the funniest this season," while others complained that it was "pathetic" and "highly inaccurate in regards to marijuana."
Although this episode was not the first to have one of the characters getting stoned ? indeed bus-driver Otto seems baked every episode ? it was the first to focus so specifically on pot, with much of the humor deriving from Homer's baked antics.
The storyline has Homer starting to use medical pot after having his eyes pecked by angry crows. Homer gets free joints from the state on the recommendation of Dr. Hibbard, who also offers him a choice between the "wizard" and the "skull" bong.
Once he starts using pot, Homer becomes even more slothful, slovenly and stupid then ever. He takes to hanging out with Otto in the attic. Yet he scores a top job with nuclear power-plant owner Mr. Burns, because he is so stoned that he laughs at all of Burns' unfunny jokes.
Homer unwittingly signs a petition being circulated by Ned Flanders, to recriminalize medicinal marijuana in the state. Homer then launches a political campaign to keep med-pot legal, including a concert where Phish makes an appearance. Yet it turns out Homer was too stoned to get the date right, and his supporters missed the vote ? medical marijuana was recriminalized.
Homer vows to Marge that he'll stop "doing drugs" but without his herb he can't laugh at Burns' lame humor. He uses his last joint to toke up with Smithers, but they're so baked they forget Mr. Burns in the bath, and Burns is dead! In stoned desperation they rig up Burns' corpse to marionette strings to fool the shareholders at a key meeting.
The portrayal of medical pot rankled some viewers. "It was totally lame. They made it seem as if medical pot is a joke," complained one Simpsons fan who uses pot to combat the effects of chemotherapy. "I mean, I'm not above laughing at the marijuana movement, but the episode totally stereotyped pot use and didn't show any of its medicinal benefits. Couldn't they have had Homer meet up with some legitimate patients?"
Some observers were more direct, and claimed the episode may have been partially funded by the federal government's anti-pot propaganda efforts.
While pot lovers might find it hard to believe that the ever-subversive Simpsons could be involved in taking government money to create an anti-pot TV episode, there are some interesting observations to be made which could point to sinister forces working behind the scenes.
First, in 2000 Fox was one of the networks found to be sending scripts with drug-related storylines to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for their approval (CC#25, TV takes prohibitionist payola). As just one example, a 1999 two-part 90210 special netted Fox a cool $1.5 million because of its anti-drug storyline.
Fox wasn't the only network cashing in on shows with anti-drug plots, other shows that made their networks money with pre-approved propaganda scripts included The Practice, Chicago Hope, ER, The Wayans Brothers, Home Improvement, Sports Night, Cosby, Smart Guy, Sabrina the Teen Witch, General Hospital, Boy Meets World, Promised Land, Providence, Trinity, 7th Heaven and others. In most cases the show's writers were completely unaware of the script-approval arrangement.
Because of the scandal, the ONDCP announced that the practice of pre-approving scripts would discontinue, but in weaselly fashion said that they would still continue to financially credit the networks whenever a television show "voluntarily" presents an anti-drug message. With two years of script approvals under their belts the networks surely know by now what kinds of scripts will keep the federal money flowing.
With the standard and practice already set, we should expect payouts for the anti-drug scripts to continue unabated. In this case, would The Simpsons be treated differently than any other show?
Second, Film Roman announced in January that it would be producing a series of commercials for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA). Film Roman is the animation company which produces The Simpsons, as well as other shows including King of the Hill and The Oblongs. Their first PDFA ad is targeted at "six to eight year olds" and features a mechanical body breaking up and disintegrating after consuming a pointy-shaped "drugs." The tagline at the end is a child's voice saying "Drugs can really break your body down." Presumably they aren't referring to the pharmaceutical drugs being sold by half of the PDFA's top "Corporate Partners."
Although Film Roman is not directly involved in scripts for The Simpsons, it doesn't bode well that the animators are so readily taking ad money for misleading propaganda aimed at young children.
Thirdly, the show that preceded the med-pot Simpsons episode on Fox was King of the Hill, during which two ads appeared from the ONDCP sponsored "Antidrug.com." These ads do not normally on that show, and have not appeared in the weeks following. Why would those ads only appear at that time, unless there was some level of collusion between Fox and the ONDCP?
So with the network and the animation company accepting federal handouts for their anti-drug propaganda, and a pair of unprecedented federal anti-drug ads on the show preceding it, it suddenly seems possible that The Simpsons might actually have sold out, if for one episode only.
Whatever the truth behind the lameness of the med-pot episode, it cannot be denied that the Simpsons has brought us many fine moments of pot-related humor. Hempster highlights range from when Homer recognizes that Bart's new "pencil holder" is actually a bong, to the flashback of Springfield's founding, where Jebediah Springfield announces "On this site we shall build a new town, where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets."
One of the show's best med-pot references was when Bart's dog knocks a bag of weed out of a blind man's pocket. The blind guy says, "Uh, it's medicinal. Without it, I could go... even blinder." One cop says, "He has a point, Chief."
An early episode to make fun of the hemp movement featured Woody Harrelson. It showed a guy talking to Harrelson saying "Wow, I can't believe your clothes are made of hemp." Then they show Woody's clothes and they're just pot leaves sewn together.
One episode saw Homer take to licking toads for the high, while another time he went on a Castaneda-inspired visionary journey with a coyote as his spirit guide, after eating extremely spicy chili.
Lisa is often the subject of hallucinatory trips. She's been high on Nitrous Oxide, hopped-up on pep-pills and wasted on the water at the Duff Gardens boat-ride. Her Duff trip had all the aspects of an LSD experience ? first she saw trails, then she said "I can see the music," before tripping out entirely into hallucinations. Lisa also once had the honor of a tree with her head on it reducing Springfield's Hemp City to "seeds and stems."
It may even be possible that Homer himself is named after pot. In the episode where Homer learns about his mother's hippie ways, and accidentally doses Springfield with peyote-laced vegetable juice, he discovers that his middle initial "J" actually stands for "Jay." Considering that jay is slang for a joint and his mother was a hippie, it stands to reason she was naming Homer after her favorite recreational substance.
With all these and more classic cannabis comedy moments, The Simpsons' inept handling of the med-pot issue seems all the more surprising. If evidence of federal financial influence can be found, we will report more in a future issue.
? Simpsons fan websites: web www.nohomers.net; web www.snpp.com
? Partnership for a Drug-Free America: tel 212-973-3530; web www.drugfreeamerica.org
? ONDCP antidrug campaign: web www.antidrug.com
? The med-pot Simpsons episode on Pot-TV: www.pot-tv.net/archive/shows/pottvshowse-1376.html
? Film Roman's anti-drug TV ad can be seen here: www.level13.net/filmroman/settings.php?short=286&level=