In the opening scene of the new documentary The Culture High, black-and-white footage of a SWAT team marijuana raid on a home — which results in the family dog being shot and plenty of terrified children — shakes viewers to attention, helping prepare them for what’s to come. This sometimes shocking film chronicles the mechanisms of prohibition in the United States since marijuana first became illegal in 1937.
The disturbing elements of this ambitious documentary aren’t due to its production quality, which is superb. It features literally hundreds of interview segments with dozens of police officers, musicians, doctors, pot smugglers, writers, parents, media pundits, and politicians.
Director and co-writer Brett Harvey, who also produced 2007’s The Union: The Business Behind Getting High, uses the opportunity to delve into the hidden mechanisms behind cannabis prohibition, covering topics as wide ranging as prescription drug abuse, police brutality, childhood epilepsy, and the biased, advertiser-driven media that perpetuates prohibition instead of educating viewers and questioning existing public policy.
In addition to a variety of subject matter experts, the film also boasts interview segments with rapper Snoop Dogg, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, and comedian Joe Rogan. Populist themes of corporate oppression and political manipulation permeate the film, giving it a decidedly “us versus them,” almost David and Goliath feel. Those who have “Up The Establishment!” bumper stickers on their cars will be especially enamored by this rebellious, highly educational film.
If The Culture High teaches viewers anything, it is that cannabis prohibition isn’t really about marijuana whatsoever. It is simply business as usual in terms of corporate power, corrupt influence in Washington, D.C., and the government’s tendency to rely on propaganda to mislead taxpayers.
In an exclusive interview with Whaxy, director Brett Harvey discussed his goals in creating the challenging, sometimes stark documentary. Harvey said:
“The goal of the film was to peel back the surface of marijuana prohibition in order to bring a better understanding of how sectors of society are structured.”
“Once those structures are broken down to their core, it becomes easier to understand how they inevitably lead to propping up and perpetuating disastrous ventures, like the war on cannabis.”
When asked what he hopes viewers gain from the film, Harvey responded:
“I hope people walk away from the film with a sense of hope and the belief that their voice matters in this debate. With the onslaught of social media now impacting the war [on drugs], we’re seeing just how effective the power of sharing information can be.”
In the end, viewers pay a price for the education they gain from this film. Many will already be aware of the points made by this progressive documentary (fortunately, it is no less engaging or enjoyable for those who already understand the mechanisms of prohibition and corporate influence). However, for viewers who either enjoy consuming marijuana recreationally or have sought medical relief from the herb, this eye opening movie may be a bit creepy. It’s a sobering slap in the face to those who may ignorantly assume that their government is on their side or that corporations strive to serve their customers’ best interests.
For those who elect to give two hours of their life to this thought-provoking documentary, there’s one inevitable takeaway: The United States is a dualistic society with false perceptions. Comparisons to The Matrix and the intentional dumbing down of society are inevitable. While older viewers may simply be reminded of the realities of economics and systematic corruption, younger members of the audience may walk away somewhat in shock. The tagline for the documentary might as well be “You knew things were screwed up, but you didn’t know they were this screwed up!”
The Culture High drives home the point that Americans live in a culture of misinformation, disinformation, and sometimes ruthless intimidation on the part of those in power. One can almost hear David Duchovny’s X-Files character Fox Mulder whispering “Trust no one.” Thankfully, the heavy emotional and intellectual impact of this film is buffered by the humor of comedians like Rogan and Rufus Hound and rapper Snoop Dogg.
Those who are happy with their world view and confident in the ability of political and business leaders to “do the right thing” will be the most challenged by this disruptive film. Regardless of one’s mindset or political persuasion, one thing is certain: No one who watches The Culture High will walk away unchanged.
Photo credit: The Culture High