The Napster version of "Reefer Madness"

By Richard Menta- 10/23/01

I couldn't help but think of that old anti-drug film Reefer Madness when I read Newsforge columnist Tina Gasperson's story "Disney Channel cartoon portrays music downloads as evil".

For those not familiar with the movie, Reefer Madness was an early 1930's anti-drug film that became a cult fave for its bad acting, cheap production values, and most of all, its hyper-paranoid and unrealistic portrayal of potheads in the public school system. The result was poorly executed propaganda that became unintentionally funny (as opposed to Afroman's accurate and intentionally funny hit "Because I Got High").

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The Disney Channel cartoon series The Proud Family certainly is of higher production caliber, but it's Oct. 5 episode entitled EZ Jackster is still thinly veiled propaganda with the hopes of swaying the youth market. At least the hapless Reefer Madness had non-profit intentions.

The episode in question depicts nothing more than record industry Armageddon. Penny, the episode's heroine, meets a boy named Mega after spending $125 on CDs off of her five-cent salary (which in itself says something about CD prices). When he turns her on to EZ Jackster she becomes a file-trade addict whose actions lead to her favorite artist losing millions, the local record store failing, loss of jobs, and her eventual arrest by police who surround the family home.

Gee, what a pleasant story line. The ultimate message to kids here? Trade and we are going to get you. Not exactly a message Walt himself would embrace.

So why did Disney create this little piece of propaganda for kids?

The answer is fear. Fear, that technology will strip profits, fear that kids growing up on Napster will stop buying CDs, and ultimately, fear that technology will catch up with the movie industry like it already has with the record industry.

So what is a better way to battle fear than with fear. Of course, these types of films have played in the schools for decades and have not prevented teens from taking drugs, dressing oddly, or carrying weapons to class. They are the very same films the Simpsons frequently and accurately parody for their misguided attempts.

I can't tell you that this episode will or won't dissuade kids from downloading the music of the artists they love. I have not seen the episode, but I suspect its biggest accomplishment may just be in confirming Disney's intention to distrust and derail any future innovation on the Net they cannot directly control, but could apply to them.

You can read the article here, I recommend it.


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