Heresy: will “The Culture High” change the culture?

Sadly, I fear not.

I saw The Culture High last night (or at least most of it before leaving to catch the last train home) and was very impressed with all that makes a very good documentary; sense of purpose, clarity, humanity (very moving at times), facts, editing and pace. I also liked the audience; committed, honourable, informed, brave…and already converted to ending drug prohibition.

So, how many prohibitionists will sit through this two hour documentary and leave with a new burning desire to end the “War on Drugs”? Sadly, I fear not many.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think it’s very important for documentaries of this quality to be made and seen as widely as possible but I must caution against an over-optimistic view that they will make a significant impact on the prohibitionist culture. The film itself argues that the drugs debate is often more informed by prejudice and self-justifying interpretation than the facts.

I believe that in order to convince those who support drug prohibition to change their minds we need to tell our story through compelling drama. Strong, believable characters can persuasively bring to life powerful tales of the damage caused by prohibition and the manifest benefits of change. Of course we need informed, credible voices speaking out for reform (and there were many in the documentary) but I believe we must also “show” not just “tell” why we need to change.

Although I’m not familiar with how such dramas are commissioned and produced, as a viewer I well understand the power of soaps, plays and films to engage the heart and influence the mind. Should we not try to persuade those actors, writers, film-makers and potential sponsors who support the need for reform to engage in such projects?

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About tomclloyd

International Drug Policy Adviser and former UK Chief Constable
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One Response to Heresy: will “The Culture High” change the culture?

  1. Peter Reynolds says:

    One of the huge problems with drug law reform campaigners is they spend most of their time talking to each other. Frequently they think that their ‘events’, be they film screenings, rallies, ‘smoke ups’ or conferences are campaigning – but they’re not, they’re not even preaching to the choir, they’re more like choir practice. Patting each other on the back achieves nothing.

    I haven’t seen ‘The Culture High’ yet but i am looking forward to it and I’m sure I will enjoy it. It will reinforce everything that I already know and believe.

    Really, if we want to mobilise public opinion towards law reform we have to get off the drug policy gravy train, out of our offices in trendy Old Street and Bristol and start talking to real people.

    Video and film is obviously a supremely powerful method of communicating but Tom is right, the people we need to reach won’t watch ‘The Culture High’ or ‘The Union’ or ‘Breaking the Taboo’.

    What we need are short, two or three minute pieces on the television news, ‘The One Show’, ‘Inside Out’ and local programmes. Those with influence could start by addressing the scandalous censorship of the drug policy debate by the BBC.

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