Watching that cute pre-picture cat reminded me of when we lived in Hermosillo, Mexico in the late 90’s. We went to a lot of movies because they were fairly cheap and air-conditioned. The films often sucked, but I always loved the cute pre-picture cats that sang a song about the importance of not talking during movies, reminding us to turn off our cel phones. I can’t find the exact clip they played, but this more recent production starring “Front Row Joe” (el gato Joe) is a less charming example.
Thinking back to those cinema trips I remembered another pre-movie short they would always play. The explicit message is “vive sin drogas” (live without drugs), but the trippy visuals and hypnotic aesthetic undercut that ostensible moral:
The vive sin drogas campaign was bankrolled by TV Azteca, Mexico’s second-largest network, privatized in the 90’s by since-disgraced President Carlos Salinas. At the time, I remember reading reports in the Mexican and international alternative press alleging that TV Azteca owner Ricardo Salinas Pliego was linked to narco-money. More recently, Salinas-Pliego (currently the second-richest man in Mexico) has called for the legalization of drugs.
The vive sin drogas rap, its conflicted aesthetic, the whole concept of psychedelic-inspired children’s programming reminds me of one of my favorite comedy shows ever, Mr. Show, and their sketch Sam and Criminy Kraffft present The Altered State of Drugachusetts:
Marty Krofft has neither admitted nor hinted in occasional interviews that the references were made knowingly; in one case, a writer reported that when pressed as to the connotation of “lids” in the title Lidsville, “Well, maybe we just had a good sense of humor,” Krofft said, laughing. His comments to another interviewer were more direct; in a Times Union profile whose author observed, “Watching the shows today, it’s hard to imagine a show with more wink-and-nod allusions to pot culture, short of something featuring characters named Spliffy and Bong-O,” Krofft conceded that the show’s title had been an intentional marijuana reference, as had Lidsville, but “that was just a prank to see if they could get them past clueless NBC executives”.
Of course, the notion of entertainment or art for children being suffused with themes and tropes of surreal intoxication predates 1970’s television… Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass come immediately to mind. Lewis Carroll is just one of the writers who receive critical treatment in Marcus Boon’s The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (title drawn from William Blake). Boon’s book is by far the most thorough treatment of the subject I have ever read. Around the time the book came out, Boon gave an interview on WFMU with the riotous on-air personality and renowned proud plagiarist poet Kenneth Goldsmith (AKA Kenny G). You can listen to that interview here if you still have RealPlayer installed.
That chain of reference and reminiscence got me wondering what Marcus Boon is up to now… Turns out he has directed his efforts In Praise of Copying. Besides publishing that volume, he has turned the tables and interviewed Kenny G on appropriation, contributed to a diverse and mind-bending collection edited by “intellectual property theorist and prankster [and roboprofessor] Kembrew McLeod and dada scholar Rudi Kuenzli” entitled Cutting Across Media: Appropriation Art, Interventionist Collage, and Copyright Law. He was interviewed again recently on WFMU, this time by DJ Rupture. About this point, I’m having to work hard at not descending into envy at the orientation of this dude’s career. I have worked my various levers to acquire legal copies of all this stuff, and am working through it now…
If the digressive trajectories of my approach and work have confused you in the past, this post may serve as something of a Rosetta Stone.