by Emily Osborn
Emily Osborn looks at the glamorization of cocaine in popular media.
The idyllic “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle has been romanticised in media for decades. This inadvertently has led to drug use itself being glamorised, with certain drugs adapting to this role more than others. According to a 2015 study, 7.8% of adults in Ireland have taken cocaine at some point in their lifetime. In recent years, cocaine has solidified its reputation in Ireland as a party drug, and as one publican described it in The Irish Times– it has become as popular as ‘having a packet of Tayto with a pint’. In pre-Covid Ireland, most students wouldn’t have been overly shocked to witness cocaine use in the bathroom of a nightclub. The last few months alone have seen a surge in people accessing rehabilitation services for cocaine addiction. But how did a once nefarious street drug climb its way up the ranks to become one of the most popular party drugs in the country? It’s easy to see why when we examine the imagery surrounding cocaine use in popular media.
Music genres can easily be associated with different kinds of substances. Bob Marley lovers often associate his music with marijuana, and many people are guilty of belting out songs by the Wolfe Tones after a few pints. Similarly, anyone who’s ever been to an Irish house party as a teenager is likely aware of Versatile’s music and the party drugs related to it. The duo writes music that (on top of being overtly misogynistic and racist) praises drug dealing and all of the ‘clout’ that goes with it. Given that the majority of people who can actually tolerate listening to their lyrics are below the age of 15, it’s not surprising how a young angsty teenager can be brainwashed into thinking that selling party drugs is a cool and edgy way to make money. Similarly, other secondary school disco anthems such as “Get on Your Knees” by MC Pat Flynn glamorise cocaine ‘lifestyle’ to a huge extent:
“Have an ounce of coke and two ounce of weed;
My head spins and I’m out for a good party”.
The lyrics are suggestive of the fact that the best nights out are drug fuelled and dangerous, without mentioning the side effects that drugs like these can have on a person.
On TV screens, cocaine is depicted similarly. In RTÉ’s Love/Hate, countless lavish parties occur in swanky southside apartments, incomplete without the mountainous piles of cocaine being snorted through €50 notes. It’s decadent. Outside of Irish media, films like The Wolf of Wall Street and Pulp Fiction offer this narrative that cocaine use is extremely upscale, a pastime that’s only afforded to those who have money to spare. Compared to drugs like heroin and methamphetamine which are frowned upon by the media and relegated to the corners of people’s minds as ‘a poor man’s drug’, cocaine receives star treatment on TV. Take, for example 1996’s Trainspotting – the heroin addicts portrayed are frequent jail-birds, who can’t hold down a job and would essentially sell their soul for the next hit. Cocaine use on the other hand is usually reserved for high class society, as if cocaine is a ‘perk of the lifestyle’ rather than what it actually is.
It’s clear to see from these various depictions why cocaine is revered to as high an extent as it is. Young teenagers, whether they would admit it or not, are easily impressed upon by this kind of imagery. It’s fair to say that artists and creators of this kind of media aren’t responsible for the impressions they leave on their listeners and viewers, but unfortunately with glamorization of this kind, teenagers are inclined to soak in the idealised narratives shown in the media than the comparatively more sensible, albeit dull, advice of the adults around them.
Sometimes, all that glitters isn’t gold.