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March 27, 1977 - Image 8

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Michigan Daily, 1977-03-27
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Heroin in an historical perspective

NEXT TO THE ex-Nazi, probably no
one in popular culture is held in
lower esteem than the heroin addict.
Junkies are seen as thrill-seekers,
and products of a decadent culture.
When the Detroit Free Press recently
asked its readers what they thought
of President Carter's proposal to de-
criminalize marijuana, one indignant
resnondent could only snort "Next
thinm you know it'll be heroin,"
But to marijuana users, who now
constitute a sizable chunk of the pop-
ulation, heroin is every bit the bogey-
man it is to their p a r e n t s. "Mari-
juana's just fun," a friend of mine
said recently. "H e r o i n 's addictive.
Why would anybody want to use that
The easy answer to that question is
to label the heroin user as unstable,
addictive personality escaping from
an oppressive life. All this may be
true, but without deifying the drug
addict I want to say I believe he or
she has taken the rap for a number
of long-term developments in Ameri-
can society of which heroin addiction
is only a natural, if unsavory, out-
IN 1893 FREDERICK Jackson Turner,
the g r a n d old man of American
frontier history, wrote "The Influence
of the Frontier in American History,"
an essay in which he contended that
the availability of free land to the
west had profoundly affected Ameri-
can character.
With the disappearance of the fron-
tier around the turn of the century,
Turner fel', the domination by Ameri-
cans of eternal space was at an end
-the new era would necessarily be
one of c altivation, development, and
improve nent. Turner's primary worry
was whether the end of the frontier
might also lead to the downfall of
d e m c r a t i c institutions and high
His fears have proved somewhat
unjustified. True, the dissenter and
',he free spirit can no longer flee to
an unoccupied prairie, but neither has
there been stagnation and apathy on
the scale he feared. What has altered
significantly is that many have large-
ly turned away from the conquest of
external space towards the mastery
of inner space--of the human psyche.
There is still outer space, of cour'se,
but despite the burlesque race for the
moon between the U.S. and Russia,
little about the space program has
excited the minds-and pocketbooks
--of 20th century people to conquer
outer space in the form of dusty aste-
roids. For his or her frontier, the
modern American has had to turn in-
creasingly to the uncharted territory
of the mind.
The trek inward has nothing akin
to the ranch, which is easily defined,
claimed, and fenced in. Consequently
St McConnell is a D'a zly Managing

the search takes many forms--self-
analysis, freethinking, sexual libera-
tion, and, yes, drugs. All are ulti-
mately directed not to the question
"Where am I?" but to the question
"Who am I?"
The heroin addict, then, is simply
on the outer fringes of that search
for self which includes many others,
drug users and abstainers alike.


f "5
a e-r
I Lf "

ONCE AGAIN, I make no excuses for
the heroin addict. I simply say that
the compulsion for a very high "high"
and through it some insight into the
self, is a compulsion which exists in
many of us to a lesser degree. My
friend Chris, who had a friend die of
heroin overdose, told me about yet
another friend who dabbled in dan-
gerous drugs.
"I asked him about heroin once,"
Chris said. "He said, 'I never want to
take heroin because I know it would
be great.'"
Supressed envy of the addict is dis-
played sharply in Andy Warhol's film
Trash when a bored yo u n g profes-
sional woman ("a gradaute of Grosse
Pointe High School," she tells us) gets
a thrill watching the film's junkie
hero, Joe, shoot up in her living room.
"Oh my God, what is he doing?" she
asks with a titillated giggle.
And even heroin addicts, perhaps,
have some conception of themselves
as pioneers. Lou Reed, a rock and roll
showman who sometimes champions
the cause of street punks, dope fiends
and other social outcasts, wrote a song
entitled "Heroin" several years ago.
The lyrics of this rather eerie tune
are, in part:
I wish that I was born a hundred
years ago/
I wish that I had sailed the
darkened seas/
In a great big clipper ship,
Going from this land here to that.
'd put on a sailor's suit and cap.
JUST BECAUSE heroin addicts may
consider themselves heroes or ex-
plorers does not make them so. To
deal with heroin addiction as a per-
sonal medical or psychological prob-
lem, while it treats the symptoms,
does not strike at the root cause,
which is depersonalization - charac-
teristic of a modern, bureaucratic so-
ciety like ours.
That isolation is real for many peo-
ple, not just the junkie. Lou Reed,
after all, sells a lot of records to non-
addicts. (Once again from "Heroin":
Away from the big city/ where a man
cannot be free/ of all the evils in this
town/ and from himself and those
around"). ,
Moralists call that sense of root-
lessness "decadence." Simply cut off
its sinful limbs -- drugs, radicalism,
free sex - and the problem will be
gone, they say. Then we can get on
with the building of an ideal com-
munity-much the way Turner saw
a nation of yeoman farmers happily
tilling the soil of the conquered ex-
ternal frontier.
But once the frontier is closed, it
is closed. I doubt if even the opening
of the planets, the development of
space colonies for settlement could
bring back the sense of an unlimited
land frontier Turner discussed. For
better or worse, we have begun to look
inward at ourselves. And for better or
worse, the heroin junkie is looking
with us.

Best actress: Ullmann?

SINCE THE HEAT, alas, is off for
Monday's basketball finals, those
locals still desirous of tumult and
carnage might be advised to tune over
to Hollywood's annual ritual of self-
congratulationsand - back - stabbing
known as the Academy Awards. Of
this annual exercise in gamemanship
and ofte.n t e d i o u s showmanship,
which is perhaps rivaled only by the
Miss America P a g e a n t in kitsch
Americana, only three things can be
guaranteed: 1. The best film won't
win. 2. The show will run 45 minutes
over its time limit. 3. Bob Hope will
be obnoxious.
Actually, this year's O s c a r orgy
may be just a bit more palpable, and
perhaps recommendable viewing to
more than film fanatics an'd insom-
niacs. T h e unflaggingly gruesome
Chr;stopher Potter is a Daily Arts Page
fill critic.

repartee between award presenters
will reportedly be held to a bearable
minimum, the show's directors have
promised a new format for the eve-
ning's traditionally bloated musical
numbers, and Bob Hope will make
qply a token appearance. But perhaps
most intriguingly, what appeared at
first to be a one-sided runaway for
Best Picture honors now promises to
be a corker of a close contest.
This year's list of finalists (voted
m o s t ly by entrenched technicians
whose average age, I'm told, runs
somewhere above 60) typically omits a
number of decided worthies (Seven
Beauties and The Man Who Fell to
Earth spring immediately to mind);
but considering the general barren-
ness of last year's film output, the
select group of five which advance
into tomorrow night's finals must be
termed an interesting bunch.
Of this chosen quintet, the Big
Prize hopes of two of them may be
dispensed with swiftly--an ironic fact,
since one of those two, Taxi Driver, is
arguably the best of the c u r e n t
nominees. Martin Scorcese's dazzling
excursion into urbanized Hell through
the eyes of a disaffected half-mad,

half-saint New York cabbie, towered
head and shoulders above most of the
regurgitated fare served up last year
by an increasingly timid, commercial-
conscious film industry. Despite the
picture's occasional melodramatic ex-
cesses and the nagging motivational
inconsistencies in i t s protagonist
(nonetheless brilliantly mastered by
Robert De Niro), Taxi Driver bore the
sizzling mark of a d i r e c t o r brave
enoueh' to eXneriment, to take risks,
to apply an often white-heat innova-
tion to an increasingly stagnat art
UNFORTUNATELY, this very inno-
vation will d o u b t 1 e s s do Taxi
Driver in at the Oscar sweepstakes.
The patriarchal conservatives of The
Academy don't trust Scorcese: like
Orson Welles some thirty-five years
ago, Scorcese is too much the Easten-
er, the outsider, the weirdo-conveyor
of strange emotions and perverse de-
sires. Taxi Driver is plainly too down-
beat for the Hollywood establishment;
"send-'em-home-happy" was and is
the omniscient econo-artistic com-
mandment for t h o s e celuloid high
uriests since films began.. Doomsayers
like Scorcese must be tolerated, see-

But would you die foit

again f,
ing as how their films often (gulp)
make money. But tolerance and ac-
ceptance need hardly be synonymous.
Thus, while Taxi Driver managed to Best
sneak in a best picture nomination,
Scorcese's name is glaringly absent on offending
from the best d i r e c t o r list, as is history accu
writer-collaborator P a u 1 Schrader's Certainly
from the best screenplay category. velopment i
The Clique's message is clear: just the acknowl
like Welles and Citizen Kane three tion of All
decades ago, Taxi Driver is too daring months ago
to win. Take that, you misfits. dissection s
Monday's o t h e r more-than-long- Best P i c t u
shot, Bound For Glory, suffers from cinema year
similar handicaps due to the social most one's X
outcast status of director Hal Ashby it. But since
and star David Carradine, but Bound out-of-sight
For Glory's main problem is that it's has apparen
just not a very good film. Purporting film peaked
to chronicle folk singer-radical Woody almost a ye
Guthrie's formative early years, Ash- voked a deg
by's f i n i s h e d work is a rambling Oscar voters
(nearly three hours worth) Depres- a f a i r nun
sion whitewash, casting Guthrie as California N
an aw-shucks down home country members).
boy while it determinedly blankets
his far-left politics to the point of TJHERE IS
invisibility. Glory's backers poured a film to
millions of dollars into their project- torical event
obviously too many to take a chance
/ /

(=ENGHIS KHAN must have had it
Out there on the Gobi Desert in
Mongolia (and most of the rest of
Asia at the time), there wasn't a
whole lot to bog a guy down. War,
conquest, glory-you might'get killed,
but there was very little about it all
that was boring. The sting of the
desert wind, the jubilant cries of your
comrades, the flashing swords and
flying spears, and a blood-red sun on
a distant horizon. .
Come now. Wouldn't you love the
life of adventure, just for a little
And isn't there still, down in some
oppressed p o c k E t of our twentieth
century selves, a dying but desperate
drive to reach for the sky and shout
our willingness to die for a cause?
Don't you hear a voice out of his-
tory that cries- "Fool! You would
trade the roll of the sea and the
wrath of the sky for . .-. for business
administration?! You would exchange
the pursuit of icy Himalayan peaks
for law school? Where is the com-
mitment to great goals and ideals?
Where is the thrill, the danger, the
hellish excitement, ,for God's sake?
Don't do it! Don't cast away your
Now, I don't suggest that anyone
j ni T-bin 1ives the mundane life of a
Daily co-editor-in-chief.

really do it. You'll go ahead and cast
away your life on some career or
other, and so will 1, and neither of us
will suffer through anything harsher
than dullness for the next fifty years
or so. And that will be all right.
But that is probably all it will be-
all right-and that is more of a shame
than we of these lethargic times are
willing to admit. There is simply no
adventure any more, and the essence
of true adventure is the thing which
demands our willingness to struggle,
to fight, even to die.
"A man who won't die for some-
thing is not fit to live," said the late
Martin Luther King. But what is there
to be brave about)
No, no, I am no suicide, no death-
wish-ridden fanatic. I enjoy not being
dead. But sometimes one wonders if
one is really alive. The great adven-
ture in o v i e s of recent years draw
crowds of people yearning for vicari-
ous feelings of da-oger, but if the roads
are slippery they stay at home.
IT'S HARD TO RISK anything be-
cause it's hard to believe in any-
thing. The New Left, the Old Left, the
Right Wing, the Women's Movement,
the Gay Movement, Big Labor, Big
Business, Big Reliigon, GEO, AFSCME,
DPP, VFW, UFW, DAR, the Old South,
the New South, the Black Panthers,
the Weatherpeople, the Rainbow Peo-
ple, the American Legion, the Lunatic
Fringe-who can choose?
Forget it all for a moment. Let the
imagination slip a w a y from these

days of ambiguity to times when the
choices seemed clearer - to exotic
lands and circumstances which we
dullards will never know, to the ca-
reers for which there is no proper
Be a Berber on the hot dunes of
Morocco. In all directions lies the
Sahara, an o a s i s of oil which all
Europe seeks to t e a 1 from you. A
shining saber dangles from your belt.
The tense horse at your side is an-
xious for the chase. The infidel must
die, you say, and the time to fight has
Be at Lenin's side as St. Petersburg
rings with revolution. The bourgeoisie
must fall! Hail the proletarian revolt!
The Baltic Sea wind bites through the
night, but there is victory in the air.
Be on the streets of Nazi-occupied
Paris as a member of the French Un-
derground. What more heroic than
the stealthy infiltration and sabotage
of the German war machine? What
morality more clear than the subver-
sion of Hitl'r's minions and the de-
struction of his tyranny?
Or be with The Khan of All Khans
himself as his Mongol hordes sweep
westward over the Russian steppe.
Oh yes, t h e r e is a fair amount of
plunder and pillage and so forth, all
impossible to approve. But the bright
colors of the banners, the pounding
power of the mounted armies .. .
Well, this is all rather futile. Let us
get back to passing courses and find-
ing jobs--the adventures of our time.

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