April 20th is the official day of celebration of the cannabis plant in the United States, in regards to its recreational consumption and sub-cultural cache. 4/20 has become synonymously inclusive of every stoned hippy, half-baked dorm room philosopher, and begrudging acquaintance of the two aforementioned spliff-toting archetypes whom you may or may not have associated with in hopes of getting a little buzzed yourself on this most unholy of high holidays. As the earth continues to revolve around the sun at its calculated pace, speed, and velocity, and comes to rest once more within the spatial coordinates designating the final turn of the fourth month within the Gregorian calendar, people across the nation take to their carefully stowed, deposited, hidden stash of illegal psychotropic paraphernalia, and begin to indulge in a well known and comfortable hallucinogenic stupor.
But what about those unblissful few who are stone-cold sober? What about the poor souls unable to procure the proper amount of medicinal herbage to enjoy all of the lackadaisical lethargy promised by this day of unofficially sanctioned repute? If you’re not a stoner, is it still possible to enjoy 4/20 as a second hand imbiber, if you will, content to ride on the spiritual waves of good energy and positivity wafting in clouds of unbridled largesse?
Thankfully, there is such a thing as the stoner comedy, a film genre made infamously well known in the 1970s and 1980s by stand-up comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, whose comic sensibilities regarding the cannabis plant and its attendant devotees brought pot smoking into the mainstream consciousness and cultural sensibility. Since Cheech and Chong’s heyday, the torch of comic pot smoking has passed hands several times over, the doobie of brotherly affection and light-hearted good humor passed around a circle of like minded ne’er do wells and trickster nymphs. Whether it be in the form of Kal Penn and John Cho’s Harold & Kumar franchise, the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski, or the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg penned Pineapple Express, the stoner comedy formula has become ubiquitous within the studio comedy system, the parodic nature of hippiedom and weed culture a pre-packaged commodity in high demand with a seemingly endless supply; good bud in the cinema easily procurable.
But is it still funny to watch other people get stoned if you yourself are of the tragically unhip, non-smoking persuasion? Based on the intrinsic merits of your typical buddy cop film, would you make the analogous statement that it is impossible to enjoy a solid police procedural, comedic or otherwise, if you are not yourself a uniformed and licensed officer of the law? Presumably, many of us enjoy watching shows like ER and House without an inkling of an honest to goodness medical school education, and even more of us are more than capable of understanding the cultural degeneracy at the heart of HBO’s Entourage without once stepping foot onto a Hollywood movie set.
When it comes to the stoner comedy genre, the state of the viewer is entirely secondary to the film’s ability to entertain. Pineapple Express contains characters whose actions are sympathetic regardless of the chemical state of the individual viewer’s conscious appraisal of the film in question. Similarly, in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, the viewer need not be in the same state of delirium evoked by the thematic content of the film’s title, the high school burn out posse a social clique familiar to anyone who has ever attended a high school in the United States within the past thirty plus years. The reason why the stoner comedy is so enjoyable at its best has little to do with the recreational past time which it purportedly endorses, and more to do with a larger and more inclusive communal interrogation of marijuana usage, and the experiences, direct or indirect, which they have imprinted on anyone who has ever been confronted with pot in the past, regardless of whether or not they were the one who was toking at the time.
There’s a reason why The Big Lebowski is such a cultural phenomenon, why The Dude is the counter-cultural hero of the late twentieth century. In order to appreciate The Dude as a messianic icon of our times, pot smoking has less to do with the direct ingestion of the drug in question, and more to do with the state of pacifistic non-aggression that The Dude preaches to his disciples, their own recreational consumption of his favored potent potable secondary to the state in which he abides. “The Dude Abides” thus becomes a thematic motif of the entire film, and by extension a perfect distillation of the entire ethos of the 4/20 sub-culture. Whether or not we are all going to partake of that most infamous of green flowering plants is secondary to the incorporation of the spiritual essence of stoner malaise into our sober existence, teaching us all to abide, and find our inner Dude.
So today, April 20th, 2015, whether or not you partake of the annually celebrated cannabis plant or not, whether you smoke it straight, with tobacco, or ingest it as a part of your favorite baked good, or whether you prefer the communal contact high proffered by the stoner comedy genre, abide. Abide the good with the bad; abide in those with whom you might otherwise disagree and confront; abide in the good vibes chemically induced. And if you find yourself unable to do so on your own terms, pop in the Cameron Crowe penned 1982 seminal coming of age comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and let Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli remind of you of a simpler time when all you needed were some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and you were fine, sober maturity and its attendant responsibilities a mere speck on the horizon amid an ocean of easy living, emotional highs.
Featured Image: Gramercy Pictures