“What do you know about meth?” That the drug makes for a pretty artsy ad campaign. Darren Aronofsky has directed a series of videos for The Meth Project aimed at keeping teenagers off the drug. They feature young folk in various states of amphetamine-induced stress: there’s a suicide attempt, prostitution, psychosis and child abuse, all rendered in Darren’s signature grungy-stylish aesthetic.
This campaign is an interesting road for Darren to go down. You could argue that Requiem for a Dream, with its flashy, much-imitated style utilizing “hip hop editing” and extreme close-ups of dilated junkie eyes, did its fair share to glamorize addiction despite a pretty grim ending. These videos share that same aesthetic of flash and artful decay — which makes me wonder if they aren’t detrimental in their own right. Yes, the ads show some truly horrifying consequences of meth addiction, but it has to be remembered that the aesthetic of shitty urban decay is one that has been hugely glamorized in our culture. (Heroin chic, anyone?)
Compare these ads to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” music video. The narrative here is quite similar — a pair of young kids in love take a bunch of drugs and end up with their lives in total disarray. And the grungy aesthetic matches up as well; in fact, Rihanna’s video could certainly be describes as Aronofsky-esque. I think it’s pretty clear, though, that the music video is intended to be cool and sexy. Compare a few stills from “We Found Love” with stills from the anti-meth ads:
The scars and scabs on the bodies of the kids in these ads are certainly disgusting, but the kids themselves are beautiful. The famous “Faces of Meth” campaign is effective because it uses real addicts who look chillingly sick instead of models and makeup artists. And a skinny girl on a bed in a bra reads “sexy,” no matter the circumstances.
I’m not arguing that Darren Aronofsky didn’t mean well with these PSAs, and perhaps (hopefully, of course) they’ll help some kids stay off the drug. But there’s also the possibility that these ultra-stylish ads filled with beautiful teenagers will do some harm too, by continuing to glamorize drug use and perpetuate its on-screen depiction as cool and arty.