Cocaine seems to be everywhere right now and despite its extremely hefty price tag in this country, Australian drug users are consuming record levels of cocaine. In England, a lower price point and easier access means the spread of the drug is even more widespread. Cocaine has become a part of our culture.
All illegal drugs have stereotypes and connotations attached to them to as a result of pop culture, misinformation, propaganda, and the perceived effects of the drugs themselves: Cannabis is the 'slacker drug of choice', thanks to its association with Cheech and Chong, Seth Rogan, and even Scooby Doo; Heroin is 'the stuff of tortured romantics and artists' and a nightmare to defeat, a la Trainspotting, and the drug's connection to grunge music's most famous fallen idols. But it's cocaine that has long been glamourised as the 'drug of choice by the rich and famous'.
Coke use has gone hand in hand with stories of decadence and indulgence for decades, even before Wall Street bankers personified '80s excess and popularised cocaine as a status symbol for the newly minted elite class. It’s also served a beacon of aspiration for rappers after fictional anti-hero Tony Montana sat behind a mountain of white in Scarface as his empire crumbled around him. The rare warnings of the dangers of cocaine in Johnny Cash songs, public service announcements, and Michael Keaton movies have been well and truly drowned out by the mythologising.
The lack of negative stigma around cocaine is one of the reasons that cocaine has increased its presence in all walks of life in recent years, and now, Cocaine: Britain’s Epidemic looks into just how entrenched the drug has become in modern England.
The documentary series is a snapshot of cocaine use in the UK, taking a frank look at Britain’s modern drug users who seem to come from all corners of British life. We hear from people using coke as a substitute for a bottle of wine on a quiet night in, kids and young adults using the drug to escape inner city boredom, and middle aged party players and street dealers. They all reflect bluntly about their experiences, both good and bad.
The program hypothesises that the ease of ordering the drug from the internet like any other product has normalised it, removing the process from dodgy street deals and criminal underworld, to an experience more akin to ordering a pair of sunglasses.
Of course the socio-economic factors play a part. As the gap widens and ‘climbing the ladder’ is less achievable, people turn to drugs when there seems to be little else going on in life. As welfare opportunities dry up for disadvantaged youth, the prospect of easy money selling cocaine outweighs risks of being caught.
There’s an awareness from at least one user in the series, of the violence that leads to the production of the drug. Even today, it’s basically a certainty that all the world’s cocaine is being produced by violent criminal cartels, with high levels of government corruption aiding the distribution of the drug to western society.
Masks and voice modifiers hide the identity of the interview subjects and it's interesting hearing perspectives of people celebrating their use of coke without guilt, or at least without the same hang-ups as other drugs like heroin and cannabis. The boost in confidence cocaine affords its users seems to spill over into keeping the prestige of the drug above other drugs.
The job of this three part documentary is not to moralise or to take any stance on drug use. It's presenting a real look into the way the people of England are using cocaine, the benefits reported from users, the damage caused from excessive consumption, and the impacts on society both good and bad.
The people of England, certainly those featured, REALLY love using cocaine, and they don’t seem to be in a hurry to stop.
Cocaine: Britain’s Epidemic airs on SBS VICELAND Tuesday nights at 9:30pm, with episodes available to stream after at SBS On Demand.