Hooked in Film: An Interview with Dr. John Markert

91Rlrr4YA8L._SL1500_To say that I was nervous about interviewing Cumberland University Sociology Professor Dr. John Markert about his book Hooked in Film: Substance Abuse on the Big Screen would be an understatement:  I called him eight minutes earlier than the scheduled interview time and then asked his wife if I could speak to Mr. Dr. John Markert. Luckily, he was very understanding and proceeded to entertain me with his witty comments and thoughtful responses. Here are seven questions with Dr. Markert:

1. Sell me Hooked in Film: Substance Abuse on the Big Screen in as few words as possible.

It’s about movies and how they portray drugs: marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, etc.

2. What sparked your idea? Can you talk some about the development process? 

Couple of things directly related to Cumberland: one, I teach a course in cinema and so I have always been interested in film. I also teach a course in drug and alcohol abuse, so they certainly dovetail. And I have always been interested in the fact that we get a lot of our information about drugs from movies, and that information may or may not be correct.

3. I spoke briefly with Dr. Joshua Hayden about your involvement in the newly developed CONNECT cultural change initiative this fall.  This co-curricular program seeks to engage students academically outside of the traditional classroom learning environment.  How will the material you present during a class meeting differ from what you will present to the audience during CONNECT?

Well, I have not taught drugs and cinema in the classroom. While I have taught drugs and society in the classroom, this is a different approach to it. So, it will be something that has not been done, although in the Spring [semester] we are going to offer a course on cinema and drug films. We can sort of look at the CONNECT thing as a mini-outline for what I will be doing in the following term in the course.

4. Films such as American Gangster, Blow, and Requiem for a Dream tend to glorify drug use and trafficking in the beginning.  By the film’s end, the viewer sees the protagonist dead or incarcerated, presumably regretting the choices that left them in that state.  Conversely, movies like Harold and Kumar and Pineapple Express treat drug use with a flippant and consequence-free attitude.  Although the characters may find themselves in a predicament, they are usually riding high off into the sunset by movie’s end.  How is there such a disparity in the portrayal of this subject matter? Is it purely for entertainment value?

That is a hell of a question [laughter]. Entertainment is part of it.  It also depends on the drug that is being portrayed. American Gangster and Blow, dealing with cocaine, usually portray that in a negative way. Films about marijuana, however, are usually portrayed in an innocuous way, not necessarily glorifying it, but treating it as harmless with no serious consequences.

Requiem for a Dream is a very unusual film because it is one of the few that deals with pharmaceutical abuse. Personally, I would like to see more films addressing that because it is the number one drug problem in the country. Prescription drugs are the real problem, and people are not aware of that because there has been very little attention to it, not just in film, but in the media in general.

5. You have also written books that focus on sexual harassment and post-9/11 cinema.  Which of these three subject matters has been the most difficult to tackle and get onto the page? 

Honestly, it’s a tie. They all seem hard at the time. After it has been put to bed, it’s like, “Okay, let’s move along.” You have to grapple with making things coherent and making sense out of a lot of miscellaneous information, so it seems at the time that you are writing it, whichever one it is or whatever the subject is, it seems that you are sort of in information overload.  Whatever book I’m writing on is the hardest book that I have ever written. After it’s done, I’ve already forgotten about it and I am dealing with something else.

6. Will this book and your subsequent Spring 2014 Online course dealing with the subject matter be beneficial to the student body in presenting an avenue for honest discourse about drug use and abuse?

I hope so [laughter]. I can say that I did offer a course on 9/11 films based upon my earlier book and that seemed to have gone over fairly well. A lot of students are interested in films, and so I hope there will be some interest in the topic.

7. Any final words to readers and/or the CU community?

No [laughter].

Here are some excerpts from the introduction of Hooked in Film: Substance Abuse on the Big Screen by Dr. John Markert:

“The mass media in contemporary society is a primary mechanism to inform the public about drugs and the degree to which they pose a social problem. More often than not, news stories depict the horrors of drug use. These stories are often sensationalized to capture the public’s attention, and, in exaggerating the scope of the problem to entice readers or viewers, often present inaccurate information about the extent of the problem or the harm the drug causes.” (p. 1)

“The strong admonishment to drugs that pervaded society and film in the first half of the twentieth century is more problematic today, though certain drugs continue to be viewed in a negative light with disastrous consequences.  A key facet of the present analysis is to ascertain what drugs are glamorized in film and what drugs are condemned, and to determine how this message is conveyed. “ (p. 4)

Dr. John Markert is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of South Florida.  He has enlightened the minds of CU students since 1989 with his sense of humor, colorful language, and candid, yet informative lectures. For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Dr. John Markert via (615) 292-7819,  john_markert@comcast.net, or jmarkert@cumberland.edu.