Superfly's back, little has changed

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

November 13, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

So there I am, in front of a classroom full of high school students and they are slouched in their chairs and yawning and rolling their eyes at my jokes -- you know, anything to give the old, old man a hard time.

And I'm trying to say things that are wise and inspirational and, yes, entertaining, too.

And, like I said, they are doing their best to let me know that my name may be Hall, but I'm no Arsenio.

And at some point, in my wise and inspirational little speech, I must have mentioned that I thought drug dealers were bad people.

And that woke the students up.

"I disagree," said one young lady in a challenging way.

"What?" I said and blinked at her in confusion. "Are you serious?"

"Yes, I am," she said defiantly.

The teen-ager then went on to explain that, in her view, drug dealers were only trying to make money just like everybody else. She claimed that drug dealers helped their communities by giving people jobs.

And she said that authority figures (presumably such as myself) who attacked the drug trade were a bunch of hypocrites.

"What about the violence?" I countered, nearly weeping with shock and dismay. "What about the people who get sick and die from drug abuse? My God! What about the little children?"

By this time, the class had rallied to her defense and we had a fine brouhaha over the pros and cons of the drug trade -- me against the younger generation-- and the debate didn't stop until the teacher called "time" and ushered me away.

I know you can't draw too much from this. But my sense is that this high school class was pretty typical.

And all of this suggests that the official message of horror and contempt toward the drug trade isn't really sinking in the way we would want it to.

The fact is, these kids were neither horrified nor contemptuous. They were making excuses for drug dealers. This was an intellectual thing, too, since I doubt if any of them were personally involved in drug dealing.

That is why I, for one, welcomed the new movie, "The Return of Superfly."

Don't scoff.

Superfly was the archetypal anti-hero of the 1970s: handsome, cool and ruthless; a drug dealer who bucked the system in the 1972 movie, "Superfly," and got away with it.

He offered a bizarre counterpoint to the civil rights and black nationalist movements of the time. While black leaders preached brotherhood and economic development, black youngsters were cheering for a heroin dealer, of all things.

Superfly was the drug dealer as rebel. The drug dealer as man's man.

And this, of course, is the image we are fighting today. It was the idea of the drug dealer as rebel, after all, that my high school friends were trying to get me to buy.

So, bring him back, I thought. Use Superfly to destroy the Superfly image. Give him a 1990 sensibility toward drugs.

Silly me.

I saw the movie yesterday, and it does, indeed, have a 1990s sensibility toward the drug trade. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer the official protestations of disgust, which have begun to sound shallow and hypocritical even to me.

No, "The Return of Superfly" is a true movie of the 1990s.

We see drugs as a source of easy money.

We see the drug trade as the battleground on which men brave hails of gunfire to perform epic acts of heroism.

We see drug dealers as the movers and shakers, and ordinary folk such as you and me as poor, defenseless suckers.

And the audience loved it.

In one scene, for instance, the hero, Priest, looks up an old friend and discovers that he's still dealing drugs.

"Most of the people you knew are either dead or in prison," sighs the dealer.

"Why are you still in this?" asks Priest.

"Hey," shrugged the dealer as the audience laughed and applauded, "where else can I pull in $3,000 a day. It's a tough world out there."

You may wonder how the trade can thrive when newspapers and television broadcasts confront us every day with some fresh horror of the effects of drugs, when every political leader and at least half of the athletes and performers preach against it religiously.

You may even wonder why kids get such distorted views of right and wrong.

Well, shucks, the answer isn't all that hard to figure out.

Go to practically any movie.

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