Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Video Games and Pot: Two Very Good Documentaries

"Work is for people who can't play video games."
~ Jillian Wiebe, Steve Wiebe's daughter
Those who know me in real life know how I feel about those two items in the title: I love video games but I believe in moderation. As for weed/marijuana, I've always believed it should be avoided at all costs. And for many reasons, not the least of which being it is illegal. It's also very expensive! I could never understand why people would roll up a $50 bill (or more) and light it on fire, and let it burn away to ash. That just does not make sense to me. Finally, smoke too much weed and it renders one impossible to have a conversation with - it makes you stupid.

Over the past couple of days however I've had my mind changed drastically on both counts.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Last night Glenn and I watched a documentary called, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It's about a couple of adult men duking it out for the world record on Donkey Kong which is known in gamer circles as THE hardest arcade game to beat. So hard that one guy, Billy Mitchell, held the world record highest score, uncontested, for over 20 years: 874,300.

So why the hell should you care about that? Because this movie turned out to be SO much more than a simple contest between aging gamers - one reviewer said it "serves as a metaphor for the decline of Western civilization."

The two guys? One teaches science at a middle school in Washington, Steve Wiebe; the other is a hot sauce mogul living right here in Florida. The hot sauce mogul? Billy Mitchell himself, as a matter of fact.

In all honesty, this movie started (for me) with all the appeal of a horrific car crash: parts of it traumatizes your vision and yet you can't help but watch. The King of Kong not only shows the competition, it also takes the viewer through the lives of each man on his path to gamer infamy, and that's where it gets interesting. You won't believe me, which is why you have to see the movie yourself, but the revelation of this story surprised me. I also enjoyed the rather colorful cast of supporting characters along the way. In Steve Wiebe's wife you see a real trooper, for example.

The best part about this movie? The way Glenn and I found ourselves cheering - and by cheering I mean, yelling "Woo-hoo!!" right out loud and clapping - for the underdog. Truly a must-see, no matter how you feel about video games, for the great story-telling, compelling characters, and awesome music.

*For an excellent review of the movie, replete with interviews, click here but be forewarned: it's better reading that after you've seen the movie. Otherwise it's chock full of spoilers, as it's really meant to be read after watching it.

The Union: The Business Behind Getting High

Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would come away from a documentary about marijuana as moved as I was by this one. Jaw-dropping commentary from experts, university professors, business people, celebrities, and the marijuana sellers and growers themselves, pepper this piece from start to finish. You just won't believe it. I don't want to give away too much, because I want people to watch this movie ... mainly I want the skeptics to watch this movie. The skeptics need to know which drug war they should be fighting, and I think after seeing the numbers they just might switch sides.

Truth be known, although I've typically taken a strong stance against recreational drug use of any sort, over the years I've often felt the attack on marijuana use specifically was a bit over the top, even downright fictional in it's portrayal of the side effects. I'm thinking of the thirty-second Public Service Announcements you sometimes see on late night television. My favorite one shows a couple of pre-teens lounging around in their dad's study, one of them playing with a gun. Of course, he 'accidentally' shoots his friend, presumably killing him, and the message is this: if they hadn't been smoking marijuana that tragedy could have been avoided.

Another one shows a car full of people navigating their way through a drive-thru, and not doing a very good job of it. It ends when the driver of the car mistakes his gas pedal for the brake pedal and powers past the drive-thru window into the unfortunate pedestrian on the sidewalk.

If this were a portrayal of drunken driving, I'd say it was accurate. But I've driven after smoking and I've driven after drinking (not that I'm proud of it, and not that I make a habit of it now). I definitely had more control and I was more alert after smoking marijuana than I was after drinking. If anything weed makes you more focused; this has been my personal experience. And I'm not an advocate of smoking weed! Not at all! Everyone who knows me personally knows this about me and can verify it.

But facts are facts. Alcohol's toxicity destroys the human body in ways marijuana simply doesn't. There are stacks and stacks of scientifically proven evidence of this, which is presented in this documentary although not what the documentary focuses on.

The parents who think they're doing their kids a favor by steering them away from smoking weed have to understand that by doing that they are promoting Big Pharma's case. Big Pharma will kill you - and does kill people, on a much larger scale than weed ever has - way before anything else will.

Drug-use side effects only scratch the surface of this movie. The Union also goes into the politics, the statistics (number of users and dollar amounts, for example), but most stunningly of all The Union presents the facts on the usefulness of the hemp plant period. For example, I knew that the hemp seed is a highly nutritious food, extremely high in protein and other vitamins and minerals, and also that it's used for clothing. What I didn't know is that the clothing is actually rather high quality - a lot better than cotton!

What I also didn't know is that hemp can be used as a fuel source - for cars. Not only that but the ONLY reason it's NOT being manufactured for car fuel: it's illegal! That's the only thing holding back it's usage. It's cheap, it's totally clean, and totally available to us ... if only it were legal. Hemp literally holds the answer to our fuel problems, according to Steve Levine, President of Hemp Industries Association (which represents industrial hemp, the type grown for clothing, food, and fuel, not the type you smoke).

After watching this movie I realized how ignorant I am on this topic, but also the reasons I'm ignorant: because of all our government has done to shield me from the truth. I also see how I've perpetuated the lie myself because of the anti-drug movement's efforts to appeal to good-hearted people like myself and so many other, well-intentioned people like me that jumped on their bandwagon.

Okay. You've read my synopses, I hope my dissertation piqued your curiosities at the very least. Of these two movies, I recommend EVERYBODY watch The Union, and for funzies watch The King of Kong another night.


  1. Thank you so much! After watching "The Union" myslef about 3 weeks ago, it is so fantastic to see how this movie has moved so many people and appreciate so much your honesty about what you learned. I have been smoking for the better part of 17 years and I still learned a ton of stuff I didn't know before. The government has lied to it's citizens for far too long for their own profit and it's time we wake up to the truth and thank god for Adam for making this movie to help open so many people eyes. Thank you for taking the time to review this movie and for being open minded enough to see the things in the movie for what they really are. Yes, EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE "THE UNION"!!!!!!!!

  2. The Union wasn't the epiphany for me, I had mine many years earlier when I realised all the lies we had been fed.
    If you want other sources of information, some other great truth-about-cannabis books are (not limited to by any means):
    Marihuana Reconsidered, by Dr. Lester Grinspoon and
    The Emperor Wears No Clothes, by Jack Herer.

    The Union is a MUST WATCH for every sentient being in the known universe. It's a very good demonstration of the stupidity and failure of prohibition as a government policy (not that we SHOULD need another reminder after what happened w/ Alcohol Prohibition, but apparently we do).