December 19, 2012
The Appeal of Addiction
By Ben Spielberg
If you have spent any substantial period of time with either Rabbi Mark or Harriet Rossetto, you have probably heard of the both/and. In short, this idea means that two seemingly contradicting things can exist at the same time. For instance, I can feel happiness and sadness at the same time. In high school Chemistry, we are taught that light is both a wave and a particle. In addiction, we both like our addicted selves and loathe our addicted selves. In fact, I even could argue that, in addiction, there is a both/both/and/and: We like to loathe our addicted selves and we hate that we like being dependent. The point is that there is an incongruence--a schism in reality. A split.
Many would argue that the media portrays addiction lightly--either in a way that appeals to young people (mainly through glamor; see: Lindsey Lohan and Courtney Love), or in a way that spotlights the cycle of addiction and subsequent recovery as a requisite to being from Los Angeles (see: any novel written by Bret Easton Ellis). I would argue that addiction is portrayed as accurately as it needs to be: people who are unable to stay sober are slandered, while those who do stay sober tend to exceed expectations (see: Russell Brand and Robert Downey Jr.).
The reality is that the media doesn’t skew addiction; the media skews the split. Award winning TV shows like Weeds and Breaking Bad are not well-received because drugs are involved. Walter White is a cultural icon because we see his split; we see how manufacturing meth is both bad and good for his family. We identify with Nancy Botwin because we understand that selling marijuana is morally wrong, but also ethically necessary. These stories are entertaining because they showcase the virtue of contradiction, of paradoxes in real life situations, of total inevitabilities.
Characters with the biggest splits tend to feel conflicted. How many times have we seen Walter White try to save his partner Jesse from the perils of crystal meth? How many times have we heard Nancy Botwin say that she wants to live an honest, tax-paying life? If this were the case, those shows would be boring. We don’t want to be bored. However, just because we are enthralled with the split does not mean that we have to live in the split.