Art Shines a Light –
April 20, 2018 – Most popular art about addiction tends to fall into two categories: wistful remembrances that elucidate the shocking ease of slipping into an unwanted habit, and the ghoulish rides into the terrifying logistics of feeding a hunger whose bottomlessness upends the addict’s life. Works in the latter category often feel like slow-motion car crashes. To weather Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy biopic or watch Nicolas Cage drink his way through Leaving Las Vegas or crack the garish Mötley Crüe bio The Dirt is to spectate passionate, doomed characters’ methodical undoing. Works in the other category tend, however noble the auteur’s intentions are, to send up the anesthetizing allure of the “bad drugs,” if only to set up how bad the comedowns and withdrawals on the other end of a high can be. When I was in high school, director Danny Boyle’s lively 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting created a firestorm for glorifying heroin use. “Take the best orgasm you’ve ever had,” Welsh’s protagonist Mark Renton famously remarks, “multiply it by a thousand, and you’re still nowhere near it.” The New York Times noted that for a film wracked by substance abuse and self-medication, “it never does condemn heroin abuse.” Renton picks the habit up when he gets bored of walking the straight and narrow, and conveniently kicks it whenever addiction becomes an organizing force of its own … I thought of Trainspotting when I saw the artwork to J. Cole’s new album, KOD. It’s a striking illustration of the rapper as a hollow-eyed king in a woolly cape concealing children smoking weed, popping pills, sniffing coke, and sipping lean.