4/20, a day unofficially recognised as a celebration of all things marijuana, a day to light it up and get high and other such shit. Look, I won’t even ATTEMPT to use the colloquial terms, I’m so square I could lie down flat and get a decent job as a spirit gauge. Point is, if you smoke weed, or even if you just have a general interest in the world beyond your bed, you know what 4/20 is all about. We all have our own ways of celebrating it, though I myself spend it celebrating my brother’s birthday that falls on the same day, but I think the weirdest recent recognition of the day was Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter, a photo filter for selfies that superimposed Bob Marley’s face onto yours and darkened your skin tone to match. Yeah, that does sound weird when you look at a literal description of it. Is this harmless fun? Well…
I want to put up a disclaimer and say I recognise the connection between Bob Marley and marijuana, I’m not an idiot, and my opinions on this are not influenced by the fact I have never smoked anything in my life, closest I get to smoking is salmon. As a liberal man, I support the legalisation of marijuana, it is far less harmful than alcohol, which is legal, and its criminalisation is the result of an idealistic and unenforceable war on drugs, started by our forefathers and fuelled by myths and ignorance. Marijuana is not a gateway drug or chemically addictive substance, it doesn’t blacken lungs or turn you into a violent lunatic, it is a plant that happens to have recreational benefits when set on fire, nuff said. Furthermore, my opinion is in no way influenced by the choice of Bob Marley, I’m not hating on the dude, I am not an avid fan but I do like his music and appreciate the cultural influence of the man. So, with that established, let me explain why personally I’m taken aback by this poor move by Snapback. Cue the non-PC outrage in the comments.
First of all, let’s face it, this is blackface. No, don’t bullshit me, don’t come out with “It’s not blackface, it’s…”, it’s blackface. You are taking a non-black face, putting a black face on top and playing it up for a laugh. Jim from IT is a white dude living with his mother who listens to Weird Al and Stereophonics, his weekends are spent modding Skyrim and he is most certainly not a famous rastafarian musician. Didn’t like that stereotype? Guess what? Black people don’t appreciate the making of Marley into a stereotype of a laidback black man with dreads and a funky hat smoking weed, he is a cultural icon. Snapchat has a history of struggling to accurately represent diversity, evading questions about the percentages of employee races in their company by saying they don’t think of people as numbers. I mean, amen to that but y’know, we kind of need numbers to make sense of what we’re doing, not looking at your bank balance is not the same as making the situation more financially manageable, trust me.
Bob Marley, as a man, was more than just a dude who got stoned and this filter, that immediately slaps his face on yours just because it’s the 20th April, reduces his legacy to his drug habit. Bob Marley was more than just a man who loved his weed and yes he campaigned for its legalisation but that was not all he did, he fought for peace and the fair representation of minorities, he opposed a system that dehumanizes us all but one that especially dehumanised people like him. The music he became famous for showed a love and respect for his culture and his faith, the lyrics of which resonated with the pacifists inside us and went on to influence not only a genre of music as a whole but generations of peaceful protests after him. Also, Marley didn’t smoke weed just for shits and giggles, he did it as a spiritual exercise of meditation, a means of understanding himself.
“When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural t’ing* and it grow like a tree.”
*Source uses ‘t’ing’ instead of ‘thing’, reflecting his accent, I have not changed this text
Read that and understand the difference between what you think he cared about and what he did care about. We far too often recall Bob Marley as just that reggae guy who got high a lot and this filter does nothing to combat that, all it’s done is said “Umm, 4/20, Bob Marley right?”, like some sort of bad joke.
Now, a counter-argument you might have for me is that Bob Marley’s family themselves approved this idea right? Well, hate to break it to you, they’re not the sole representatives of their heritage, it’s not like them saying “It’s not blackface” will make every other black person shrug and walk away like it’s not a problem, who are they to speak for everyone and tell them it’s not offensive or not perhaps cheapening the legacy of a national treasure into a joke? Marley’s image wasn’t a construct like the image of Elvis or Motley Crue, it wasn’t a style picked out to be memorable, he wore the clothes of his spirituality and his culture, making them into easy jokes for stoner humour is like making a Jesus filter for people on Easter. By the way, imagine the shitstorm we’d get if there was a whiteface filter to commemorate a dead white person hey, as a cheap joke no less? World AIDS day, we get Freddie Mercury tashes on everyone. The Marley family are, for want of better words, money-grabbers, licensing the Bob Marley image to everything under the sun they reckon would sell better if it had his face on it. I personally find that disgusting and a forewarning to my children if I ever become famous, if I die and you memorialise me by selling Old Man Wolfe branded soap, I’ll come back from the dead and wash your skulls out with it. Soap. Fucking soap. The man made an entire cultural history of music mainstream and known to the world and his name is stuck on a bar of hemp-scented soap. Fuck me.
I’m not just out to be a stick in the mud but I feel that making this filter was in poor taste, it’s harmless fun to the white would-be hippies amongst us but to those who share in Marley’s heritage, their sacred herb and an icon of their society is being made into a comic fad to amuse idiots. This will all be swept under the rug before the week is out and Snapchat won’t face any real backlash, nor will the Marley brand lose any customers for a lack of integrity, and that in itself is disturbing. We all, in 2016, just blinked at a show of blackface. Bob Marley, forgive us. Please please please forgive us.