“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Opium References in Popular Culture, the 2020 List

Posted: December 15th, 2020 | No Comments »

I’ve been spotting opium references in popular culture with interest for a few years now (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 & 2012) – just how opium keeps fascinating us…

Well, 2020 was a funny year but anyway.

Let’s start with a few novels – Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Blood and Sugar was a great trip to 1780s Deptford and the slave trade. Opium addicts of course and a few on tinctures of laundanum for various eighteenth century ailments. Lydia Kang’s Opium and Absinthe took us to 1889 New York, vampire scares, and opium. Elizabeth Bailey’s The Opium Purge is back in 1790 England with mysteries that lead back to dope. The Opium Prince by Jamine Aimaq starts in Afghanistan, 1970s. Born to an American mother and a late Afghan war hero, Daniel Sajadi has spent his life navigating a complex identity. After years in Los Angeles, he is returning home to Kabul at the helm of a US foreign aid agency dedicated to eradicating the poppy fields that feed the world’s opiate addiction.

On TV we had plenty of opium in the BBC/Working Title TV adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (which was, in my humble opinion, a major part of the reason it was all such a mess).

Programme Name: The Luminaries – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. 3) – Picture Shows: Anna Wetherell (EVE HEWSON), Dick Mannering (ERIK THOMSON) – (C) The Luminaries Production Ltd 2018 – Photographer: Kirsty Griffin

Opium more unexpectedly in Dickinson (a rather free and easy bio series about young Emily on Hulu). Included was a party where Emily and her friends dipped into the opium. True? Vulture magazine asked Martha Nell Smith, a distinguished scholar-teacher, professor of English, and the founding director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, who’s devoted most of her career to studying Emily Dickinson:

‘Is there any evidence that Emily had parties and took opium? The opium party, I was like, “Hmmm. Why is this here?” Opium was used as a painkiller and all of that. Whether George Gould brought some to Emily to take at a party? I don’t know. Maybe Smith is trying to capture that Dickinson was much more social than we’ve been led to believe, and that she was fun-loving. I think that’s true. But opium? I don’t know.’

Emily gets into the dope

Any other opium references from 2020 I’ve missed please do leave a comment….

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