Club nights are like bands. The better the name, more likely they are to draw a decent crowd. Up the ante by offering free drugs – or at least a safe space to celebrate the most prescribed poppers – and it’ll be a mob scene. Why, then, make adverts for such happenings, more complicated?

M first thought was that this flyer was a reference to the anti-anxiety pharmaceutical’s rising popularity as a party drug.  This (relatively) recent phenomenon has certainly taken hold of my imagination. During the 1980s and the 1990s, newspapers had reported on the alleged ties between government and drug cartels, claiming for instance, that the CIA used crack cocaine as a means of financing the Contra rebels in Nicaragua whilst flooding the inner city with the drugs as a means of creating or maintaining an underclass through addiction and gang wars. These are contentious, if persistent claims. And yet they resonate today in regards to a more legal drugs trade. Beyond the usual handwringing over over-medication (something that I sometimes fear heaps further stigma on mental illness, and prevents those suffering from depressive illness from seeking treatment,) there are some troubling issues.

In the past decade, pharmaceuticals have grown in popularity as recreational drugs; Oxycodone is called ‘Hillbilly Heroin’, which seems to be a reference to its affordability and availability more so than an effort to elevate the classiness of the street drug. And then there is the widespread prescription of ADHD drugs to school children, and alarmingly, to low-income communities in a manner that suggests behavioural modification of individuals to benefit institutions. The image fused the pharmaceutical industry with street drugs, creating a semi-official expression of this continuum.

The image suggests something akin to the Soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This does not immediately appear to be an underclass destroying itself, or a legion of newly modified instruments of the institution: These people are disengaged—from the world, and in a manner from each other as they do not seem to be holding any suggestion of eye contact.  They are caught up in a world of pleasure, which tames any need to revolt. It would seem that both figures have a lot to rebel against, as they are subjected to a seemingly racist and sexist composition: The white woman straddles and covers the black figure, androgynous in that I could not determine their actual sex. Both are spread and displayed for the viewer, their bodies providing merely attractive background for the important information. “Free Entry” reads some of the text placed near the genital vortex. They have been utterly subjugated to the function of the poster.

Granted, one could argue that for every model. However, these people do not look back, or seem to be involved in anything but an artificial ecstasy. Perhaps a little Xanax would improve the experience.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit