Speaking Up, by Dennis O’Neil
The comic book veteran was smiling as he leaned forward to read the lettering on the button fastened to my lapel: Let’s Legalize Pot. His mood changed instantly, to one of anger. He snatched the pin off my jacket, flung it into a wastebasket, and stalked from the room.
That was in 1965 and before I relate another incident from the same era, let me offer a quick clarification. I don’t like marijuana. Never have. The circumstances of my rather bumpy life have, at times, put me close to it and of course, like William Jefferson Clinton and maybe just one or two other pols, I sampled it and found it usually did little for me. Which is not to say I didn’t have addiction problems. No siree. My love of alcohol cost me a marriage and a job and a lot of dignity and some trips to the hospital. But pot? Usually just made me cough. That button? Well, although the evil reefer was not my drug of choice, I thought that if booze and nicotine were legal, evil reefer should be, too.
This was not conventional wisdom in 1965 (and still isn’t) and, although, as we discussed last week, comics guys like the man I outraged were outsiders, they were not rebels. No, they were outsiders by birth and circumstance, not choice, and their values were pretty much those of mainstream America. They wore suits and ties to work, they paid taxes and owned homes, went to church or temple, voted, behaved themselves. Many had served honorably in the war. They were patriots, they were good citizens. They knew, because they had not learned otherwise, that our nation was menaced by godless Communism, that elected officials were as honorable as they themselves were, that what was good for General Motors was, in fact, good for America, that the atomic bomb was an invaluable part of Liberty’s Arsenal and, oh yeah, that the Devil’s Weed would likely corrupt any youth who got a whiff of it. They were my parents, my relatives, and the folks in my old neighborhood.
Except, of course, for the fact that my old neighbors hadn’t been cursed with minority group status. Maybe their parents, or grandparents, had been, but not them.
One member of that generation, the people Tom Brokaw called “the greatest,” told me that he wasn’t against the establishment – on the contrary, he had struggled for years to become a part of the establishment.
Another told me that all those peace marchers who had demonstrated at the Pentagon should have been machine-gunned. Okay, there are extremists in any group and okay; I didn’t tell him that I would have been among the machine-gunnies.
We were luckier than those honorable comics pioneers; we had more and often better sources of information, and could make more informed decisions. Unless ignorance really is bliss.
I don’t know what happened to my Let’s Legalize Pot button. Maybe I sheepishly fished it out of the wastebasket and hid it in a pocket. Or maybe I left it where it was and it got thrown out with the rest of the trash.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Te of Piglet, by Benjamin Hoff.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow – among others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Epitaph For A Hero, reprinting the third six issues of his classic series with artists Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, will be on sale in September, and his novelization of the movie The Dark Knight (you may have seen it) is on sale right now.