Sex, Drugs and Democracy
at the Coolidge Corner Theatre
by Sheril Stanford
Okay, it’s a documentary. There are points where you’re gonna want to take a snooze. No matter how interesting the subject matter, listening to a bunch of bureaucrats and politicos talk about things bureaucratic and political, is bound to get boring. But sit tight. Just when you’re ready to doze, there, on screen, is some guy shaking his butt and whipping around his very large, semi-erect penis on a stage at a (legal) sex show. Or some samples of erotic/pornographic art. Or, well, you get the idea. Like I said, it’s a documentary, but unless she’s very open-minded, I don’t recommend bringing along your mom.
Second, you’ve gotta get used to the film quality. Does everyone in Amsterdam have incredibly bad skin and teeth, or is it just the film? And Amsterdam, which is probably a beautiful city, surrounded by water, framed by canals, dikes (not to be confused with dykes, who probably can’t be seen from the sky), and windmills just like you imagined in fifth grade, looks, in this film’s aerial shots, like a wasteland of varying shades of brown.
But that aside, this is a snappy and entertaining little movie. You wonder why we all don’t up and move to Amsterdam. Pot is legal there, as are prostitution and sex shows. You already knew that. But did you know that the Netherlands’ constitution requires that the government ensure that everyone has a place to live, a job, health care, and education? The constitution requires it. It also requires that art and culture be developed – imagine, a country where tattoo parlors can get government art grants. And there’s a government subsidized pot museum. People smoke pot freely in public. Dads smoke with their sons and bond. (The American equivalent of fathers taking their sons to baseball games.) You can buy marijuana and hash from any one of many “coffee shops” in Amsterdam, and in infinite varieties. Harder drugs are frowned upon, but not methadone clinics or needle exchange programs. People like cops there!
Prostitution is government regulated. Prostitutes have medical examinations regularly. There are very low rates of AIDS, STDs and teenage pregnancy. Abortions, which are technically legal, like much in Amsterdam, are tolerated. The government even recognizes that disabled people have special needs when seeking out prostitutes and has developed special facilities for them. Everyone goes topless or nude on beaches, or not. Couples meet at sex shows and get married. Homosexuality is accepted, and same-sex marriages are recognized by the government.
In Amsterdam, the politics of democracy are the politics of inclusion. As interviewees repeatedly stated, the more flexible and broad-minded you are, the greater the range of behavior you consider normal and acceptable. Perhaps as a result, crime and violence rates in Amsterdam are even lower than those of other Western European countries, never mind the U.S.. As one government rep said, “we trust our citizens to make their own decisions.”
The film does present a somewhat slanted view of Amsterdam though. To those of us who value personal freedom, it seems nothing short of paradise, but you’re left almost wanting to hear about the phenomenally high tax rates. The Netherlands are not a superpower or on the cutting edge of, anything. Maybe that’s because its citizens are all too busy smoking pot and going to sex shows. But Amsterdam really does seem like a most excellent place to live.