L.A. Vintage Commercials: Say Nope to Dope and Ugh to Drugs
I’ve been advised against using drugs by a number of sources, each stranger than the last: Nancy Reagan, the occasional urinal ad (the dudes know what I’m talking about). But easily the weirdest source of all was an LAPD-sponsored tag-team from the mid-80s that appeared during intracartoon commercial breaks. There was, to the best of my increasingly hazy recollection, a cop with a ventriloquists’ dummy (both African-American gentlemen) who implored the children of the Southland to “say nope to dope and ugh to drugs.”
The nine-year-old me spent not a little time parsing out that rhyming octet. At the time I remember wondering whether the nope versus ugh response recommended different levels of resistance to drugs versus dope. If dope was proffered, “nope” seemed to send a clear enough negative message. But why the caveman-like grunt in response to drugs? Was it some kind of druggie wink-wink that I simply didn’t understand, code perhaps for “I would like to consume those narcotics?” It didn’t help that Nancy Reagan’s suggestion was entirely different. If someone offered drugs, was I to “just say no” or to come back with a simian “ugh”? Fortunately, I was sheltered (and unpopular) enough that I never had to make this call, but the ambiguity haunted me. Sometimes it still does.
Then there was the racial dynamic (or non-dynamic) of the campaign. The choice of a black cop was obvious: street cred. You don’t want whitey telling kids not to do drugs. We all know that white people are powerfully uncool, and a white LAPD cop warning “don’t smoke the reefer boys and girls” would likely drive the already-high juvenile demand for dope and/or drugs through the roof. So coolness demands a black, or at least a possibly Latino, cop to speak to the kids, but even the LAPD was racially in-tune enough to know that society just wasn’t ready to accept cross-racial puppetry. In fact, it was only in recent years that the puppetry color line was broken, thanks to Fox’s Arrested Development and the wildly popular G.O.B.-and-Franklin duo–the Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson of ventriloquism.
And of course, just like Nancy Reagan’s heavy rhetorical artillery, “nope to dope and ugh to drugs” proved highly successful and really touched a nerve among the kids. And by “touched a nerve” I mean, of course, became an object of mockery throughout the druggie-stoner subculture. For example, punk band NoFX featured the slogan in their aptly titled ballad, “Drug Free America.” And until recently, you could even buy car air fresheners with the “nope to dope and ugh to drugs” slogan on it, providing a convenient means to mask the smell of weed in your auto while also advertising your finely-honed ironic sensibilities.