Smack Madness

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Athena Currier, a student at Hampshire College and a relative of one of the Locally Grown co-hosts — I won’t say who — has created this poster (click to enlarge) and has put them up around town. Athena has a blog called Muscial Porn and an online comic strip called Hooked. In today’s StarTribune, Nick Coleman has this to say about her in his column Heroin hysteria smacks of distorted reality:

Athena Currier, a 2006 graduate of Northfield High who is studying film and writing at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, is one of the bright young people upset by having a big scarlet H put on them. Chief Smith and news reports have attributed much of the alleged heroin use to the “alphas,” the best and the brightest. But Currier, 19, and home for the summer, isn’t buying it.

She has drawn cartoons and plastered them all over town, lampooning the heroin hype by comparing it to the crazy 1936 anti-marijuana film, “Reefer Madness.”Northfield’s Smack Madness,” Currier’s cartoons call it, using drawings to parody Chief Smith’s unsubstantiated allegations that Northfield’s drug-crazed kids are robbing dorms and invading hospitals.

“This has gone a little over the top,” says Currier, who used to play in a band called The Killer Prom Queens. “I’m not making fun of heroin addiction or Northfield’s problems, but if there were 250 kids on heroin? The high school would be falling apart.”


  1. David Henson said:

    The fact that an intellectual light weight like Nick Coleman thinks your idea is good should be enough to cause Athena to check her behavior. Heroin is a big broblem in Northfield that has negatively impacts the lives of many in ways little Athena and her attention getting antics can’t imagine. Gary Smith should be viewed as a hero for drawing attention to the heroin issue and opening up a dialog – clearly he did this because the self centered Nick Colemans & adult Athenas of the world would not deal directly with the issue (might make them look bad)

    July 20, 2007
  2. Rob Hardy said:

    I’m a huge fan of Athena. I admire her courage and her sense of humor. We should be applauding young people like Athena who care deeply about their hometown and who feel invested in its future. Northfield really is a wonderful place, despite its problems and its significant population of grumpy people, and it’s folks like Athena who make it wonderful.

    Full disclosure: Athena was the coolest and most creative babysitter my kids ever had.

    July 20, 2007
  3. Oh, come on, David Henson. Humor is a very effective way of helping communities deal with significant problems. Athena is right to question unsubstantiated, anecdotal evidence. Surely there are problems in Northfield as in all communities, but as I’ve stated in numerous other comments, the degree of the problem is probably somewhere between the absolutists on either side of the issue. It almost always is. Being either a denier (which is not what Athena is doing) or an alarmist helps no one.

    Athena is merely posting her opinion, and it is civic, proper, and even patriotic to question public officials.

    Keep it up, Athena.

    Your partner in Bringing The Funny,

    Full disclosure: I have seen Athena act in plays before, though I no longer have the programs or ticket stubs to prove this.

    July 20, 2007
  4. Oh yeah, Athena, sorry your face got all contorted like that at Hampshire. That’s what you get for going to a crazy hippie school like that. Tsk. Tsk.

    July 20, 2007
  5. David Henson said:

    I don’t know Athena but if she is going to display public sarcasm then she will have to get used to public replies. I know quite a few families have been impacted in Northfield in recent years by the most dramatic impacts of heroin – overdose and suicide – perhaps you could step into their shoes and see if the humor still shines through ? I think Northfield should have a GARY SMITH DAYS to honor those in authority who still their necks out to break through social stigmas.

    July 20, 2007
  6. Tracy Davis said:

    I didn’t take the “Smack Madness” posters to be trivializing heroin addicts and herion addiction…. I took it to be poking fun at the hysterical press coverage.

    July 20, 2007
  7. Rob Hardy said:

    I agree with DAVID that Athena should be prepared for public responses to her “sarcasm” or, as I prefer to call it, satire. Athena, like any artist, has to be prepared to have her work misunderstood. I’m sure she knows that.

    I agree with TRACY that David seems to have misunderstood Athena’s intent, which was to satirize some of the hysterical media coverage of this issue, not to demean those who are struggling with the life and death issue of heroin addiction.

    I agree with BRENDON that Hampshire is a crazy hippie school and Athena should have gone to Oberlin like I did.

    July 20, 2007
  8. David Henson said:

    My estimate would be Athena did the posters to get attention and one can applaud her desire to effect change and excuse her immaturity in ideas. I am more offended by Nick Coleman’s desire to kill the messenger, Gary Smith, without really delving into the issue ~ true MN style to sweep a problem under the rug.

    All this talk that Gary should have discussed his ideas before going public is bunk because those stating this would have wanted to stop his going public. The thing is – an open dialog much earlier would have saved a lot of people a lot of hassle (meaning addicted kids and parents) – and then the colleges and HS would not have to look reflexively silly covering up the problem an ridiculing Gary Smith.

    July 20, 2007
  9. David,

    Using your logic, no one should be able to use humor about any subject. It’s always going to offend someone. It’s always going to bring up something that someone finds sensitive. Perhaps we should all stick to knock-knock jokes? Or perhaps only those who have gone through the problem should be licensed to joke about it? Besides, have you asked those people who have dealt with heroin? Do you know if they find Athena’s poster to be hurtful? Are you assuming offense on their behalf?

    I make no special claims of martyrdom, but I have dealt with my share of tragedy, as I’m sure you have. The humor that hits closest to home is usually the funniest, and, often, the most curative. It does what humor should do: promote an alternative mindset about your struggles and foibles.

    Besides, I don’t see Athena ridiculing people who actually are struggling with addiction. She’s rightly questioning the unsubstantiated, anecdotal reports from one public official, and the sensationalistic coverage those comments garnered in local and regional press outlets.

    Simply because you know of people dealing with the issue does not lend substantive merit to the numbers offered. We can deal with those anecdotal reports, those people you know, on a case-by-case basis. Get them help. But public policy and community-wide collaboration call for a much more accurate assessment of the problem. You can’t get many grants to deal with something like this based on a few personal stories, for example. That lends a face to the problem, but it doesn’t provide an accurate picture of either its scale or nature.

    I wish Northfield would have a celebration for the good people who used reason to examine the unfounded extent of the chief’s claims. Not the deniers or the alarmists, just the sensible ones.

    I guess I don’t see Northfield as the cabal of ruthless image-first citizens who purposely ignore and suppress problems rather than deal with them. While there are certainly a few among us who may operate that way, your comments lead me to think that you have generalized all or most of the population that way.

    It’s one thing to see how people who rightly take pride in their community can dispute unproven, anecdotal claims made by one (and only one) public official; it’s another entirely to accuse those same people of willfully covering up damaging facts to protect an image. That’s a very pessimistic interpretation of the character of Northfield. Which, in my opinion, is quite strong.

    I also hope to see more “public sarcasm” from Athena. I’m sure she can handle those who criticize her for it.

    You probably shouldn’t read my blog, by the way, it is fairly shot-through with the gleaming sunlight of offensive humor. At least, I like to think so.

    July 20, 2007
  10. Though I fully realize the serious nature of the ongoing local debate over drug use and can see virtue in the arguments on all sides of the issue, as a graduate of a school oft-deemed “hippy” (UC Berkeley) and as a lover of satirical and contrarian art and literature (personal hero: Kurt Vonnegut) I can’t help but weigh in here.

    From Christopher Hitchens’ “Letters to a Young Contrarian”:

    “…most people, most of the time, prefer to seek approval or security. None the less, there are in all periods people who feel themselves in some fashion to be apart. And it is not too much to say that humanity is very much in debt to such people, whether it chooses to acknowledge the debt or not. (Don’t expect to be thanked, by the way. The life of an oppositionist is supposed to be difficult.)”

    I say keep on asking questions, Athena–we can probably all learn from your example. If you can’t be a contrarian when you’re young, or if you can’t be contrarian through art, when can you be?

    July 20, 2007
  11. Brendon, I’ve been meaning to tell you but haven’t had the chance–I find your blog, on the whole, to be rather hilarious, though I admit it’s not for the faint-of-heart. That is, I probably will never show it to my 90-year-old nanna…

    July 20, 2007
  12. David Henson said:


    The poster is not that funny. And “one” public official who steps out and generates public outcry is worth 100s writing grants. BTW – the number of 200 plus users was publicly stated at a meeting I attended in 2005 and 30 plus officials from the high-school, treatment centers, police, colleges, etc. did not object to the number. And apparently, at least in Gary Smith’s eyes, did little but write grants. The fact is the heroin problem employs the grant writers and maybe Gary and certainly the public wants to see the problem go away!

    July 20, 2007
  13. David,

    How funny you find the poster is entirely subjective, of course. I would say that it is somewhat humorous, but very timely. Athena’s young. Give her time. She’ll only keep getting funnier and funnier.

    200-plus users? Possibly. Again, based on what? Who did the counting? How did they count? Where is that report? What was the meeting? Do you know that no one saying anything at the meeting meant they accepted the assessment? Did the meeting’s format not allow for timely objection? I recall no newspaper reports about this from two years ago.

    Again, I’m not saying it is untrue, David, I’m simply saying that blind allegiance to numbers with no substantive corroborating evidence is reckless at best. When claims are made like that; the one making the claim is obligated to back it up.

    Generating public outcry is only good if the public generally knows the facts about which they are crying out. Smith provided none of that. As for grants, you need evidence and a compelling reason to get that money, and money is what you are going to need if you’re going to take on a problem of this purported size.

    Also, if he’s had those kind of numbers for 2 years, as you claim, why have there been no indictments? Doesn’t it seem a bit incredible to you that he (and, I’m guessing, the whole police department) would have that extent of a problem for two years and bust no one for it? That’s a large number of kids to miss.

    Just another reason to look at the numbers with some more realistic skepticism.

    Lastly, I agree, the public does want to see this problem go away. Most in Northfield are perfectly willing to help make it go away. Look around. Very few of us have our heads in the sand. Questioning, assessing and interpreting is not denial. It’s civic engagement; it’s concern, but it certainly is not unquestioning acceptance of anecdotal numbers.

    July 20, 2007
  14. David Henson said:

    The number shifting jig is up. 200 or 50, the problem is real. I would have to give these officials more credit for having a basis for their numbers than your numbers (or lack of numbers). At the drug task force meeting the Rice County prosecutor stated, ‘the fact that many adults in Northfield are MJ users creates a market that increases youth access to drugs.’ I agree it would have been nice if the Northfield News had jumped on the story then.

    Now you can have the last word …

    July 20, 2007
  15. David,

    “Number shifting” is not a “jig”. I have maintained here and on that the problem is indeed real. The difficulty is we do not know how real. Coherent and effective and comprehensive public policy requires that we have accurate numbers.

    We can and should continue to treat individuals on a case-by-case basis, but routing out the entire problem more effectively requires solid data.

    I would agree that the public official (I do not know of more than one.) should be given more credit for his numbers than for any numbers I provide. Unfortunately, he did not offer support to earn such credit, and having called the press conference, he definitely had the onus on himself to provide that support. It was irresponsible not to do so.

    As such, the community has every right and duty to question the claims. The questioning continues because no real answer has been given.

    I believe that most people you accuse of “number shifting” are entirely willing to believe there is a problem, and most are probably also willing to offer help to deal with that problem. I believe Northfield is strong and resilient and capable. Most people here are able to honestly assess their environment. Most people here are not in total denial. They simply want accurate assessments. Over-reacting creates more problems than it solves.

    You don’t need a fire hose to put out a match. It’ll do the job, but it just gets everything else wet.

    July 20, 2007
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Detroit Lakes robs Northfield of 1st place in heroin news!!

    Authorities seize $25,000 in drugs after sweep at music fest

    Authorities conducted a drug sweep at the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival near Detroit Lakes on Friday, hours after a man was found dead there. About a dozen people were arrested… Gordon said that during the sweep, nearly $25,000 worth of Ecstasy, heroin, cocaine and mushrooms were seized and about a dozen people were arrested.

    July 20, 2007
  17. Paul Swenson said:

    Her reference of the movie The Warriors is brilliant.

    July 20, 2007
  18. Tracy Davis said:

    Hmmm….. Lance moved here from Detroit Lakes. Coincidence?

    When I asked him about this, his response was, “I guess everywhere I go I leave a trail of drugs and mayhem.”

    July 20, 2007
  19. Ross Currier said:

    Personally, I found Nick Coleman’s coverage of the Heroin in Northfield story to be the best written and most accurate of all five of the Strib’s pieces on it.

    While other authors focused on the debate over the numbers, Nick came to Northfield and walked the streets. From his perspective, the efforts at quantification weren’t in line with what he found.

    Mr. Coleman was doing his own reality-check.

    My first job after earning my MBA at the College of St. Thomas was at TCF Bank. I graduated with a 3.96 grade point average and was fired-up and ready to go, go, go. I was like genius on caffeine.

    One of my first projects was to build a spreadsheet of an office park in Florida. Oh, the end result was a work of art. I gathered up all the data from various experts involved with the project and created a thing of empirical beauty. Oh, it was so sweet and I was so pleased with myself.

    When my big boss, Senior Vice President Phil Broom, reviewed it he asked, “Ross, does this make sense to you?” I took a deep breath and said, “No”. Oh, I had pulled together all sorts of information from all sorts of sources and put it all together in a matrix that was both precise and clear, but the bottom line really didn’t make sense.

    Phil said, “Ross, I don’t pay you to build spreadsheets, I pay you to use your common sense. I need you to run a reality check before you give me information”.

    I learned that you needed to take data from Florida (and, later, Texas and New York) with a grain of salt.

    I think a reality check requires using analysis techniques beyond mere quantification. I think successfully conducting such a reality check could be reduced to intuition but perhaps more accurately be described as viewing a subject or situation from more than one angle.

    Fortunately, at both Wellesley High School and Wesleyan University, I received a Liberal Arts education. There was science and math…and poetry and art. The more perspectives you develop, the more angles you have from which to view the world.

    I think Nick Coleman is a liberal arts kind of guy. His characterization of Northfield more closely matches the sense that I have developed of it over the past twenty-five years than those other authors.

    Northfield is home to two of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country. I think that our public schools still strive to provide a similarly wide variety of perspectives to our students.

    As I noted in a recent blog posting, the availability of these many perspectives is becoming rarer all the time: This is truly unfortunate, because the challenges that we are facing, such as drug abuse, economic vitality, environmental protection, and many others, require “creativity, ingenuity, and innovation”.

    Hey Nick, thanks for coming down to Northfield. I, for one, sure appreciate your efforts…and your perspectives.

    July 20, 2007
  20. Scott Oney said:

    I think Nick Coleman’s column in the Strib today (July 20) represents a point of view that we should listen to–someone in deep denial about a real problem. He came to town, talked to a couple of kids in Bridge Square and some guy with an alligator, and was happy to discover that everything here is really OK. Why bother to check facts when you can take someone else’s word for it?

    July 20, 2007
  21. Christine Stanton said:

    O.K., I have to say that humor is good medicine. Unfortunately, there are still people in Northfield questioning “the numbers” and my fear is that Athena’s sarcasm will cause people to think there is not a problem with drug abuse in Northfield.

    Thank God there are NHS students and grads that are not using! I do not think anyone is saying all 250 users are current NHS students. The problem is that some people are still trying to defend, by sarcasm or other means, that Northfield is a good place.

    I don’t feel the need to do that. Just as some of the kids said at the Key meeting, kids that do drugs are not “bad people;” they just made some mistakes and need our support. Likewise, Northfield is not a “bad” place; we may have just made some mistakes and we need community support to make some changes that will make us an even better community in the long run.

    Athena, I appreciate your passion. Just don’t forget that compassion is a good thing too. 🙂

    July 20, 2007
  22. I agree, Christine, there isn’t an actual need to defend Northfield as “a good place”…

    It’s as good or as bad as each individual perceives it. That’s subjectivity.

    My interpretation is that those who feel the heroin problem is less of a problem than has been reported (in the press) or claimed (by one city official) are justified in standing up to those in the community and the press who see this issue as condemnatory of the overall character of Northfield.

    Additionally, those who believe others are denying the problem are justified in standing up and saying “Hey! Something’s wrong here.”

    Some people argue for their interpretation with vitriol, some with humor, some with logic, some with emotion.

    As with most things, the truth of Northfield’s heroin problem probably lies somewhere between the extreme claims made by the more polarizing participants in the discussion.

    Questioning on both sides that drives people toward reason is a good thing. Athena’s method of participating in the discussion represents one more person looking for reality and moderation of extreme statements.

    Helping individuals solve their drug problem certainly requires great compassion. Helping communities solve their drug problem requires great compassion, but also an accurate, objective understanding of the extent of the problem. Otherwise resources get misappropriated, misdirected and misused.

    I should say, as one who frequently looks at problems from humorous angles, I have a vested interest in defending Athena’s use of comic interpretation here. I hope she continues using it.

    (There’s strength in numbers, Athena. We “caustic” types have to stick together, smiley-type-face — I steadfastly refuse to use emoticons.)

    July 21, 2007
  23. kiffi summa said:

    In the Beginning,when was that, June 22nd? it was considered that to look for real numbers to attach to this heroin problem was to be “not caring”.
    Handwringing aside, I think all that was trying to be accomplished by seeking accurate numbers, was to bring some realistic perspective to the possibly, and most probably , overblown numbers given out at the now infamous press conference.
    And now, so many people/institutions are trying to do “damage control”, that I think constructive energy is misplaced.
    Editorial Cartoons have always meant to bring the viewer back to a focus.
    If I were younger, I’d say “Go, Girl”!

    July 22, 2007
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    Letter to the editor in yesterday’s Strib:


    Get past facade, denial

    Columnist Nick Coleman tends to have a better-than-average eye on social reality, but I think he missed the call on the Northfield drug situation (“Heroin hysteria smacks of distorted reality,” July 20).

    I went through four years of high school and four years of college and most of graduate school and never knew of someone who was using drugs. It took a little bit of investigation and some honest conversations to figure out that people, besides participating in dysfunctional drinking, had access to and used illicit drugs. It was happening in front of me, but my naiveté led me to think that none of my classmates in the “nice” central Minnesota town where I grew up was indulging.

    The police chief’s estimation on the number of youth using heroin is as clear a manifestation of the lack of understanding of drug use in our communities as the denial expressed by one resident Coleman interviewed who said, “Not any of the kids in my neighborhood has done that. Never. I can guarantee that.”

    It is not as if the youth and adults engaged in illicit behavior are going to share their behavior with the general public. Indeed, Northfield is a nice town. But we have to remember the many ills and transgressions that can hide behind a quaint facade, distance from the 5 o’clock news crews and a population that tends not to look like those we most often demonize as the imbibers of vice.

    With the wealth and privilege that exist in Northfield, the town is not likely to be washed away in a sea of drug abuse, but denial leaves the community unprepared to respond to the difficulties of some of its members.


    July 25, 2007