Beth B
Stigmata (1991)
Duration: 38 minutes
From The Cinema of Transgression

If, like me, you grew up in the 1990s, you remember with great resentment how your Saturday-morning cartoons were saturated with public service announcements. Maybe you only realize it now; back then, after all, it just seemed normal to hear, every few minutes, a mini-sermon about drugs or the environment or shoplifting or the ozone hole or informing your priest or rabbi if you've been inappropriately touched every few minutes. I hope, for the sake of the children, that media preachiness has since descended from this zenith. I pray for a generation that can grow up watching Yu-Gi-Oh and commercials in peace.

Stigmata strikes me as not hugely dissimilar to those ceaseless PSAs, and in fact has its roots in that same squirrely era. It's sort of their extended 12" mix, non-radio edit: more people telling their stories of drug-related shame and degradation, more music of despair, more talk about rape. Six talking heads, intercut, take you through their personal histories. Despite each having a suite of distinctive details, they all follow pretty much the same lines: crappy childhood; incompetent parents; oppressive schools; self-loathing; a turn to the sweet, sweet brain medicine; descent into dissolution; greater self-loathing; bottoming-out, perhaps with a suicide attempt or something equally dire; the beginning of the long, slow, agonizing grind to get at least semi-clean.

I don't pretend to know what Beth B. intended with project, nor do I really think that's important. She could have meant it in essentially the same way the Ad Council meant all those 30-second spots with the junior-high kids shoving those potheads right back. If so, I find the subjects as difficult to relate to now as I did back then. This, I think, has been the fatal flaw of anti-drug PSAs since the dawn of man: you can't scare anyone straight without horror stories, but horror stories tend, by their very horrific nature, to seem unrelatable and thus irrelevant. I actually fear the probable lack of productivity brought on by a, say, a slightly too-regular weed habit. I do not particularly fear the possibility of slashing my wrists in a den of child prostitutes.

Piling atop that, most of these speakers seem to have been pre-screwed. "I never had a chance," goes one fellow's repeated lament. (I also detect a certain anti-Catholic school theme, which might explain the title. Stigmata is a Catholic thing, right?) Hence the impression that, hey, I didn't grow up in such an apocalyptically troubled household — I'm gonna be okay! Their stories thus gain an even more tragic edge, but they also get more alien. It all ends up like one of those action movies whose extremity ensures a certain blah hermeticism. The only addiction I worry about is to the immediate information access of the internet, and even then, I'm far from the Polk Street harem. Well, reasonably far. Far enough. Certainly out of shouting distance. I should probably close this web browser now. -- Colin Marshall