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"Crack Heads Gone Wild" Video Raises Troubling Ethical Questions

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 Editor's Note: Amanda Shaffer is an intern at Her bio is in our "staff" section.

An innovative documentary that will reduce drug abuse or a sick exploitation of Atlanta's homeless in their most vulnerable moments?As my Internet search for anti-drug messages continues, I have uncovered a "documentary" that shows purported crack addicts performing a variety of acts on the streets of urban Atlanta (including everything from dancing and singing to having sex).  Click here for the news report from Fox 5.

"Crack Heads Gone Wild" producer Daryl Smith pays people addicted to crack to perform these unfathomable acts, encouraging and even cheering them on at times. Smith professes that the purpose of this film is not to sell DVDs, but to expose the dangers of drug abuse in the hopes of preventing others from using drugs.

Has Smith successfully rekindled a previously popular method known as the "scared straight" tactic? Or is it a sleazy ploy to make money?

I set out to learn the truth by contacting the film's producers. After numerous unanswered emails and phone calls, I was finally able to get in touch with a spokesman from the company. The first strange thing that occurred during our conversation was his skepticism of who I was. I told him I was a college student doing a research paper on drugs and the media (which is true), and he proceeded to ask me questions regarding where I was calling from and how old I was.

After the brief interrogation, he was willing, but reluctant, to answer my questions. The spokesman informed me that the film has currently sold over 100,000 copies, however this figure is most likely higher due to the sales from bootleggers. I then asked him, "How much money has this film grossed to-date." He responded, "Approximately $1.5 million." Next I explained to him that I watched the Fox interview where Smith made a promise to donate a portion of the film's proceeds to charities. I wanted to know if they had followed through. He replied, "As I said earlier the film was bootlegged so we haven't made any money off of this movie." Hmm…that's odd… at the time of the aforementioned interview, before it was stolen by bootleggers: Smith announced the film had made $250,000. Also, how would he have known that $1.5 million was grossed if the money wasn't going to the company? Something here just isn't adding up.

My next question involved the type of feedback they have received. The spokesman stated, "most people say it is interesting, they think it needs to be edited down so it can be shown in middle and high schools, that is why we are releasing a second version that is edited down more. The first film was more exploitative and was really not made to be educational; the second installment is an anti-drug film." This response speaks for itself, the film was never meant to be a prevention tool but simply to make some dough. Why was Smith preaching about exposing the truth in the Fox News interview? It appears quite evident he wanted to quiet the critics.

So is the creation of the second installment (subtitled "Scared Straight") truly meant to be an anti-drug film? The spokesman directed me to the trailer on to see for myself.

An anti-drug film he says? I felt it more closely resembled a horror movie. And what aspects of the film were "edited down" to be more youth-friendly? The trailer showcases a topless woman taking a hit of crack. I sincerely doubt any parents would want their 13-year-olds viewing clips of this movie in health class.

Seriously, who are the producers of these atrocious films trying to fool? The only difference I found in the two films is that the first uses humor (albeit of the sick variety) to attract the audience, while the second specifically focuses on fear. I find it hard to believe that either of these films was created to prevent drug use. I mean, what professionals/academics did they consult to decide their methods? 

Additionally, there is a clear morality issue at stake. Crack addicts are being paid to act out on camera when they are at their most vulnerable moments. Smith is encouraging this deviant behavior and is then promoting it through the media. Smith even acknowledged that he is exploiting these people during the Fox interview, "These people are at a point where nothing else matters. They don't care if it's 5 in the morning or a camera is on, they will do anything for 5 bucks." Is it fair to say that one person's health and livelihood is more important than another? Also, who is Daryl Smith to deduce that someone's life is hopeless, and that even with proper treatment they have no chance of recovering? I do not believe he has a degree in psychology or neuroscience.

If the producers of Crack Heads Gone Wild are really trying to make a difference on the streets of Atlanta as well as the rest of the country, they would stop exploiting addicts for money and start helping them acquire the treatment they desperately need.
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Amanda's little resume experience with DRCnet

As with most would be censors, Amanda Shaffer misses the point. The movie was graphic and powerful and arguably exploitative (along with a lot of other excellent documentaries); the director's motives, as with all directors is to at least break even). But the power of a documentary is that the viewer can draw their own conclusions irrespective of the aims of it's producers. I recommend the movie highly and it will be viewed as a classic by genre specialists in the same way that Freaks is viewed as a classic film chronicling the degradation of society's unwanted and the cynicism of those would proffit from them.

Shafer confuses the horrible contents of Crackheads Gone Wild, with the potency of the film. The sheltered world that Momy and Dady built for her, paying her to be an "intern" i.e. work for free and have her bills covered by the folks, so she can write her pollyana crud on a Website eager to take her free work and parents's money.
The great thing about bad writers is that with practice they can get better.

So What's Your Critique, I'm Young and Intelligent?

Thank you for your comments Anonymous, but I think it is you who has missed the point. The purpose of critiquing in the comment field is to point out substantive and factual errors and/or provide a differing viewpoint backed by evidence. You failed to prove what I was saying to be wrong, and you chose to disparage me instead. Let's review your complaints:

1. This film is graphic and powerful, and it clearly exploits people. That in and of itself doesn't make it an excellent documentary. You also do not explain why you would highly recommend the film. Listing adjectives is not support.
2. You explain that "the power of a documentary is that the viewer can draw their own conclusions irrespective of the aims of its producers." Well that is exactly what I did. I concluded that this film is disgusting and a pure exploitation of crack addicts. Regardless, many documentaries have aims. Again, where is your evidence supporting that statement?
3. You claim that I confuse the horrible contents of the film with its potency, yet you do not explain why you are correct.

If you truly wanted to disprove my assertions, you would have targeted the actual content of my post.

First, I focused so heavily on the claim made by the producers that the film was meant to prevent drug use because the available evidence suggested otherwise. They said this was the AIM of the film. The AIM was that the viewer walks away from the film less inclined to do drugs. I walked away from it horrified that this is what they believed would deter people from doing drugs. As I said, the Scared Straight tactic has been tried before, and it has failed.

Second, you did not dispute any of the evidence I presented about the producers lying about giving money to charity, that this film is too explicit to show to youths, and you didn't even address the fact that there is no proof the creators of the film based their logic on any sound/scientific evidence.

Third, the title of my post says that the video raises troubling ethical questions. How am I wrong here? So you believe it is okay to determine another person shouldn't get help because they are "too far gone?" You are right, morally questionable documentaries have been made in the past, some successful, some not, but they have all undergone some level of scrutiny. These things tend to anger large portions of the population who, like me, believe if you are going to showcase people's addictions, then you should at the very least try to help them. The producers are acknowledging there is a crack epidemic going on in their neighborhood, but all they are doing is filming it and then going to the bank.

So again Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, it is you who missed the point of what I was trying to say. This film can do very well at the box offices for entertainment purposes. However this was not my concern. My point was that the producers created a film that exploits people and tried to play it off as if they are trying to help people. I was unable to find any evidence of this, and they don't even have a list of treatment/prevention resources on their website that can direct their viewers to locate help for themselves or loved ones. I mean, that wouldn't even cost them money.

Finally, I am proud that I have been admitted and successful at one of the most prestigious universities in America. Additionally, I was chosen to be in an elite group of 23 students to come to Washington, DC to study and intern ON AN ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIP. But I have to say, I never would've made it to where I am today if I didn't learn in kindergarten that 'Momy' is actually spelled 'Mommy' and 'Dady' also has a double consonant, spelled 'Daddy.' It seems you like to shorten words, but 'proffit' is really spelled 'profit' (only one "f" there). So I suggest before you comment again that you either proofread your writing or take a spelling class. Oh yeah, my last name has 2 F's.

Thanks for your "critique."

Amanda B. ShaFFer

Arguably Exploitative! Confuses horrible content! You For Real?

Do you think all those original 'girls gone wild' videos (on liquid drugs... alcohol) were educational films produced by an authority on the modern temperance movement?

Sounds like classic wankerism to me!

Billy B. Blunt
Tacoma, WA

Free Your Mind & Your Ass May Follow...
If it's not constipated with cognitive dissonance!

And Girls Gone Wild Was An Educational Film Too!

I'll bet producer Daryl Smith didn't buy all those original 'girls gone wild' videos, on the liquid drug alcohol, because he thought they were educational films by the modern temperance movement?

Sounds like a real wanker to me!

Billy B. Blunt
Tacoma, WA

Prosecutable Parallels

There are legal parallels to the Crackhead Gone Wild videos.  These include midget tossing and bum fighting.  People producing the bum fight videos would pay a few bucks to a couple of homeless guys to go at it in some alley, and then they would record the fight on video and sell copies.

The midget tossing was deemed truly bad taste and taken off the air.  The people producing bum fight videos were prosecuted by the authorities, as well they should have been.  From the sound of it, the crackhead video producers could possibly face prosecution themselves if enough people complain about their work.

Also, in a side note, regarding some of the berserker gone wild, off-topic comments that appeared on this page yesterday; everyone’s writing skills can be improved, not the least of which are those of Anonymous (I would have provided an example here, but the offending piece of tripe the individual posted was graciously purged by the site editors).

I make continual efforts to improve my own writing.  In the interest of coming together to bring a quicker end to the drug war,  I offer the following list of recommended books that go well beyond the Strunk & White level of writing and editing to help turn the average blogwriter into a drug reformer pro.  These are:

  • The Adweek Copywriting Handbook:  The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters, by Joseph Sugarman  (2007).
  • Spunk & Bite:  A writer’s guide to bold, contemporary style, by Arthur Plotnik (2007)—also see The Elements of Editing, by the same author.
  • The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, by Charles Baxter (2007)
  • Unspeak, (unspeak 1. n. mode of speech that persuades by stealth. E.g., climate change, war on terror, ethnic cleansing, road map), by Steven Poole (2006).
  • And one of my favorites:  The Spooky Art:  Thoughts on Writing, by Norman Mailer (2004).  Mailer, a pot smoker in the 1950s, describes how he’d written a half-million words by the time he wrote and published the literary classic, best-selling novel, The Naked and the Dead, at age 24.


borden's picture

response to one of Anon's responses that I had to delete


Our anonymous participant posted a second comment, which I deleted, because it basically consisted of unwarranted attacks on our intern, but without any substance. If the attacks had been directed at myself, or even another member of the staff, we might have left them there, but we don't want to have our interns, whose help we greatly appreciate, to be subjected to that. I would not have deleted the second comment if I did not truly feel that it lacked substance and consisted solely of frivolous attacks. If Mr. or Ms. Anonymous wants to follow up in this discuss with actual, substantive points, he or she is welcome to do so, and we will engage in further discussion.

One of the attacks made by Anonymous was on us, specifically the fact that we have interns doing work for us who don't get paid for their work. Actually, Anon made the same kind of error that he did with Amanda, assuming that our interns are unpaid, which Anon had no way to actually know. But as it so happens, our interns this semester are unpaid, and that has usually though not always been the case. So I want to respond to Anon's charge that we are participating in a "scam" of our interns by doing this.

First, DRCNet's budget is extremely tight, and all of the staff here, from the top to the bottom, are underpaid for our work, and in fact often have to wait for our pay. The staff size is as small as it can reasonably be in order to do the job that we are doing, and we really don't have much in the way of optional expenses either. So financially there is no possibility for us to hire paid interns at this time. Our choice is therefore to accept interns who are willing to work without pay, or to not have interns and to turn away those potential interns who contact us. But if we do the latter, these same people will simply intern in other places for no pay. The intern system is one that was created by colleges and universities, and in which students make the choice to participate. There is no coercion by businesses or nonprofits on either students to do internships or universities to require them in certain majors. The schools like their students to have the opportunity to do work with organizations, the students want to have those opportunities, and groups like ours are happy to have this much-needed help that enables us to do work that we could not otherwise do.

The second point I want to make is that something we really try to do here at DRCNet is to give our interns substantive projects that will engage their interest and benefit them educationally. Many organizations, including a big national group that Amanda was almost stuck in this semester, simply have their interns spend semesters doing filing and other office-type work. At DRCNet, our interns get to write, do research, work the phones as part of important advocacy campaigns, attend Congressional hearings or activist demonstrations or other events, etc. Not all of the work is glamorous, in fact most of it isn't, but the same can be said of most of the staff work, here or elsewhere. We also reimburse our interns for metro cost. Some semesters we do a better job of coming up with the right projects for the right people than in other semesters. But we always try. Some of the people who've spent time here as interns or volunteers have in fact gone on to find paying work in the issue, at our organization and others, jobs which are few in number and fairly well sought after. We also spend time with those of our interns who seek advice or help in their own academic projects that have relevance to our areas of expertise.

I therefore feel confident in saying that while we are not perfect, overall this is a pretty good place to intern, and I reject the notion that unpaid internships are a "scam." If you want nonprofits to succeed in their missions, and if you want young people to get experiences that would otherwise be unavailable, you should limit your criticisms to those groups that don't follow through on their promises of providing substantive internship experiences.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC


Great article! You really made the sketchiness and backward answers on the part of the producers of the film apparent. I'd be interested to read more about this if you find anything out.


the real producers!

Amanda you obviously didnt do your homework or you would know that darryl smith infringed on my trademark(crackheads gone wild) and stole my idea. i am kyron hodges the real producer behind crackheads gone wild and my videos are totally different from what mr smith is doing. you on point but get it right

have you ever done drugs?

I asked this question because if you never have done drugs or never been around them you can't understand. This doc. show's people and what that drug ,crack cocaine, can break you down to, what it can make you do. How your life means nothing to you, only crack. Thats real and if people don't see what its really like people will continue to try this drug and be trapped. if you saw the whole movie there were people who got tricked into trying it without knowing while they where smoking weed, a drug that many people do and dont think its a problem, i will have to confess i smoked weed, but after seeing this movie it has me scared out of my mind to smoke, this scared me and you just dont understand how many people it affects. And for the parents that dont want there 13 year old to see it. my lil brother is 15 years old we have the same father different mothers, my mom is a retiered military, and his is a crackhead and he is having sex, drinking and doing drugs, and has ben doing it since he was 12 , my family is trying to help my brother, but that just goes to show you the kids now day need more help then this world is ready to believe.

This morning

I came across this article googling the fools who made this film.
As I was walking Fulton St. in Brooklyn, NY on my way to work I saw one of their vans parked on the block. I also observed the driver of the van keeping tabs on some tweaked out guy on the sidewalk. It seemed he was waiting for this person to do something. I'm not going to say that there are not people with drug problems in my neighborhood, but this person was not a normal resident. This is at 8:30 am, and I see the same faces every day. It was clearly staged. What upsets me is the exploiting of this person with no control over their lives in addition to staging something like this on a street that is filled with people going to work in the morning. If it would have been a week or two later there would have been Moms and Dads walking there kids to school. Who needs this? I don't see it helping anyone. Find another way to makes money.

My Thoughts

I watched the whole movie and I think it may be a little harsh yes and maybe the producer was mocking the addicted people but i think that it should be raw and unedited simply because these things do happen and would actually scare people strait not to say that i totally agree with the producer but still most of the people try the drug because of boredom and this video will show them what will probably become of them if they ever thought to do this drug also these people have been driven to these extremes by their addiction but i really wonder what do YOU think would have happened if those people would have seen this video.

Also I would never encourage this kind of behavior, but the video is already made might as well do something useful with it.

directed towards Amanda Shaffer

(Sorry to bump old subjects)
reply to:[email protected]

"Drugs" des not equal crack smoking

What is it with those who use the word "drugs" to engender fear of anything illegal via focusing upon perhaps teh worst of the illegal drugs?

It would be infinitely better in this instance to say "hyper-glycemic ultra concentrated stimulant". Alas the film's producer foolishly uses the term ":drugs" as a catch all phrase to perhaps deminize things as MJ.

Shame on him!

Crackheads Gone Wild

First off, I would like to respectfully acknowledge the author of "Crack Heads Gone Wild" Video Raises Troubling Ethical Questions", Amanda Shaffer, for a well written post that I found to be very informative.

I too, Have watched the Crackheads Gone Wild documentary and came to the conclusion that rightfully so, I can understand the views of both the original critic and those that countered her article. While at times I did feel that the film exploits, entices and encourages the subjects to perform these repugnant acts, I also felt that the footage could be used as educational proof of the powers of crack cocaine and the negative effects that derives from it's use.

Unfortunately, Crack has become one of the worlds largest drug epidemics and the results of it's wrath are clearly evident in lots of low income urban communities. A lot of what is shown in the documentary is nothing new to those of us who has either lived the life through experience of frequenting/living in a crack infested neighborhood or for the users who may feel they have no choice but to experience it. Yes...The addicts may very well be at the lowest points in their lives and are therefore vunerable but the fact is that even if the producers never came up with the idea to film a low budget documentary that seemingly exploits the addiction of it's subjects, They would have still found a way to satisfy their habits.
Prostitutes would still trick, Robbers would still rob, Thieves would still steal and crack would still be smoked. Unfortunate but a fact.

Society should never be willing to accept or glorify the use of crack under any circumstance but one other fact that I want to mention is that it's easy to stand on the outside and look in while making accusations of what's right and what's wrong when you are within your own habitat. Step outside of that very habitat and enter the cipher of trials and consequences that you have never experienced and you most likely would develop a spirit of hatred and fear. People usually hate what they fear and usually fear what they don't understand.

Of course, There are a lot of filthy, disgusting, sad and disgraceful moments in the film but I do beleive that it could be used as an educational tool. We have all heard the phrases "Just Say No", "Crack Kills" and so-on but how many times have we seen actual footage of what goes on in these infested neighborhoods. This is as up-close and personal that you can possibly get without actually being there to experience it firsthand. Why does everything always have to be watered down and censored when it's reality but we'll shell out big bucks to watch a movie of fiction no matter the evils within. Whether it's the latest bloody horror flick or the painfully obvious BS of all these new reality shows that are shoved down our throats on night time television. We love entertainment but hate edutainment? When we sit down to watch a high caliber movie such as one of the "Saw" offerings, Are we expecting it to be edited down or sugar coated because it may be graphic or show things that we may fear or deem evil thus unappropriate for our kids to watch? No. We know to accept it for what it is (entertainment) and we know to respect the ratings of the film. No matter how innapropriate we may feel that "Crackheads Gone Wild" or any other "so called" documentary is, The bottom line is to accept it for what it is whether education, entertainment or edutainment. I remember Darryl Smith stating in that Fox News interview that he would "love to be put out of business". "If you don't want me to exploit the people, Fix the problem and make it so another film will never be made".

In conclusion, I'll say that I agree that some (if not all) of the proceeds generated from this film should be donated to charity or substance abuse prevention programs. That would probably be the least that should be done. Unfortunately, I don't think that we will ever know if the true intentions of the producers are to spark awareness in an attempt to "scare" the viewers straight or for monetary gain but I do know that we all should be open to new means of educating people to the dangers of this subject. Even though we may hate the core of it's existence, That does not stop it from being a true reality and way of life for many human beings and if putting it out there in plain view for all to see and possibly learn from is too negative for the "unknowing" or 'uncaring" to understand, Then please let's all continue to find out what will work, has worked or is working to help solve the problem.

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