The Points Interview: Stephen Siff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome Stephen Siff, an associate professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University of Ohio. Below, Siff discusses his recent book, Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience (University of Illinois, 2015), which chronicles LSD’s trip from multi-colored miracle to mind-melting menace.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Acid Hype is a history of how newspapers, magazines and TV reported on LSD and similar drugs in the1950s and 1960s. During that time, mainstream media enthusiastically promoted LSD as a treatment for all sorts of problems, and talked about its potential to provide memorable experiences to people who were not sick.

The book explains why journalists working for major newspapers and organizations like Time and Life devoted so much attention to describing psychedelic drug experiences, and how such work evolved as a genre within the journalism of the period.

Acid Hype leaves off around 1970. That’s when the media lost interest in psychedelic drugs, even while their actual prevalence in society was continuing to increase.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I think the book’s description of mainstream media’s liberal attitude toward LSD will surprise readers who may have assumed that newspaper and broadcast journalists reflexively engaged in anti-drug sensationalism. The diversity of opinion and the quality of the debate in mainstream media serves as a reminder that the anti-drug consensus taken for granted today was once contested.

As well, I hope that my account of how media descriptions of psychedelic experiences evolved and influenced social attitudes will seem a compelling alternative to research that minimizes the influence of media. I think the book also has something interesting to say about the fluidity between media and 1960s psychedelic experience.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?Stephen Siff pic

It has been interesting for me to learn the flawed basis for drug rumors I heard as a naïve college student in the 1990s, like about the acid heads who went blind from staring at the sun, and to see how these tales were spread decades earlier.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

I’d love to read a new scholarly biography of Harry J. Anslinger.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

Al Gore, for the gravitas.