Snapchat is currently under fire for its 4/20-timed Bob Marley Snapchat filter, which adds a cap and dreadlocks to users’ faces in addition to slightly darkening their skin tones. Kylie Jenner (of course) flaunted the filter, which many claim is racist and reminiscent of Blackface.
Well, there's a Bob Marley @Snapchat filter for today. (Just in case you didn't want the effort of buying paint to do blackface.)
— Tré Pina (@TreLingual) April 20, 2016
The Bob Marley snapchat thing is blackface in 2016 effectively. Digital disrespect
— Elijah (@Eli1ah) April 20, 2016
However, the real problem here has nothing to do with Snapchat or this filter. Snapchat simply followed the widely-held tradition of associating Marley with cannabis. Why are people reducing Marley, a reggae icon, to nothing but a pothead caricature?
Marley is frequently associated with the 4/20 movement, but he had nothing to do with it–aside from just having a pro-pot, Rastafarian stance. Nevertheless, Marley has become synonymous with the drug, which at times trivializes his expansive music career–a career, mind you, that spawned 13 studio albums, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame slot, a United Nations Peace Medal and an Order of Merit.
But no, he’s just the weed guy–well, that’s what culture makes it seem every 4/20. We give Marley the most shine on a day when everyone gets blazed. That makes him look like some huge stoner and nothing else. That’s not right. Marley is much more than some pesky drug, and it’s time people realized it.
Who do we blame for this, though? Is it society’s fault for creating a strong link between Marley and weed? Or is it Marley’s Estate’s fault for approving projects like the Snapchat filter and launching things like the Marley Natural cannabis brand? After all, the Estate has to approve every entity that features Marley’s face on it. If they wanted to change the public perception of Marley, they could start by–ya know–not letting Snapchat use his face on 4/20.
It’s cyclical. Society sees Marley/cannabis products–all approved by his Estate–and view him as some kind of marijuana god. However, the Estate could be taking cues from society–“Give the people what they want!” and all that jazz.
Either way, the issue is bigger than a Snapchat filter. Aim your pitchforks at the reason Snapchat thought of featuring Marley on 4/20 in the first place.
Or better yet, put down the pitchforks in general and turn “Revolution” on. That’s the way to properly tribute Mr. Marley, high or not.