Ever since the ad went up here at Blogcritics, that bottle has drawn my eye, the green fairy beckoning from within. Famous for its use by artists and writers in years past, absinthe is back as a forbidden indulgence.
When the video for the Nine Inch Nails song "The Perfect Drug" was released in 1997, talk of absinthe, particularly among the Goth community and other subcultures, helped to bring the drug back into the spotlight. The video had a dark mystique that brought to mind tortured artists and dark poets, something that seems to go hand in hand with certain phases of youth. Since then, absinthe has begun to pop up more often in films, though one could find it there even back in 1943, in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Lately, however, absinthe can pop up anywhere, unsurprisingly in a film such as 2001's From Hell, where the sinister preparation suited the dark atmosphere, and even in the 2004 comedy Eurotrip as a spur for party-time insanity.
The hubbub over absinthe is twofold. First, the drink boasts extraordinarily high alcohol content (as high as 160 proof), and second, absinthe contains thujone, a component of the herb wormwood. In the late 19th century, increasing public outcry brought about bans of the substance in several countries. According to the Vaults of Erowid, absinthe was first banned in Belgium in 1905, and initially banned in the United States in 1912, though additional laws regarding the substance thujone have been passed since. However, the legal issues here in the states are sticky; it is illegal to sell absinthe, and illegal to import it, but not illegal to possess it.
But why? Also from the Vaults of Erowid:
The 1850's saw the beginnings of concern about the results of chronic absinthe use. Chronic use was believed to produce a syndrome, called absinthism, which was characterized by addiction, epileptic attacks, delerium, and hallucinations....it was believed that any traits acquired by absinthists would be passed on to their children.
Further, the upswing in absinthe consumption seems to have coincided with a general increase in alcoholism, as well as in bohemian ideas, both of which were seen as a threat to polite society.