RehabTV?

Television narrative has long mined drug and alcohol use and abuse for inciting incidents. As a plot device deployed to inaugurate conflict within a television narrative, drugs and alcohol can really do the trick, whether for single episodes or for multi-episode story arcs. In a dramatic series, this or that beloved character might become addicted to drugs or alcohol, while a situation comedy might devote a “very special episode” to the impact of drugs or alcohol upon one or more of its characters. Crime shows, in particular, are especially drug- and alcohol-dependent, with intoxicant related crimes contributing myriad story arcs for shows as historically and stylistically diverse as Dragnet, Police Woman and The Wire.

Yet within the last decade or so, several emerging televisual subgenres have begun using drugs and alcohol as a narrative device in ways that might prove historically significant. While a full accounting of the ways drugs and alcohol manifest on contemporary television screens certainly exceeds my task in this brief comment, several noteworthy ways that contemporary television narratives “use” drugs and alcohol warrant consideration. (For the purposes of this discussion, I employ the term “television narrative” to address a diverse array of televisual genres, including both scripted dramas and comedies alongside what is widely referred to as “reality” tv, the myriad documentary television programs which, though ostensibly “unscripted,” nonetheless utilize a range of editing and production techniques to sculpt the dramatic action internal to each episode and, often, across the span of a multi-episode “season” of programming.)

The three subgenres I would like to highlight are, in turn, domestic dramas of narco-trafficking; “drunk girls gone wild” reality shows; and, perhaps most ubiquitously, RehabTV. Continue reading “RehabTV?”

On Moving Beyond “Context”

Perhaps it is because I teach in a medical school, rather than a traditional academic history department, but over the past two years I have become increasingly interested in thinking about how historical scholarship can directly contribute to solving current problems. When people discover where I teach they often ask me, in a somewhat quizzical way, what I actually do. How do I spend my time? What do I contribute? Why have a historian at a medical school at all?

It’s a good set of questions. I typically respond with something about “context”  – how history helps us understand the present, or raises interesting questions about the direction we are going, or some other such formulation. This is all true, of course, and its important. I wouldn’t be a historian if I didn’t think in these terms. But I have also started to wonder if historians can do more – and, if we can, whether or not we should. So, I’ve started to ask myself: what can historical scholarship contribute to the design and implementation of health interventions? To the crafting of public health policy? To the definition and measurement of quantifiable problems and outcomes? To the generation of grant money? Can historians do more than talk about the past in order to provide “context” for the labor of others? And should we?

Continue reading “On Moving Beyond “Context””

The Points Interview: Mark Schrad

The second installment in our continuing series of author interviews features Mark Lawrence Schrad, author of The Political Power of Bad Ideas: Networks, Institutions, and the Global Prohibition Wave (Oxford University Press, 2010).  Mark Schrad is currently Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University.  After checking out the interview, readers may also wish to learn more about his current book project, Vodka Politics.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

Most people think of temperance and prohibition as a uniquely American phenomena, but as I demonstrate in The Political Power of Bad Ideas, temperance was one of the veryCover of Mark Schrad's Bad Ideas first transnational social movements, and was truly global in scope. Moreover, nationwide alcohol prohibition was adopted in ten other countries and countless colonial possessions in addition to (and in most cases even before) the United States, all with similar disastrous consequences, and in every case followed by repeal.

On the one hand, my book places the American experience with temperance and prohibition in its proper international context. On the other, I use this seemingly bizarre global event—the rapid international diffusion of a “bad” policy idea in the form of prohibition—to say something about how ideas travel, and how they are filtered within different domestic policymaking structures.

With these dual objectives in mind—one historical, and one theoretical—the book doesn’t read like a standard historical monograph. Continue reading “The Points Interview: Mark Schrad”

Drug Law Exceptionalism?

One of the rewards of blogging is an instant boost to your awareness of what others are doing with the same sort of forum.  Among other places, it’s led me to Mexican Opium, a (short-term?) blog project by law student Mikelis Beitiks.  I’m sure my co-Managing Editor would be happy to learn that the blog is at least partly a forum for work that wasn’t published in traditional journal format.  For me, I’m happy to see more work being done on the legal foundations of our war on drugs.  Here’s why:Continue reading “Drug Law Exceptionalism?”

The Points Interview: Daniel Okrent

Author interviews will be a recurring special feature on Points, and our first foray into the genre is with Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Simon & Schuster, 2010).

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

But what about the Bronfmans?

LAST CALL tells the difficult-to-believe story of Prohibition— how a surprisingly diverse coalition of organizations united to achieve the unlikely goal of amending the Constitution in a way that limited personal freedom; how the 14-year reign of Prohibition altered American politics, economy, jurisprudence, and social life; and how a combination of failed implementation policies, official corruption, and the devastating economic effects of the Depression brought about Repeal. In short, my book seeks to answer three simple questions: How did it happen? What exactly was it? And how did it end?

What do you think a bunch of alcohol & drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?Continue reading “The Points Interview: Daniel Okrent”

Doing Drug History from a Drug War Zone

A Student Murdered

One hot morning last May, the El Paso Times brought news that many of us had been dreading—a student from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) had been murdered in the drug-trade violence that has disrupted our neighbor city, Ciudad Juárez, for three years.  Like many UTEP students, Alejandro Ruiz, 18 years old, lived a binational life.  A dual citizen, he lived mostly in Juárez, but commuted to UTEP.  On that day last May he and a friend were traveling from a boy scout meeting when their vehicle was riddled with machine gun fire.  His murder, like almost all the killings (more than 3,000 in 2010 alone) remains unsolved and unexplained.  Although Mexican political leaders have tried to dismiss the dead as criminals and effectively erase their existence, one thing seems certain, Alejandro himself had no direct involvement in the drugs trade.  We are left only to speculate. Continue reading “Doing Drug History from a Drug War Zone”

Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

What’s the Point?

The “point” of an academic group blog has been the subject of a fair amount of discussion, and my colleague and co-Managing Editor Trysh Travis has already had her say about that here.

But what is it about the history of alcohol and drugs that seems worthy of the time and attention that we’re devoting to this particular academic blog?  There’s more to the answer than could fit in a single post, but why not start by considering the “points” featured in the header of the blog?  The image shows a beautifully detailed nineteenth-century syringe case, with marvelous decorative details.  How many doors are opened up when we follow the history of the syringe?  Here are a couple:Continue reading “What’s the Point?”

Points: Of Origin

What is the point of an academic group blog, my co-managing editor Joe Spillane wants to know? It’s a necessary and pleasurable adjunct to an academic print culture that, while maybe not quite dead, can hardly be termed in the pink of health.  The book I published last year on addiction and recovery appeared in a respectable hardcover edition, with copies priced “low” at  $35 each.  As I write, it’s hovering just above the 1-millionth most popular mark on amazon.com.

When the book was done, like a good academic I took some material that didn’t make the final cut and re-purposed it into an article.  After four months on the editor’s desk at a peer-reviewed journal that shall remain nameless, I got a revise-and-resubmit request.  I made the requested changes and returned the piece; after another four months, it was rejected by a different round of editors whose complaints were completely different from those of the first readers.  That was my writing year.

Sure, the book got me tenure, but you don’t have to be Peggy Lee to wonder, “is that all there is to a circus?” Continue reading “Points: Of Origin”

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