Interpreting Donald Trump’s “Oxy Electorate”: On the Interaction of Pain and Politics

On January 20 – inauguration day – the HBO news talk show Real Time with Bill Maher aired its fifteenth season premier. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump was the topic of the hour. After Maher and his panel of pundits concluded their discussion, the host delivered an editorial monologue analyzing Trump’s electoral victory and offered a provocative comparison:

“Here on inauguration day, in the spirit of new beginnings, liberals have to stop calling Trump voters rubes and simpletons and instead reach out and feel their pain, the pain they insist we didn’t see. And there is ample evidence for that pain. Did you know that of the fourteen states with the highest painkiller prescriptions per person, they all went for Trump? Trump won eighty percent of the states that have the biggest heroin problem… So let’s stop calling Trump voters idiots and fools and call them what they are: fucking drug addicts!” Continue reading

Deadly Intoxication, or: A Series of Odd Coincidences


“This pussy has teeth; no one should fuck me ever” — Margaret


I begin this post with exciting news: Slava Tsukerman and Anne Carlisle are collaborating on either a sequel to or a documentary about the making of Liquid Sky, the 1982 science fiction movie about Margaret, the new wave Edie Sedgewick-inspired club-hopping model who, assisted by her alien lover, kills with her cunt.

A summary is all but impossible, but here goes:

Continue reading

The Long, Proud Tradition of the Fourth of July Buzzkill

Celebratory drinking has fueled Fourth of July festivity from its inception in the years following 1776, when double rum-rations for the troops, endless toasts at formal dinners, and makeshift booze-stalls at public gatherings became norms. And it was not long before high-minded patriots began to worry over the excesses of republican revelry. Before the Fourth of July oration itself became well established, there emerged within and alongside it a recognizable (if unnamed) theme in Independence Day rhetoric: the identification of that very day’s public drunkenness with whatever was ailing the republic.

All was not well in this republic.

All was not well in 1837.

Over the years, Independence Day jeremiads have taken numerous forms, from grim warnings about public health and morals, to wry satire of overzealous exceptionalism, to the ferocious indictment of national shortcomings. Many have focused on intoxication as the essential expression of decay, of hypocrisy, even of delusion.

Complaints begin with the sheer recklessness of the traditional program of events. Continue reading

Taverns, locals and street corners: Cross-chronological studies in community drinking, regulation and public space

Editor’s Note: Today brings the first in a series of postings on The Taverns Project, a  pilot study of Connected Communities sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). Participant David Rosenthal, of the Architecture and Civil Engineering Department, University of Bath, describes the overall aims of the cross-disciplinary, multi-national, and transhistorical project; later posts from participants Fabrizio Nevola (Bath), Jane Milling (University of Exeter), and Antonia Layard (University of Cardiff) will report on work in progress and conjecture about future avenues for research.

The “Taverns, Locals, and Street Corners” project began with the idea that the ‘public’ places in which people drink play an important role in the theatre of urban life – they are socially, morally and sometimes politically charged spaces.

Public Drinking

It’s hardly a new or radical insight, but it is a useful one, a basis from which to launch questions about continuity and change. How has the culture of public drinking and the social significance of taverns/pubs transformed in Europe in the past 500 or so years? On the other hand, what parallels can be teased out between the early modern period and the present?

Our aim isn’t to offer any kind of comprehensive history of public drinking. This is a short, ‘pilot’ project, funded by the UK’s Art and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities program. We look at three specific case studies, 16th-century Florence, London in the 18th century; and Bristol today. The way the project is structured means that these are dealt with consecutively. At present, we are in Renaissance Florence, the Enlightenment London part of the project begins in October, and Bristol takes us from February to April next year. This first, brief blog is designed simply to set out the main questions and themes of the research – later blogs will address our findings in detail.

The Carnivalesque

What interests us are the urban spaces, associations, networks and indeed communities that are shaped by tavern-going – whether it’s an osteria in an alley in the centre of Florence in the 1550s or a pub in central Bristol in 2012. Continue reading

In Search of the Drunken Native

In a March 3, 2012 New York Times article, “At Tribe’s Door, a Hub of Beer and Heartache,” reporter Timothy Williams provides yet another account of the terrible consequences associated with alcohol consumption among native Americans.  This article, which of course joins many others on the same topic, touches on a number of familiar points, in particular the assumed collective susceptibility of Native Americans to alcohol and their vulnerability to the agents of capitalism.

Whiteclay, Nebraska is a ramshackle hamlet on the border not only of South Dakota but of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation—which has banned alcohol since the 1970s. There, a small number of  white beer store owners sell annually almost five million cans of beer and malt liquor—almost all to members of the Oglala Sioux tribe.

Whiteclay, NE
Pop: 14; Annual revenues from alcohol sales: $3 million

These are the latest version of the unscrupulous white traders who have populated the narratives of Native American drinking since the seventeenth century.  In this case, they offer to cash income tax checks for a 3 percent commission and selling 30 packs of Bud for a price higher than that charged in New York City and more than twice the going price in most of the country.  In this account the ravages of alcohol consumption involve virtually every family.  “As an indication of the depth of the problem,” the Times notes that even a tribal vice president, a leader in the fight to restrict alcohol sales in Whiteclay, was recently arrested on alcohol-related charges.  In 2011 tribal police made 20,000 alcohol-related arrests in a reservation with an apparently undifferentiated population of 45,000.

The article reminds us that this is not just a problem for the Oglala Sioux, but for Native Americans generally.  Without an explanation for the leap to a national/racial scope, we’re reminded that about one third of U.S. reservations ban alcohol and that “excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of preventable death among American Indians.”  And in fact the threat of extinction lurks in this article as it has in accounts of native drinking for four centuries.  As one tribal police captain notes, “not to disrespect our elders and ancestors, but we’ve gone through several generations.”

When It's Time to Lose Command over Yourself

In his famous 1802 testimony to Thomas Jefferson, Chief Little Turtle told the President, “your children have not that command over themselves which you have, therefore, before anything can be done to advantage, this evil must be remedied.”And so the Oglala Sioux, implicitly recognizing that they “have not that command over themselves,” have gone to court to lay blame for their affliction not only on the beer stores in Whiteclay but  the Anheuser-Busch company that produces the high-alcohol Hurricane High Gravity Lager that is the current drink of choice in Pine Ridge. The purpose of this post is not to dismiss or intellectualize away the enormous problems linked to alcohol in many of the nation’s Native American communities, but to invite discussion about  the remarkably persistent and pervasive mythology of the drunken native and of the more general susceptibility of aboriginal (or “indigenous”) people to alcohol.  Continue reading

The Stoned Ages, The Day (or Sixteen) After

Editor’s Note: The post below by Joe Spillane was written after the original September air date of “The Stoned Ages.”  If you’re just tuning in now, don’t worry– it’s probably still pretty relevant. 

Readers who caught my last-minute notice regarding “The Stoned Ages” documentary on the History Channel know that I was a little ambivalent about what we’d see.  After all, HC original series have drifted pretty far from the core logic of the channel (IRT Deadliest Roads, anyone?).  On the other hand, “The Stoned Ages” was an independent production, managed by director Adam Barton, who really took an interest in drugs and history.  So, if you watched “The Stoned Ages” premiere on History Channel last night, we’d certainly welcome your thoughts.  You won’t find any space at the HC site, where the original series suck all the oxygen out of the room.  Here are five quick takes of my own:

Psilocybe Cubensis in Natura Sua

1. Score one for the shrooms!  I can’t say that I’ve ever seen quite as much space on cable television to psychedelic mushrooms.  With host Dean Norris tromping through rural Florida with his expert guide looking for cubensis mushrooms, the opening segment seemed more like an HGTV “how-to” show than a historical documentary.  Plenty of good tips for the do-it-yourself sort, I guess.  I’m sure hardcore fans of traditional preparations like ayahuasca might have bridled at the brief mentions in “The Stoned Ages” but I’d give the documentary high marks for the coverage it did extend. [Editor’s note: if you’re jonesing for a complimentary discussion of ayahuasca, you can find it here.]

2. Score one for psychedelic research!  No time or space right now to cover the field right now, though interested readers might check out the Multidisplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.  I found it quite extraordinary that an effectively “mainstream” television documentary was willing to present a study like the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study on its own terms.

3. Score just a bit for transnational history.  Longtime readers of this blog will know that David Courtwright (seen in “The Stoned Ages”) is the author of Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World(Harvard, 2001).  David’s book concerns the global “psychoactive revolution”–and the film picked up some of this, giving viewers a sense of the ways in which revolutions in commerce became psychoactive revolutions.

Commercialize It

Of course, not every substance entered the global marketplace, or succeeded there, and the film just begins to suggest how and why that happened.

Continue reading

There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane: What Morality, Medicine & Documentary Can’t Explain

Acclaimed documentarian Liz Garbus‘s most recent documentary feature, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (which premiered this week on HBO), examines what might have led supermom Diane Schuler to drive a borrowed minivan southbound in the northbound lane of the New York’s Taconic State Parkway two years ago. With her two young children and her three nieces (all under the age of ten) as passengers, Schuler drove her borrowed minivan at a high rate of speed until it collided head-on with another vehicle. The crash caused the deaths of eight people, including all three occupants of the other car, four of Schuler’s five passengers, and Schuler herself. Police investigators retrieved an empty vodka bottle from Schuler’s vehicle and the official toxicology report subsequently revealed both that Schuler’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit and also that Schuler had recently ingested marijuana.

Beyond these details of the incident, the only certainty the documentary offers is suggested by its title, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. Continue reading

More Dispatches from Buffalo: Gender and Intoxication

Editors’ Note: Today’s report on the ADHS conference comes from guest blogger Nancy Campbell. Some of you may recall Nancy’s remembrance of the late Bob Schuster, which appeared on this site back in February.  We’re grateful to her for this contribution as well.

The “Gender and Intoxication” panel illustrated a familiar theme to which historians of women, drugs, and alcohol are consistently compelled to make—that drug-using women and alcoholic women are judged not only as intemperate but also as failures of femininity and maternity. The ADHS panel presented three very well-grounded and nuanced papers that remind us how often alcoholic women have come to attention only to fade away.
Based on records from 1,500 divorce cases in 3 states, Robin Sager’s paper, “ ‘The Poison That Maddens the Brain’: Intemperance and Domestic Conflict in Antebellum America” is part of her dissertation on the history of marital cruelty. Husbands seeking divorce often claimed that their wives failed to set proper examples of gendered comportment ranging from poor housekeeping to “extravagant” or “wasteful” consumption habits, including those of whiskey and rye. Husbands often adopted a policy of containment by confining wives within the home. Thus did women’s drinking habits become private, hidden from view and neighbors’ prying eyes until a husband sought to divorce his wife on grounds of marital cruelty. Continue reading