More Dispatches from Buffalo: Popular Culture and the Drug Wars

Editors’ Note: This is the third and final of Michael Durfee’s reports from the recent ADHS conference.  We’re grateful to him for his thoughtful blog posts–hopefully this won’t be the last Points readers hear from Michael.  Read his first two conference dispatches here and here.

Popular Culture and the Drug Wars

On Sunday, a group of enterprising graduate students presented portions of their dissertation’s in progress to those interested in the often overlapping worlds of popular culture and the war on drugs.  Robert Beach adjusted our gaze to the subculture of comic books and superhero’s, chronicling the work of Earl Albert Rowell, a relatively obscure San Francisco based writer and anti-drug lecturer.  Rowell created a superhero named David Dare, cast as a globe-trotting anti-narcotics crusader.  In one tale, Dare is on the trail of morphine peddlers.  In another, Dare finds himself at the locus of all evil and depravity—the marijuana den.  Most interesting however, proved Beach’s assessment of the emergence of the comic book superhero.  For Beach, the superhero came to light amidst a host of institutional crisis addressed in superhero crusades: Police officers, for example, continuously fought the stigma of corruption; doctors often fought against their association with quacks and other apocryphal practitioners. Most notably, the federal government‘s enforcers, embodied in the Prohibition agents of the era, seemed to highlight the inability of national governments to legislate recreational activities.  All told, superhero’s like David Dare served as vehicles to criticize institutional failure and correct the complicated problems mortal human beings simply could not manage themselves.
Following Beach’s treatment of David Dare, I presented on the often overlooked role of Len Bias in the crack panic of 1986. 

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