The Women of Narco B-Movies

Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens is known for its money-sending “chops,” gold and silver vendors, ethnic markets, and great Argentine, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, and Peruvian restaurants, all conveniently tucked under the 7 trains.  The doorway I sought led up a stairwell that advertised the store’s music offerings: cumbia, bachata, grupera, salsa, and the standards of rock and pop. Among the music CDs, one can find hip-hop clothing and narco B movies. The bleary-eyed attendant grew suspicious when I asked for all his narco films with female protagonists.  I bought my first narco-chick action flick, Rosario Tijeras, a couple of days after its Latin American release from a street vendor two blocks from this store.  I felt sure that the number of female protagonist B-films had grown with the release of La colombiana and Miss Bala.  These films are for the foreign and elite movie going public; the B-movies are for everyone else.

Gerardo Naranjo, 2011

Long before more accomplished filmmakers entered the narco market, narco B-movies documented Mexico’s role in the drug trade since the 1970s.   These low-budget action films have fairly simple story lines,  and often the same actors appear regardless of production company.  The narratives depict the realities of the drug trade in Northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Many of the screenwriters base the films on narco-corridos, ballads about the drug trade, while others create stories from the news headlines.  In the narco Bs, drug traffickers are social bandits who struggle against each other, corrupt police officers, and government officials.  Until recently, women have played marginal roles as lovers, mothers, or daughters.

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Points Toward the Presidency: Mitt Romney

Editor’s Note: In this, the penultimate installment of our series of profiles of the Republican presidential candidates, guest blogger Kelsey Harclerode examines the policy stances of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and finds them–like the rest of his candidacy–completely unsurprising and largely uninspiring.

Mitt Romney: a Man and his Vision

Willard Mitt Romney: the Republican candidate you hate to love. As our friends at Stop the Drug War have pointed out, Romney has done his best to avoid establishing a clear drug policy.  But despite his best efforts, a review of his actions as the Governor of Massachusetts and his statements on the 2008 and 2012 campaign trail have established one for him—which might best be summed up by the chorus of En Vogue’s hit “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It).”  As in, “never gonna get” legal medical marijuana, “never gonna get” a true end to the drug war, and—as so often seems the case for Romney—“never gonna get” a distinctive or ideologically coherent overall policy.

Like the majority of the Republicans in the race, Romney supports the drug war…at least most of the time. During his time as the Governor of Massachusetts, he had a generally “tough on drug crime” stance: in 2004 he supported a crackdown on drunk drivers that aimed to bring Massachusetts’ notoriously lax penalties into line with federal norms. In 2005, his administration introduced legislation that would increase the penalties and fines for those charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamines.  And  Romney proposed legislation that would provide funding for school districts that drug tested their students (though there is little evidence that many districts took him up on this offer).

His positions on the international dimensions of the war on drugs are a little less clear. 

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Week In Review: January 23 to January 27, 2012

We emphasized quality over quantity here at Points this week, as we polished off two excellent series, started a new series on popular attitudes toward drug use and addiction, and featured a number of excellent one-off works. All are worthy of a look so, for your personal reference, please enjoy our Week In Review. Monday: We kicked …

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Friday Reads, Vol. 2

Editor’s Introduction: Because we here at Points believe that an understanding of the past is best supplemented with an eye toward the present (and the future), we offer up this weekly selection of long-form pieces on drug- and alcohol-related issues. In the past week, we’ve seen the fifth estate double-down on their calls for the governments …

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On January 3, 2009, Satoshi Nakomoto officially created a new currency.  He would call it bitcoin.  No dead presidents, silver, or gold—just thirty-one thousand lines of code.  In an online profile, he said he lived in Japan.  His email address was from a free German service.  Google searches for his name turned up no relevant information.  Nakamoto was a cipher, intentionally remaining anonymous at the time of bitcoin’s creation–and still–at the writing of this post.  So what of the hacker version of the Dos Equis Guy,  “Most Interesting Man in the World 2.0?”

Satoshi: This Could Be You. Go Public.

Motivated in part by frustration over the financial crisis, Nakamoto sought to create a currency impervious to monetary policy or the whims of bankers and politicians. Nakamoto is not the first to try his hand at digital money.  Cypherpunks—the 1990s movement of libertarian cryptographers—dedicated themselves to this very effort unsuccessfully.  Others like cryptographer David Chaum tried in the early 1990s, finding their Sisyphean efforts foundering because of their dependence on the existing infrastructures of government and credit card companies.  Bit gold, RPOW, and b-money—all attempts at digital currency—all failed for this very reason.

Fortunately, bitcoin did away with the third party by publicly distributing the ledger, or what Nakamoto calls the “block chain.”  Amidst concerns about the ability of governments and banks to manage the economy and money supply, bitcoin had found a way to both preserve the anonymity of bitcoin buyers and sellers, but also to prevent fraud.  The bitcoin software encrypts each transaction—the sender and receiver are identified only by a string of numbers—but a public record of every coin’s movement is published across the entire network.  It should come as no surprise to readers that the code for bitcoin was built with the same peer-to-peer technology that facilitates the exchange of pirated movies and music.  In each case, users connect with each other rather than with a central server.  As such, decentralized models continue to offer avenues for those looking to circumvent traditional power brokers such as banks, corporations, and the nation-state.

At this point, you’ve probably asked yourself more than once: What does any of this have to do with drugs?  Fair question.  Quietly, in February of 2011 a website was launched called Silk Road on the so-called secret Internet.  In short, the site allows users to buy and sell heroin, LSD, marijuana, and even Fentanyl lollipops using bitcoin only.  Here’s how it works:

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“There’s a Reefer Man in Here!”

Thanks to the eagle eye of Contributing Editor Ron Roizen, who spotted this piece of regional drugs history, we reprint the following courtesy of the “Out of the Box” blog of the Library of Virginia. In the early morning hours of 31 May 1936, Margaret Jacobs was awakened by a “lumbering in the kitchen.”  She …

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The History of Science on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Points readers who can remember back to 2011 will recall the great posts that guest blogger and early modern historian of science Matthew Crawford brought our way: thoughtful considerations of “disturbance pharmacopeias” and of the tensions between discovery and invention. Today he concludes his series with us by calling for an “applied metaphysics” in drugs history.

What might the history of science on drugs–or, put less euphoniously, the history of the science of drugs– look like? To answer this, we need to consider how the histories of science and of drugs might inform and engage each other.

Higher Order Thinking

In the early decades of the history of science, now nearly a century ago, the field had little to say about drugs. Many thought of the history of science as a cousin to intellectual history and the history of ideas– an association that derived, in part, from early 20th-century conceptions of science as a predominantly philosophical endeavor, which left the work of actually manipulating the material world to other enterprises like technology and medicine. (Think of the earlier distinctions between “pure” and “applied” science, for example.) Drugs, as part of that material world, did not fall under the purview of early history of science.

As a result of scholarship in the last half century or so, we now understand science as an enterprise involving both the via activa and the via contemplativa, and see scientific practitioners as actively engaged in the material world through interactions with instruments, objects, texts, images, and other people. As noted in a 2007 essay by Ken Alder, historians of science took this materialist turn in the 1970s and 1980s; more recently, even historians of “high science” have focused their attention on material objects and practices “in hopes of anchoring cultural histories that they feared might otherwise drift away upon a hermeneutical sea.” One example, among many, of this recent development is Peter Galison’s Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps, an account of the history of Einstein’s theory of relativity, in which Galison puts the material and technical challenges of establishing the simultaneity of the clock at the center of the genesis of this paragon of twentieth-century abstract science. (Think of the recent popularity of the notion of “technoscience” to emphasize the entanglement of science and technology in a variety of ways.)

In the midst of this proliferation of interest in the histories of scientific objects and the material culture of science (broadly defined), drugs have received comparatively little attention.

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A Debate for the Ages, Part I: Nixon and Drug Abuse – “Root Causes” or “Personal Culpability”?

Editor’s Note: We here at Points are delighted to host a new four-part series over the next month. Special guest blogger Emily Dufton will discuss the potential causes of drug abuse and the role that ideas such as genetic predisposition, religion/ethics, and personal culpability play in shaping the War on Drugs. Emily is a PhD candidate in the American Studies department at George Washington University.  She’s currently beginning work on her dissertation, “Just Say Know: How the Parents’ Movement Brought Education and Conservative Family Values to the Center of the Domestic War on Drugs, 1971-2001,” which explores the origins of the family-centered, zero-tolerance prevention approach that consumed America’s social, political, and judicial approach to the drug abuse ‘epidemic’ in the late twentieth century. In her first post, Emily discusses the historical origins of the War on Drugs.

On December 5, 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Stephen Hess to the position of National Chairman of the White House Conference for Children and Youth. Hess’s task was to “listen well to the voices of young Americans – in the universities, on the farms, the assembly lines, the street corners,” in the hopes of uncovering their opinions on America’s domestic and international affairs. After two years of intensive planning, Hess and 1,486 delegates from across the country met in Estes Park, Colorado and, from April 18 to 22, 1971, discussed ten areas where that most concerned the youth of America. These issues included, not surprisingly, the draft and the war in Vietnam, the economy and employment, education, the environment, poverty, and, most notably for Points readers, drugs.

Report from the Famed White House Conference on Youth.

 The task force on drugs, composed of eight youths and four adults, forcefully argued for addressing the root causes of drug abuse, advocating therapy for addicts rather than incarceration or punishment. “We acknowledge that drug abuse is largely a symptom of the individual’s inability to cope with his immediate personal environment,” they conceded. “However, it must be understood that deep societal ills increase the individual’s sense of personal alienation. Specifically, our society has permitted the perpetuation of the Indochina War, of institutional and personal racism, of the pollution of our environment, and of the urban crises… If the administration is sincere in its concern with drug abuse, it must deal aggressively with the root causes as well as implement the recommendations contained herein.”

At this point, it might have been easier if Nixon had just told his Conference delegates that they couldn’t have their “root causes” cake (even with its concessionary ‘individual inability to cope’ icing) and eat it too: there was only so much federal funding to go around. Just three months after the Youth Conference met, Nixon launched a drug war that framed drug users not as alienated youths whose addiction was caused by inhabiting a fundamentally inequitable society, but as criminals attacking the moral fiber of the nation, people who deserved only incarceration and punishment.

Alienated Youth or Vicious Criminal?

Long before William Bennett wrote that the root cause of crime was moral poverty (and well after Richmond Hobson called drug users the vampires of society), Nixon was chewing on the same meaty ideas, privileging the view that drug abusers were criminals and decreasing social welfare funding would therefore attack the root causes of drug abuse. This criminalization of drug users launched a trend; Nixon’s was one of the last administrations to spend more on prevention and treatment than law enforcement and nearly every administration since (with the exception of Jimmy Carter’s) worked to increase the division between prevention and enforcement spending. This division has become the core of our modern war on drugs. After all, why finance a war on poverty when there’s a politically popular war against crime to fund?

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