Breaking Blog

Editor’s Note: We here at Points are happy to welcome back guest blogger Ross Aikins, a self-proclaimed sports-nerd, journalist, teacher, and postdoctoral fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York City.  A recent PhD from UCLA’s School of Education, Ross blogs at Today, he provides us with a meditation on one of television’s great drug-related programs, Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad might be the greatest TV show ever about drugs.  And it’s about to end[1].

For those not familiar, Breaking Bad is an exceptionally high-quality AMC drama about a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who, after discovering that he has terminal cancer, resorts to cooking meth in order to provide for his family’s future.  His (literal) partner in crime is Jesse Pinkman, a former student of Walter’s and amateur meth-maker.  Needless to say, the story gets complicated from there. You can read a fuller synopsis here.

What you need to know about Breaking Bad is that it is a critical hit, having won Emmys to date.  It’s days are numbered, though, as it’s just entered the halfway mark of its fifth and final season that concludes next year[2].

Drugs, meet television. Television, drugs.

Now read that completely loaded first sentence again and consider the pedantic lunacy of what I’m about to argue.  What does it mean to be a qualitatively “great” show?  And what makes a show “about drugs” anyway?  Granted, these are hopelessly subjective classifications, but this is a drug history blog. For the sake of argument, let’s consider the entire history of television within our purview.  I’ll respond to those two questions in reverse order.

  1. A show is “about drugs” either if its central plot revolves around drugs or if the main characters are addicts, dealers, cops, an anthropomorphic pothead talking towel[3], or otherwise primarily involved in the drug trade.

A good “about drugs” litmus test would be if somebody who had never seen a particular show were to ask an ardent fan “what’s that show about?”  The first words in any credible response would have to include “drugs.”  Lots of people love Sons of Anarchy, where drugs are a recurrent theme.  But SOA fails that test since it is primarily about “biker gangs.”  Similarly, The Sopranos is about a mafia family.

This is Jessie Spano on drugs. She’s so excited…

A show is also not “about drugs” if drugs or addiction are only an occasional subplot or multi-episode arc.  For example, just because Jessie Spano was hooked on pep pills and The Pointer Sisters does not make “Saved By the Bell” a show about drugs.  Same goes for the time Roger Sterling dropped acid[4], or the time Homer Simpson ate a hallucinogenic chili pepper

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Feminism and Addiction– An Interview with Sandra Morgen

Sandra Morgen

Editor’s Note: In my ongoing attempt to locate a Second Wave Feminist discourse on women’s substance abuse and addiction, I turned to the Women’s Health Movement– a logical place, it would seem, to find the issues conceptualized as public health problems with disproportionate effects on women and children.  How did the Women’s Health  Movement think about addiction? To answer the question, I interviewed Sandra Morgen, author of Into Our Own Hands: The Women’s Health Movement in the United States, 1969-1990, about her experiences–both as a participant and as a researcher–in that movement.

For the benefit of people who haven’t read your book, can you explain your interest— personal and scholarly—in the Women’s Health Movement (WHM)?

I was involved in various forms of civil rights and anti-war activism in the late 1960s and then, in the early 1970s, began working with early women’s groups, including a socialist-feminist group in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was a graduate student.  I was also personally affected by the emerging politics of women’s health in a number of ways.  One of the important early insights of feminism, “the personal is political,” helped me take what felt like a giant step back then— to combine my interest in anthropology (I was a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill) with my growing interest in and commitment to women’s health and women’s reproductive justice.  I identified a community-based feminist clinic in the northeastern U.S  to join as a researcher, but before I got there they underwent a huge political crisis and decided they did not want an outsider in their midst just then.  I set about to find another clinic to study, and although there were dozens of possibilities, my choices were somewhat limited because my interest in race and class, along with gender and sexuality, directed me to the smaller group of clinics that served a broad client base, including women of color and poor and working class women. (Quite a number of feminist clinics, especially in university towns, attracted a more politicized, middle-class and white client base. ) So I bought the Amtrak equivalent of a Eurail pass and travelled around to about twenty clinics on the east coast trying to find a site that served a diverse population and was open to researchers.

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