The Wire at Ten– Jack Halberstam, “The King Stay the King”

Editor’s Note: “The Wire at Ten” has thus far featured posts on drugs and the “human ecology” of the show (Stan Corkin, Cincinnati), its logic of “subordination” (Sergio Campos, Miami), and the way it departs form the televisual crime genre norms laid out in the 1970s and ’80s (Carlo Rotella, Boston College).  Today we take a different tack and welcome Jack Halberstam, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Halberstam is the author of, among other canonical texts of queer studies, Female Masculinity (Duke, 1998), The Queer Art of Failure (Duke, 2011) and Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2012).  Currently working on a book on Queer Anarchism, he is also a founder of and contributor to Bully Bloggers.

In my recent book Gaga Feminism, I turn to The Wire for wisdom about power, gender relations, sex and violence. If you know where to look,

Omar and Brandon, Season 1

you can find pieces of gaga feminism, gaga-ideology strewn throughout this acclaimed HBO series. Filled with life lessons and hard knock truths about “the game,” or the perpetual struggle between the law and those people it fails to protect, the street and those people who are sacrificed upon it, professions and those people who learn how to work their success while engineering everyone else’s failure, this series has more to say about the inertia of race and class relations in the US than anything else in TV ever.

Set in Baltimore over in five glorious seasons, The Wire explores the warfare between drug dealers and drug addicts, between detectives and city hall, between the fine shades of right and the nuanced areas of wrong. And all of these epic, Shakespearian dramas play out against the backdrop of school, kinship, intimacy, homoerotic bonding, lesbian parenting, divorce, alcoholism, courage, love and loss.

Unlike recent “gay positive” sit-com fare like The New Normal or Modern Family, The Wire does not feel the need to situate its gay, lesbian or queer characters on the side of the right, the good and the true. It does not seek to correct negative images and it does not idealize or unnecessarily heroize those characters, or any characters, along the way. Instead, The Wire gives us magnificently complex, contradictory, flawed queer characters who, like everyone else in the series, kill, maim, struggle, fight and die.

Read more

CFP: Big Events, Substance Use and Interventions — A Global Perspective

Editor’s Note:  Stan Einstein, editor of the journal Substance Use and Misuse, sends along the following call for papers and notice of a special issue. The journal Substance Use and Misuse is soliciting abstracts for a special issue exploring “Big Events, Substance Use and Interventions: A Global Perspective.”  The term “big events” is sometimes called “complex …

Read more

Java Coca and the Dutch Narcotics Industry: An Almost Forgotten 20th C. History of Drugs Story

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome the return of guest blogger  Toine Pieters, Descartes Institute for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences, Utrecht University, who wrote memorably about the use of “sewage epidemiology” as a tool for tracking drug use a few weeks ago.  His post today is slightly more conventional, but no less cutting-edge.

This is a corrected version of the original post. Thanks to Hans Bosman and Toine Pieters for working out the edits and amendations. –eds.
 
The Great Seal of the Dutch East India Company

For most of us coca and cocaine production and distribution is synonymous with Latin American drugs cartels and Colombian drug lords. It is also common knowledge that Britain and other European empires ruled the waves during the 19th century opium wars and up to the 1920s did everything to frustrate the American-led war against drugs. Only those who read Joseph Spillane’s Cocaine: from Medical Marvel to Modern Menace  (2000) may remember that by far the most successful alternative coca growing venture outside Latin America before 1945 was in the Dutch East Indies on the island of Java. Spillane briefly mentions that Dutch colonial coca production began to dominate the global markets in the1910s and crowded South American producers from these markets. It is not farfetched to argue that the Dutch were the drug lords of the interbellum and continued to play a prominent position in the global narcotics industry after World War II.

Up until recently we knew relatively little about the halcyon days of Dutch drug production and trade. But on November 8 the 82 year old former employee of the Dutch Cocaine Factory (NCF), Hans Bosman, defended his thesis on ‘The history of the Nederlandsche Cocaine Fabriek and its successors as manufacturers of narcotic drugs, analysed from an international perspective’ at Maastricht University.

NCF factory 1909, reproduced with courtesy from Hans Bosman’s thesis p. 124
NCF Factory 1909, reproduced with courtesy from Hans Bosman’s thesis

From the 1860s until the turn of the century Peru was the major source by far of the raw  materials for cocaine: coca leaves and later on also crude cocaine. The coca leaves were used in Europe and the US for the popular cocaine-containing elixirs and tonics. Cultivation of the coca plant was attempted in a number of countries outside South America, notably on Java and Ceylon. In 1875 the Botanical Garden of Buitenzorg introduced two coca plants on the island of Java, which was at that time part of the Netherlands East Indies. Java coca had a high total alkaloid content but was initially rejected by cocaine manufacturers as a raw material. Java coca contained mainly secondary coca-alkaloids and the direct yield of cocaine from the leaves was low. Chewing Java coca leaves did not evoke the same energizing sensation as Peruvian coca.

Read more

Points Interview — Frank Priestley

Editor’s Note:  British beer brewer, Frank Priestley, in this engaging author’s interview, tells us a little about his new book, The Brewer’s Tale:  Memoirs of a Master Brewer (Merlin Unwin Books, 2010). 

1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

After leaving school, I started work in a brewery almost by accident.  Of the three jobs available to me, the brewery seemed the least objectionable.  However, I very quickly realised how very lucky I was to be working there.  It was like joining an extended family.  There was a wonderful atmosphere of friendship and co-operation.  Of course, in those days, all the breweries that I worked in were ‘wet’.  That is, a beer allowance was available to the men who wanted it – a couple of pints a shift.  Some men managed to drink more and some drank less.  The work was hard but the job always got finished.  And then there were the characters – The Irishman on the loading bay who, however busy they were, would say, “When the good Lord made time, He made plenty of it.”  And Wee Jock in the cask shed, who was from Glasgow and no-one could understand his accent.  And Big Jock from The Isles whose cap rotated round his head, depending on how much he had had to drink.  There were many such characters, very many, and when I was made redundant after twenty years service, I missed them grievously.  I never found another job in a brewery but consoled myself by studying the history of the public house (which will be the subject of my next book).  I find the practical research very rewarding.  However, I still think back to those days in the breweries, “where, between those precious pints, there was conversation and songs, friendship and jokes, music and laughter and such magic that sober men could never dream of.” 

2.  What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The history of the brewing industry forms a significant part of this book.

Read more

The Wire at Ten: Stanley Corkin, Drugs and The Ecology of the Ghetto

Editor’s Note: Following up on Sergio Campos’s meditation on the narrative manifestations of “subordination” in HBO’s The Wire, Points today welcomes Stanley Corkin of the University of Cincinnati’s English Department.  Recipient of a PhD in American Studies from NYU in the days before that school was fashionable (full disclosure: I was an undergraduate there at the same time, but our cronyism remained nascent until just recently), Corkin is the author of Starring New York: Filming the Grime and Glamour of the Long 1970s (Oxford, 2011) and Cowboys as Cold Warriors: The Western and U.S. History (Temple,2004). His post today is drawn from his forthcoming book, The Wire: Space, Race, and the Wonders of Post-Industrial Baltimore (Texas, 2013).

How you expect to run with the wolves come night, when you spend all day sporting wit’ the puppies?
— Omar, Season Four

Over its five seasons, The Wire, among other things, delineated the terms of ghetto life in Baltimore, showing us in dramatic detail a self-contained sector of West Baltimore, a world defined by the term “hyper-segregation,” which references class as well as race.

caption
“Key Factors Effecting the Elasticity of Demand Include What?”

In such a self-contained space, overall wealth tends to be finite: if someone is getting more, then someone else is getting less. And in that world of restricted space and opportunity, the drug trade stands at the center of economic activity, since only illicit commerce can thrive in a place that is so geographically isolated. This limit of commodity and geographic market sets up a fierce and violent competition for both status and wealth.  As even Stringer Bell learns, it’s not just about product, it’s also about corners, since even a superior product cannot find its market if it has no access to those who would buy it. In such a vision of a specific and constrained environment, it is no surprise that eventually the emphasis of the show moves toward a neo-Social Darwininism through its exploration of the contours of human ecology within the spaces of West Baltimore.

This focus takes many forms. In the picturesque quote above, Omar explains how he feels about “finding” a bag of heroin when he’s out looking for Honey Nut Cheerios.  He expresses disappointment at the ease of his acquisition, elaborating further, “It’s not what you take, but who you take it from.”  As one who has dedicated his life to feeding off of those who feed off others, Omar’s assertion shows his attention to the “food chain:” he seeks to feed at its highest point. 

Read more

Desperate Mothers, Only Sons: The ‘Moral Reformation’ of China’s Internet Addicted Youth

I am writing this blog post from the 2012 World Cyber Games in Kunshan, China. This international competition for professional digital gaming, also known as e-sports, is an interesting setting from which to contemplate Chinese government efforts to draw strict divisions between nationally sanctioned e-sports and “unhealthy” and “addictive” Internet games.  Indeed, during the press …

Read more