Points on Blogs: The Quack Doctor

The “Points on Blogs” feature takes a bit of a break this week, offering a quick look at The Quack Doctor, a blog published by Caroline Rance.  Caroline is a writer of historical fiction, whose first novel (Kill-Grief) has recently been published, and who describes The Quack Doctor as follows:

I started The Quack Doctor as a useful way of categorising some notes I’d made about patent remedies in history – but it turned out that lots of other people liked to read about them too! The featured items are mainly from 19th-century British and US newspapers, but there are a few 18th- and 20th-century ones too. There are also occasional adverts for cosmetics, and some for products that were considered orthodox medicine in their time. Inclusion on the site doesn’t mean I’m necessarily condemning a product as ‘quackery’ – any medical advertising counts, and sometimes I post about more general history of medicine topics too.

Visitors to the site will find a legion of entertaining entries, like this post on “Habitina: An Infallible Remedy for Addiction” (produced in the United States between 1906 and 1912, and consisting primarily of morphine!).  There’s even an interesting post on Tucker’s Asthma Specific, a cocaine-based asthma cure I ran across in the course of research cocaine’s early history. Caroline tells me a few things I did not know about Tucker’s Asthma Specific, including that it was sold in the UK as well as in the United States, and that the company continued operations until 1959 (despite the making of their product having been declared a violation of the Harrison Act by 1915).  Very odd!  Makes me want to investigate further.

Tucker's Asthma Specific

Of course, not many of the posts deal directly with questions of addiction (though the blog is helpfully organized so that you can find them pretty readily).  Most simply bring the reader back into the world of patent medicines and medical promotion in the U.S. and England. 

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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.

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Dealing with “Weeds”

Weeds' Drug-Dealing Protagonist, Nancy Botwin: Probably Not Calling the Cable Company

Every year, around July or August, I subscribe to Showtime specifically to watch Weeds, the season finale of which aired on Monday. I’ll call and cancel my subscription after I’ve drained the maximum entertainment value from the $15 Showtime adds to my cable bill each month by re-watching the whole season, binge-style, OnDemand. If I can do it before this billing cycle ends, I might even re-watch the entire series, which I own in its entirety on DVD. At this point, you probably think I’m a crazy person (or at least an obsessive), and you may be correct in that assessment, generally. But in my Weeds watching, at least, I’m just an ex-grad student.

The First Drug Dealing Novel (Want to Fight About It?)

Weeds played a prominent role in my 2008 M.A. thesis, and I’ve allowed it an equally prominent spot in my TV schedule (and effect on my wallet) ever since. I began my thesis by tracing the origins of what I call “drug dealing narratives” or “the drug dealing genre” from proto-generic tales of the opium-laced “white slave trade” to the genre’s first true inhabitant, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, published in 1925 (reasonable people may disagree on this contention, but I’d like to see a full-on fight in the comments section; throw the first punch, and I’ll hit back). But the jewels in the thesis’ 150 page crown are discussions of the ways in which the genre changed when it moved to the small screen with the advent of television dealing narratives: namely, The Wire (2002 – 2008) and Weeds (2005 – present).

Writing about The Wire makes for great conversation filler and arguably led to my future employment in drug law reform. But, while no doubt David Simon made the more complex, politically challenging, and intellectually stimulating series, Jenji Kohan’s Weeds was not only more fun to write about but, to my mind, suffers mainly from its frequent comparisons to its more “authentic” generic predecessor (on which Weeds actually comments in the Season 7 episode “Object Impermanence;” Pablo Schreiber, Nick Sobotka on The Wire, also played Nancy’s supplier and main love interest this season). Most importantly, though, Weeds did a much better job of proving my argument.

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Michelle Bachman, Gardasil, and the Politics of Experience

Editor’s note: Contributing Editor Joe Gabriel’s fantastic “ripped-from-the-headlines” post appeared earlier this week, only to be buried by even more timely content on “The Stoned Ages.”  We’ve put it at the top of the page again so it can enjoy the adulation it deserves.

Ask Your Governor about Gardasil

I’ve been following the recent controversy over Gardasil with quite a bit of interest. As you probably know by now, the Gardasil vaccine was developed by the pharmaceutical firm Merck & Company to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the most commonly spread sexually trasmitted diseases in the United States. In 2007, after it had been on the market for about a year, Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring that all sixth-grade girls in Texas receive the vaccine. (He can do that – he’s the governor of the state.) Everyone flipped out, for various reasons, and the Texas legislature passed a law revoking the order.

The whole episode was filled with drama and theatrics, but the hoopla seemed to have died down until Perry entered the presidential race. Michelle Bachman, bless her twisted heart, latched onto the issue and accused Perry of pushing the vaccine at the behest of Merck–which, as it turns out, doesn’t seem that implausible, given that his former chief of staff was once a lobbyist for the company. It looks like there may have been a lot of money involved in the decision after all, though of course it is difficult to know about such things from the outside.

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Freaky Friday: *Go Ask Alice* Forty Years Later

Editor’s Note: Former Contributing Editor, now Esteemed Guest Blogger Brian Herrera reminds us all what to do when logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.  His meditation is cross-posted from his Performations blog.

Anonymous was a Woman (Named Beatrice Sparks)

Forty years ago, Go Ask Alice was published.  In the intervening years, it has remained in print and on library shelves, garnering new readers while also sustaining the notoriety that has followed it since its initial publication. Indeed, in each of the past two decades, Go Ask Alice has ranked among the top twenty-five “most challenged” books as noted by the American Library Association. For better and for worse, then, Go Ask Alice continues to be read, continues to be challenged, and continues to shape the cultural narrative about adolescent experience of drugs, addiction and recovery.

Go Ask Alice is a teenaged girl’s diary that purports to detail the actual “Anonymous” author’s naive experimentation with drugs, as well as her subsequent addiction and the fleeting promise of recovery. As an ostensibly authentic teen diary, rendered “more or less exempt from the regular kind of literary criticism since it was supposedly the diary of a deceased young girl” (Nilsen, 109), the prose is dotted with idiosyncratic “teen” syntax (marked by a predisposition toward emphatic capitalizations). As she narrates her story, the narrator indulges what one commentator describes as “every available sort of self-destruction short of joining the Manson family” (Moss).

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Call for Papers: Drugs and Drink in Asia

Editor’s Note: We’re posting a just-issued call for papers for a conference (“Drugs and Drink in Asia: New Perspectives from History”) to be held at Shanghai University through the David F. Musto Center for Drug Policy Studies.  As one of the conference organizers, I’d like to invite readers to recall Prof. Musto himself.  Doubtless he’d …

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Teaching Points: “Narcotic Hedonism: American Drug Use”– Commentary on the Class

Editor’s Note: In the second part of their contribution to the “Teaching Points” series, Wesleyan University seniors Robert Echeverria and Siddhanth Issar meditate on the challenges and promises of a peer-led pedagogy of alcohol and drugs history.  The syllabus for their class on “Narcotic Hedonism” appeared yesterday.

“Hello Professors Echeverria & Issar.”
“We’re not professors. It’s just Rob & Sid.”

SOC420: Rob and Sid, Wesleyan '12

Having taught a class before, we expected it. Students come to believe that if you can put together a syllabus and demand a certain amount of work, you actually have the knowledge and authority to be at the head of the classroom. Sid & I saw things differently; we were teaching this class because it was something that we wanted to learn about that the faculty wasn’t offering. The turnout for the class really showed us just how much interest surrounds taboo topics such as drug use.

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The Stoned Ages

Editor’s Note: This early posting on the HNN documentary “The Stoned Ages,” does not discuss the show’s content.  For commentary and analysis of the show, and a few links for further reading, click here. Programming alert! Tomorrow evening (Wednesday, September 21) at 9 PM, the History Channel will broadcast a one-hour special program on drug …

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