“Crack is Wack”: The Crack Era Narrative of Keith Haring

ImageToday, a two-sided mural painted over a handball court stands at 128th Street and 2nd Avenue in East Harlem.  Demonstrably overlooking busy FDR Drive, the mural reminds all onlookers that “Crack is Wack,” standing as a monument, or perhaps a relic of a different time.  The story of the mural, as well as its artist, tell us much about the historical context of the Crack Era. 

ImageThe parable of the “Crack is Wack” mural and Keith Haring might aptly begin with its inception in 1986, a pivotal year—the pivotal year in the trajectory of crack, urban spaces, and their residents.  On this day, Haring’s legitimate international career as an artist mattered little.  Because of his location and the medium of his work, Haring found himself constructed as a criminal, or at the very least, a public nuisance.  Before he finished, Haring found himself slapped with a summons by a surly policeman tired of punks defacing public property.  Haring ended up paying a $25 fine for disorderly conduct.  Then, a funny thing happened.  The ordeal helped Haring towards his goal, that of added publicity and awareness to his anti-crack message. 

More than likely, the officer in question neglected to read the message of Haring’s mural nor did he consider the artist’s considerable thought behind its location.  Haring must have been just another resentful youth tagging public property for no good reason.  In reality, Haring picked the relatively deserted site because of its visibility to thousands of motorists driving into Manhattan from the Bronx, upstate New York, and New England—many of them less familiar with the devastation wrought by crack and the exigencies of the era.  Later Haring acknowledged his strategy explaining, “the wall Imagelooks like a big billboard on the highway, it’s perfect for painting.”  Much like various grassroots, New York based, anti-crack crusaders, Keith Haring sought to increase awareness of a major neighborhood problem by speaking to folks within and without the confines of Harlem.  Continue reading

The Tobacco Census v. “Ffrauds and Mischiefs”

Editor’s Note: Featured is another installment in our occasional series of fascinating cross-postings from the blogs published by various libraries and archives. Today’s post comes from Out of the Box: Notes from the Archives @ The Library of Virginia, and was authored by Sarah Nerney, senior local records archivist. 

Virginia’s agricultural production, as well as its economy, was dominated by tobacco for over three centuries, ever since John Rolfe sent his first shipment of tobacco to England in 1614. Growth of the Virginia colony and extension into the interior meant more soil and larger crops of tobacco. Despite the continuous growth in production, the tobacco trade was plagued by falling prices and decreased quality. By the 1720s, tobacco exports included large quantities of inferior product that even included shipments of “trash” tobacco—shipments that diluted tobacco leaves with foreign substances such as household sweepings. Consequently the price of tobacco sank so low that many planters struggled to recover production costs.

Tobacco growing in the streets of Jamestown. From Robert K. Heimann, Tobacco and Americans (1960). Image courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.

Tobacco growing in the streets of Jamestown. From Robert K. Heimann, Tobacco and Americans (1960). Image courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.

In 1723 Virginia’s General Assembly passed the first of its Tobacco Acts that attempted to control the quantity and quality of tobacco grown in the colony because it was believed that “most of the ffrauds [sic] and mischiefs which have been complained of in the Tobacco Trade” had arisen from the “planting on land not proper for producing good Tobacco” and the production of “greater Crops than the persons employed therein are able duly to tend.” The 1723 act established limits on the number of plants that certain classes of persons could grow with slave owners being allowed fewer plants. Each vestry of every parish had to appoint two people every year to count the number of plants being grown and report the numbers to the clerk of court by the month of August. Any number of plants over the allowed number were to be destroyed by the planter or, if the planter would not, by the counters. The act of 1729 provided various adjustments to and elaborations on the 1723 act. (For full text of the acts see The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 20, pp. 158-178.)

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The Book of Smoke

Editor’s Note: This cross-posting is part of a series featuring items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo collection recently acquired by Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Thanks to rare book cataloger Ryan Wheeler for producing the original post at Houghton’s Modern Books and Manuscripts blog.

The opium dens prevalent in France and the United States during the 19th century, as well as the culture surrounding them, resulted in copious literature, such as this rarely-seen work: Le livre de la fumée, by French author, musicologist, and student of Chinese culture Louis Laloy. This treatise on opium’s use and history both domestically and in China features a preface by Claude Farrère, author of the novel Fumée d’opium. It was published in 1915 by Dorbon-Ainé in a lavish limited edition of 220 numbered copies with illustrations throughout.

Fumee-1-largeThe Santo Domingo Collection includes several of the 220 copies; the one shown here is bound in full tan morocco with gilt stamping and embroidered cloth endsheets by the French bindery Marius Michel. The binding preserves the publisher’s original wrappers, themselves sumptuously illustrated in color.

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Harvard Library Highlights Drug-Themed Santo Domingo Collection

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Some light reading for the Alpen retreat. See Houghton Library for more on the book’s provenance.

An American “hygienic physiology” textbook of 1888 subtitled “with special reference to the use of alcoholic drinks and narcotics.” Adolf Hitler’s copy of Kokain, a German translation of Cocaina, the 1921 narco-novel written by Dino Segre under his pseudonym Pitigrilli. A 1973 “psychedelic guide to preparation of the Eucharist in a few of its many guises” published in Austin, Texas, combining spiritual and biochemical instructions in the use of mescaline and other hallucinogens.

These items suggest the breadth of the more than 50,000 pieces in the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection, now stored at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. The bulk of the collection focuses on the production, use, representation, and study of drugs. Santo Domingo (1958–2009) was an investment advisor who became a full-time collector, acquiring material from 19th-century French literature to 21st -century comics. His family placed his collection of books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, audio materials, and films on long-term deposit at Harvard last year.

This year the librarians combing through the collection have been displaying intriguing discoveries on Houghton’s Modern Books and Manuscripts blog. In coming weeks, Points will be cross-posting a number of such entries, as part of an occasional series highlighting recent acquisitions, discoveries, and announcements in various archives.

Houghton librarians emphasized that the Santo Domingo collection enriches and greatly expands Harvard’s holdings on psychoactive drugs and their physical and social effects—from cultivation and synthesis to the myriad cultural and counter-cultural products linked to altered states of mind.

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The Points Interview — Peter Ferentzy and Nigel E. Turner

Editor’s Note:  Authors Peter Ferentzy and Nigel E. Turner describe their new book, The History of Problem Gambling: Temperance, Substance Abuse, Medicine, and Metaphors (Springer, 2012) in today’s Points interview. 

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

Ferentzy-Turner-coverNT & PF:  Our book examines how the idea of gambling as a disease came into existence and how that concept changed over time. We point out two current disease models – the public health and the chronic disease model – and explore their roots. We also explore the metaphoric utilities of these models, examining what these metaphors both can reveal and can hide about the concept. The idea that metaphors reveal and hide information is important. It is not always recognized that how one categorizes a phenomenon affects how it is understood. This is true for all categorization but perhaps more so for mental health phenomena. Viewing gambling problems as a chronic disease harbors the implication that the disorder is difficult to overcome, that it is not the person’s fault, and that it obligates lifelong abstinence for those who are vulnerable as the only viable approach to the disorder. If on the other hand we view gambling as a public health problem the focus shifts to the game and the administration of gambling, rather than the gambler. Now, issues relating to the game’s availability, its design, and the role of public health policy in addressing the problem rise in salience. The public health perspective shifts attention to prevention and self-control, rather than abstinence per se. Our book discusses how both models also hide facts about the disorder. It’s important to be aware of the metaphors one is using and not mistake metaphors for literal truths. Otherwise they can become a mental trap preventing one from understanding the reality of the phenomenon. We examine how metaphors associated with problem gambling have changed over time.

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

NT: The book brings together a number of ideas from disciplines that have not interacted very much in the past. Continue reading

Medicine or Vacation? Selling addiction treatment, circa last century

If, like me, you’ve spent the past several years studying the history of addiction treatment, then you might know why I can’t look at beachy treatment ads—they tend to resemble the image below— without thinking about the work of William L. White, the prolific addiction professional and historian.

Addiction Ends in Malibu

Addiction Ends in Malibu?

White’s book, Slaying the Dragon, is a canonical text on the history of addiction treatment in the United States. While Slaying was written to give addiction professionals a sense of their own history, the book is also an essential starting point for any scholar who first approaches the subject. Early on, White describes the “rise and fall of inebriate homes and asylums.” At the turn of the twentieth century, White writes, “a national network of addiction treatment programs was born, was professionalized, and then disappeared—all within the span of a few decades.” In his analysis of the dissolution of the early addiction treatment industry, White finds parallels with the precarious position of treatment providers today: a motley of institutional models for addiction treatment, conflicting professional interpretations regarding the nature of addiction, and unreliable political support.

One parallel is evident in contemporary treatment ads. While a combination of forces led to the decline of treatment centers a little less than a century ago, one of the most salient factors, it seems to me, was the economics of Gilded Age addiction treatment. Despite significant changes in theories of addiction, drug policy, and treatment trends over the course of the last century, the pitch for ritzy, private treatment centers has remained remarkably faithful to its early rhetoric.

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Call for Authors — Alcohol: Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives

SAGE Reference is seeking authors for some of the 550 entries in a new work entitled Alcohol: Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives, which seeks to go beyond the United States and beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to examine alcohol as a cultural and social phenomenon dating to the earliest days of humankind. This comprehensive project, edited by Scott C. Martin of Bowling Green State University, will be marketed to academic and public libraries as a printed book and as a digital product available to students via the library’s electronic services. Assignments are being made with a deadline of August 16, 2013. For a list of available articles and submission guidelines, contact Joseph Golson at alcohol@golsonmedia.com, providing your CV or a brief summary of your academic/publishing credentials in related disciplines.

China’s Drug War, Part I: The Mekong Incident

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CCTV interview prior to execution. Caption: “Their pain (referring to the mothers of the dead bargemen) is the same as mine.”

On February 28, 2013, the People’s Republic of China executed the Myanmese (Burmese) drug trafficker, Naw Kham (Ch. Nuo Kang 糯康, Th. Jai Norkham), and three associates for the 2011 murder of thirteen Chinese boatmen.[1] What was notable about this particular capital case was the preceding live broadcast where cameras followed Naw Kham in his last hours until moments before his execution by lethal injection.

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Xinmin.cn 湄公河惨案主犯糯康等四人在云南执行死刑 March 1, 2013

The state media CCTV footage, excerpts of which are available online, can seem slightly surreal. A little before his execution, the prisoner is shown in what looks like an office waiting room surrounded by fruit and snacks as if he were a guest. However, he is shown seated, facing what seems to be a large pink vomit bucket—an aberrant reminder of his impending fate. In the aftermath of the broadcasts, several human rights organizations as well as Chinese netizens criticized the state’s handling of this execution.

Although the human rights and capital punishment aspects of this case have been the objects of critical scrutiny, the international relations and substance policy issues have received far less attention in the media. The execution of four foreign traffickers, as well as the unprecedented multinational manhunt leading up to their arrest arguably represents the culmination of a ramped up Chinese war on drugs that is being waged domestically and, increasingly, internationally.

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The Points Interview — Todd Meyers

Editor’s note: Points welcomes Todd Meyers, a medical anthropologist at Wayne State University, to discuss his new book, The Clinic and Elsewhere: Addiction, Adolescents, and the Afterlife of Therapy (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013).

meyers front cover1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The book tells the story of a small group of teenagers (some quite young) who abuse opiates (heroin, prescription painkillers) as well as other drugs, and what drug dependency treatment was like for them. I met most of them during their time at a residential drug treatment center in Baltimore – a treatment center that, oddly enough, was once a monastery. I was fool enough to attempt following them around for long periods of time to gain an appreciation of how addiction and treatment ­took shape in their lives – how these two “modes” (drug dependency and its treatment) blur in unexpected ways. And that’s really one of the key arguments of the book – that clinical activities and thought reach into this thing we call “the social” and vice versa, thus the title of the book, The Clinic and Elsewhere. All of the kids I followed were treated with a relatively new pharmaceutical therapy (buprenorphine) for withdrawal and replacement therapy, and I followed that treatment process through their time in residential care and back into their homes or other institutional environments. The book is simultaneously about the new pharmaceutical therapy itself – tracing its development and approval as a new treatment modality. The book is a bit theoretical (what are the experiential dimensions of therapeutics? of patienthood? of success and failure of medical intervention? of concern? etc.) and a bit straight storytelling (that is to say, it’s ethnographic, through I’m becoming less and less satisfied with the salience of ethnography as both the technology and product of fieldwork). I attempted, at times clumsily, to make sense of treatment and addiction alongside these kids and their families as they themselves struggled with its meaning.

That’s probably what I’d say.  But in full disclosure, the last time I had a conversation with a bartender it began with hearing how he makes his own bitters from plants in his hydroponic garden and ended with him describing his thesis project (something about lactose fermentation and legal aspects of local food production), so I don’t think the book would be much of a stretch.  In fact, that’s part of my effort – to present work in conceptual terms that is not completely foreign to a broad readership (though not to water things down by any means, keeping with the bartender analogy) – and at the same time I have tried to write against the anticipated trope of marginality. That last part is probably the hardest to convey convincingly. The book is not a series of reworked scenes from The Wire but instead attempts to demonstrate the slow, at times banal, at other times brutal ways in which both addiction and treatment take hold within the domain of individual experience (contrasting a perspective where treatment neutralizes addiction uniformly, or that the experience of treatment is largely unvaried).     Continue reading

The Long, Proud Tradition of the Fourth of July Buzzkill

Celebratory drinking has fueled Fourth of July festivity from its inception in the years following 1776, when double rum-rations for the troops, endless toasts at formal dinners, and makeshift booze-stalls at public gatherings became norms. And it was not long before high-minded patriots began to worry over the excesses of republican revelry. Before the Fourth of July oration itself became well established, there emerged within and alongside it a recognizable (if unnamed) theme in Independence Day rhetoric: the identification of that very day’s public drunkenness with whatever was ailing the republic.

All was not well in this republic.

All was not well in 1837.

Over the years, Independence Day jeremiads have taken numerous forms, from grim warnings about public health and morals, to wry satire of overzealous exceptionalism, to the ferocious indictment of national shortcomings. Many have focused on intoxication as the essential expression of decay, of hypocrisy, even of delusion.

Complaints begin with the sheer recklessness of the traditional program of events. Continue reading