Drugs on the Small Screen

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest contributor Michael Brownrigg. Enjoy!

It is often said that we are in the midst of a new golden age of television. A remarkable abundance of compelling stories and indelible characters on the small screen has captivated American audiences, fostering new trends in how and where we consume visual media. It seems that everything these days is must-see TV. The small screen’s renaissance has occurred in the wake of cinema’s so-called “death,” in which quality and experimental content has largely yielded to commercial imperatives, consequently impoverishing the cinematic experience once considered transcendent.

Yet while the surfeit of quality television is striking, so too is the prevalence of representations of drug use available for our viewing pleasure. Indeed, drugs of all kinds, licit and illicit, are more than mere props in recent popular programs, but dynamic characters with the capacity to propel and shift plotlines and enrich visual narratives. Below I briefly examine the integral role of drugs in two critically-acclaimed television programs: Mr. Robot and Fear the Walking Dead. Although significantly different in subject matter, each show depicts American society on the cusp of historic change and situates the addict at the center of stories of structural transformation (or disintegration). While this small sampling only begins to reveal the prominent place of drugs in our visual culture, I hope to draw attention to contemporary assumptions about drug addiction embedded in the imagery that reach millions of Americans on numerous platforms.

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The Points Interview: Barbara W. Grossman

The fifth installment of the Points Interview takes us on our first venture into biography as a dimension of drugs history.  Here, we talk with Barbara Wallace Grossman, author of A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the American Stage (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009).  The work tells the story of the actress Clara Morris, whose morphine addiction is just one dimension of a remarkable, turbulent, and compelling life.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the American Stage (Southern IllinoisBook cover of Spectacle of Suffering University Press, 2009) is the story of a remarkable person and grew out of my ongoing interest in documenting the lives of women who shaped American theater history. Having written a book about Fanny Brice – someone who worked hard, played hard, and left very little primary source material behind – I wanted to find a woman in theater who had kept a diary. A former student doing research at Schlesinger Library in Cambridge (Massachusetts) told me about an actress whose 54-volume diary was housed there. After spending several weeks reading the first few volumes, I knew I had the subject of my next book – a project that took almost 14 years to complete! It chronicles the turbulent life and career of actress, author and feminist Clara Morris (1847-1925)

Largely forgotten today, Clara Morris (1847-1925) was one of the most renowned stars of her time, known as “America’s Greatest Actress,” the “Queen of the American Stage” and the “Empress of Emotional Acting.” Her mesmerizing performances riveted audiences as much as her tabloid-worthy antics intrigued them. Using Morris’s diary, memoirs, novels and short stories, as well as countless newspaper articles and secondary sources, I worked hard to present her story in an objective, yet compelling way.Read More »