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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More Dispatches from Buffalo: Popular Culture and the Drug Wars

Editors’ Note: This is the third and final of Michael Durfee’s reports from the recent ADHS conference.  We’re grateful to him for his thoughtful blog posts–hopefully this won’t be the last Points readers hear from Michael.  Read his first two conference dispatches here and here.

Popular Culture and the Drug Wars

On Sunday, a group of enterprising graduate students presented portions of their dissertation’s in progress to those interested in the often overlapping worlds of popular culture and the war on drugs.  Robert Beach adjusted our gaze to the subculture of comic books and superhero’s, chronicling the work of Earl Albert Rowell, a relatively obscure San Francisco based writer and anti-drug lecturer.  Rowell created a superhero named David Dare, cast as a globe-trotting anti-narcotics crusader.  In one tale, Dare is on the trail of morphine peddlers.  In another, Dare finds himself at the locus of all evil and depravity—the marijuana den.  Most interesting however, proved Beach’s assessment of the emergence of the comic book superhero.  For Beach, the superhero came to light amidst a host of institutional crisis addressed in superhero crusades: Police officers, for example, continuously fought the stigma of corruption; doctors often fought against their association with quacks and other apocryphal practitioners. Most notably, the federal government‘s enforcers, embodied in the Prohibition agents of the era, seemed to highlight the inability of national governments to legislate recreational activities.  All told, superhero’s like David Dare served as vehicles to criticize institutional failure and correct the complicated problems mortal human beings simply could not manage themselves.
Following Beach’s treatment of David Dare, I presented on the often overlooked role of Len Bias in the crack panic of 1986.  Continue reading →