Police, Media, Power
NYU Press 2016
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in CommunicationsNew Books in JournalismNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books in Sociology March 15, 2017 Marshall Poe
If all you knew about methamphetamines came from popular culture (“Breaking Bad”) or government anti-drug campaigns (“Faces of Meth”), then you’d probably think that the typical meth user was a unemployed, rail thin degenerate with bad acne, no teeth and a penchant for child abuse. In these depictions, all meth users are “tweekers,” that is, very bad people who are addicted to speed (here, meth) and who can’t take care of themselves or others. But it just ain’t so, as Travis Linnemann points out in his thought-provoking book Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power (NYU Press, 2016).
The image we get from the media and the law enforcement of meth use is as cooked as Walter White’s meth. In actual fact, very few peoples use meth (even in “Methland,” aka the Midwest) and most of those who do are not dysfunctional “tweekers.” This is not to say that meth isn’t a problem; it is, just like cocaine, heroin, abused prescription medications, and, above all, alcohol. But it isn’t as different from these “normal” drugs as the media and authorities would have us believe. It’s a powerful stimulant. It’s used for a variety of purposes, some of them having nothing to do with getting high (as a stimulant, meth is especially attractive to those who work long, hard hours). Some people can use it without acting like or appearing to be “tweekers.” The typical meth user is employed, acne-free, has a mouth full of teeth and takes care of his or her children. Just like the typical user of Adderall or any number of legal and widely prescribed amphetamines. Yet, according to the media and authorities, there is a “meth epidemic” that we should all fear as if it were something absolutely unprecedented. And, because meth is so particularly dangerous (so the line goes), we should throw all the meth users in jail forthwith. No thought is given to harm-reduction. As Linnemann shows, our twisted, distorted understanding of meth is beyond hypocritical; it’s positively harmful, particularly for the users and their families.