Travis Linnemann, Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power.
Fear, Insecurity, and the Economy of Deception
ON THE SURFACE, METH WARS: POLICE, MEDIA, POWERIS AN INTERDISCIPLINARY examination of methamphetamine (meth) in the United States. On closer examination, however, it is much more than this. Drawing on psychoanalysis, cultural criminology, and contemporary philosophy, Travis Linnemann provides a nuanced overview of contemporary society and the political economic context of late capitalism. He examines its cultural forces, inherent inequalities, and insecurities, as well as the failing war on drugs, through the lens of methamphetamine. Linnemann depicts how meth and the subsequent "methamphetamine imaginary" feed into the wider war on drugs--a war fought on the terrain of class relations and one that disavows the wider political economy. Using examples taken from case studies, interviews, and ethnographic research, alongside an analysis of popular culture (e.g., pictures in the media), Linnemann demonstrates how representation has overtaken reality, particularly in relation to illicit drugs and their users. Here, the methamphetamine imaginary exemplifies how "meth mediates the social world" (5). It depicts how the caricatures surrounding meth are created, perpetuated, and legitimized by the state, illustrating how "actors of all kinds engage in its cultural production to do political work and effectively govern through meth, which operates as a conduit of police and state power" (87). The methamphetamine imaginary, as Linnemann argues, is used to justify draconian law enforcement, excessive police powers, and disproportionate controls that provoke insecurities along the lines of race, class, and gender, despite being one of the least popular street drugs in a country rife with legitimate amphetamine-based medications such as Adderall and Ritalin. Throughout the book, Linnemann reveals how the reciprocity of the methamphetamine imaginary and governing through meth "swirls from inside to the outside and back again, folding the foreign and domestic, the international and the everyday, into one another" (114) via a process of loops and spirals--a nod to the cultural criminology of Ferrell et al. (2015). Linnemann describes how meth--and drugs, more generally--has been fetishized, while the reality has been disavowed to create a hyper-reality and "simulacrum" of drugs and their use (Baudrillard 1994). Meth is used as a scapegoat, or as Linnemann puts it, "the drug is cause and effect, beginning and end" (102) to an array of issues: crime, squalor, amorality, poverty, sexual promiscuity, environmental harm, terrorism, and/ or death. In other words, drugs--in this case, meth--are to blame for society's ills, or at least some of them, while capitalism's "instantaneous cruelty; its incomprehensible ferocity; its fundamental immorality" are hidden and disavowed (Baudrillard 1983, 28-29).
Meth Wars analyzes the popular television series Breaking Bad, affording Linnemann the opportunity to suggest that meth is "emblematic of the death drive that underpins life in the late modern US" (Wakeman 2017, 2). At the same time, Linnemann examines anti-meth campaigns, such as "Not Even Once" and the "Faces of Meth,"putting forth the argument that they are not only cultural (mis)representations but also political projects, as meth users are "marked with the stigmata of their crimes" (66), in what Phil Carney (2010) has called a public form of branding. Here, the image, as Eammon Carrabine (2015) has suggested elsewhere, is not only a symbolic spectacle but also a dynamic power.
Drawing on his ethnographic research with urban and rural police officers, Linnemann illustrates how meth is perceived as ubiquitous and, for the rural officers in particular, their biggest drug problem (despite official statistics suggesting the opposite), thereby highlighting the importance of aggressive, zero-tolerance policing. In fact, Linnemann sketches a cultural criminology of the rural (see generally Brisman et al. 2015), depicting how power, meaning, and the meth imaginary overlap with and influence everyday understandings of place and space: meth is blamed for physical and corporeal decay and the moral disintegration of rural people into zombies and lepers. In so doing, Linnemann uncovers how meth, alongside other drugs, is attached to grand narratives and tropes (organized crime, terrorism, promiscuity, disease, destruction, and death) that feed into contemporary society's culture of fear and insecurity, which is often blamed on others (e.g., foreigners and/ or outsiders). Alongside these foreigners, poor white rural areas have also become the new front line for the war on drugs, and according to the author, "we must engage the imaginary in such a way that we may begin to believe that a better world is possible" (224). Unfortunately, Linnemann fails to elaborate as to what or how this world might be achieved, which might leave some readers feeling a bit adrift. In contemporary consumer capitalism, how can we engage the imaginary to believe a better world is possible, particularly in a society where the exigencies of capital and its economic imperatives are prioritized while its harm are disavowed, and where draconian crime control measures and national security are prioritized while civil liberties and human rights are compromised? Linnemann does not say.
In sum, Meth Wars offers a "critique of the politics, culture and ideology that underpin and animate both methamphetamine and the war on drugs" (224) to show how the methamphetamine imaginary is used to govern through meth, as well as drugs more generally, in a society where representation has overtaken reality (Baudrillard 1994, Debord 1994) and an economy of deception operates (Bauman 2007). Instead, the mythologies represent and defend the prevailing power structures (Barthes 1973)--or, as Linnemann puts it:
This is precisely the function of the drug war, as the fear and insecurity that structure it disown and disavow the many strange contradictions of the present social order and our shared fates as finite beings. Meanwhile laws are passed, careers are made, race and class divisions are reborn, and bodies pile up. If the drug war can be understood as a death wish, then it manifests as a compulsion to repeat, a surrogate social world chosen and future preferred over others. (224)
Although engaging the imaginary to believe a better world is possible is optimistic and ideal, "capital realism" (1) dominates (see Fisher 2009,2) and "interlaced with or conditioned by bourgeois ideology, the methamphetamine and drug-war imaginaries help to individualise the most fundamental of social relations"(224) and perpetuate the harmful subjectivities characteristic of consumer capitalism (Hall 8tWinlow 2015). Essentially, in contemporary society, it is "easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism" (Fisher 2009, 2).
(1.) By "capitalist realism," Fisher (2009, 2) is referring to "the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it."
Barthes, Roland 1973 Mythologies. London: Paladin.
Baudrillard, Jean 1983 Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e).
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Bauman, Zygmunt 2007 Consuming Life. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Brisman, Avi, Bill McClanahan, and Nigel South 2015 "Toward a Green-Cultural Criminology of 'the Rural.'" Critical Criminology 22(4): 479-94.
Carney, Phil 2010 "Crime, Punishment and the Force of Photographic Spectacle." In Framing Crime: Cultural Criminology and the Image, edited by Keith J. Hayward and Mike Presdee, 17-35. Oxford, UK: Routledge.
Carrabine, Eamonn 2015 "Visual Criminology: History, Theory and Method." In The Routledge Handbook of Qualitative Criminology, edited by Heith Copes and J. Mitchell Miller, 103-21. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Debord, Guy 1994 The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.
Ferrell, Jeff, Keith J. Hayward, and Jock Young 2015 Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. London: Sage. 2nd ed.
Fisher, Mark 2009 Capital Realism. Ropley, UK: Zero Books.
Hall, Steve, and Simon Winlow 2015 Revitalizing Criminological Theory: Towards a New UltraRealism. London: Routledge.
Wakeman, Steve 2017 "Book Review: Travis Linnemann, Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power." Crime, Media, Culture 14(2): 340-42.
Tammy Ayres *
* Tammy Ayres is Lecturer in criminology at the University of Leicester, UK.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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