My current research considers the political and cultural force of methamphetamine control in the Midwestern United States.
"With Scenes of Blood and Pain": crime control and the punitive imagination of The Meth Project w/L. Hanson and LS. Williams.
This article takes aim at an image-based methamphetamine (meth) intervention program in the U.S., to reveal disparate images of meth users organized along a binary system of value, pitting the sexual vulnerabilities of young women against the violent predation of young men. We argue the program structures a particular visuality or way of seeing the supposed ills of meth use that agitates white middle class social anxieties, through a “meth epidemic” unfairly imagined as “white” and “rural”--an epidemic it helps create and sustain. Thus, we see the program as an important site of cultural production where its punitive visualities contribute to structures of ideological penal policies and practices or “imaginary penalities” that obfuscate alternatives for harm reduction and the ills of the neoliberal order.
This is your Face on Meth: the punitive spectacle of 'white trash' in the rural war on drugs w/ Tyler Wall
This paper engages the dynamic role of the crime image and more specifically the mug shot, in a contemporary anti-methamphetamine media campaign known as “Faces of Meth.” Understood here as a pedagogical policing program, Faces of Meth attempts to deter methamphetamine use through graphic “before meth” and “after meth” images of the faces of white meth users. Our objective though is not to evaluate the actual effectiveness of these fear appeals, but rather to demonstrate how these graphic images are coded and structured by disparate cultural logics. In this regard, we discuss how the photographs are largely structured by and embedded within already existing cultural anxieties about the figure of “white trash”, reflecting both the dominance and precariousness of white social position.
Governing through meth: Local politics, drug control and the drift toward securitization.
The enduring social anxieties surrounding the illicit drug, methamphetamine (meth), offer a useful lens to view processes of criminalization and control as they unfold outside major population centers. Focusing on one year and an anti-meth legislative campaign, this paper maps the problematization of meth in the unique context of the rural Midwestern United States. Relying primarily on news media accounts, it illustrates various political and cultural currents constituting what is described as the “illicit methamphetamine industry.” The paper illustrates how, by overstating realities of use, politicizing official statistics and reframing key events, authorities discursively link meth control to the wars on drugs and terror and broader securitization projects. The paper concludes with a theoretical discussion of how control of one drug, in one state, fundamentally alters everyday life—even in small towns of the rural Midwest.
Mad Men, Meth Moms, Moral Panic: Gendering meth crimes in the Midwest
This research examines the content of a sample of newspaper articles from the Midwestern states. The analyses find highly gendered accounts of methamphetamine related crimes. Media depictions suggest women use meth for reasons drawn from conventional notions of motherhood, sexuality, and subordination. Alternately, motives of men appear constructed around dominant notions of male criminal virility and the viability of the drug trade. The findings offer a contextual framework to consider how this sort of mediated dichotomy emerges from and reinforces popular notions of gendered crime and drug users in non-urban spaces.
Beyond the Ghetto: police power, methamphetamine and the rural war on drugs with Don Kurtz (under review)
Viewing police as important “namers” (Loader, 1997) and “talkers” (Sim, 2000) on all matters criminal, we ask how police power fashions structures of feeling and social imaginaries of the “war on drugs” in small towns of the rural Midwest. Drawing on a collection of interviews focusing on officers’ beliefs about the causes of crime and drug use, we find a narrative of “degrading ruralities” attributed to the users and producers of methamphetamine. As such, we view meth’s intrusion on visions of idyllic rural life as a unique problem space where crime governance does not focus solely on the inner city poor, offering opportunity to examine the fabrication and maintenance of social order and the broadening of state power.
Something Unrecognizable: zombies, cannibals and the killable other --with Eddy Green and Tyler Wall
This paper engages the cultural politics of violent crime, state killing, and capitalist social (dis)order by focusing on their intersection: what the US media dubbed the case of the “Miami Cannibal” and “Miami Zombie”. In May 2012 a black Miami man, Rudy Eugene, was shot dead by a police officer while he was “eating the face” of another man, Ronald Poppo. Receiving considerable media attention, the case of Eugene and Poppo was situated as an example of drug-fueled “zombies” and “cannibals” – leading some reports to reference a pending “zombie apocalypse”. Therefore, this paper unpacks the cultural and political dynamics circumscribing the discursive framing of the “Miami Zombie”. While this particular example perhaps represents a mediated panic, we suggest that the evocation of “zombie” and “cannibal” should not be reduced to a sensationalistic media technique, which it is that too, but that these terms also demonstrates the cultural production of a spectral, monstrous—killable other. As such, the case documents the how the contemporary neoliberal order is an order in the business of producing faceless, nameless, and in fact inhuman sort of criminality that both relies on yet transcends familiar racialized, classed, and gendered others. The case of Rudy Eugene then speaks to the popular construction of the figure of the zombie hiding in the shadows and veraciously consuming without regard for social convention or law. In this sense, zombies can be seen as an emergent lumpen-class—the utterly unproductive, dependent and monstrous cast offs of the toxic neoliberal order that the security state deems killable without remorse. As we argue, mediated fascination with these monstrous flesh eaters only further obscures broader social ills and the real cannibals of late-capitalism.
Capote's Ghosts: Media, Violence and the Spectre of Suspicion
In 1959, on the Kansas high plains, two ex-convict drifters fell upon a defenseless farm family, slaying them “in cold blood.” As the subject of a book widely regarded as the first and perhaps most important of the “true crime” genre—Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”— the murdered and murderers live on in the spectral, haunting the minds of the public as the horrors of random crimes and brutal violence. Paying close attention to the cultural production of both the present and absent, this paper considers how violence haunts commonplace geographies and the imaginations of everyday actors, through the lens of mundane crime reporting and monumental “true crime” novels. Doing so, it offers unique context and insight into the production of suspect identities and the thicket of social insecurities underpinning a host of modern “law enforcement” and “security” practices.