Chris Uggen's Blog: heartfelt pleas for quality / too intense for class?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

heartfelt pleas for quality / too intense for class?

who says the war on drugs hasn't been effective? the daily mirror reports another celebrity chagrined at the quality of cocaine these days. current crooner and former sexy person rod stewart reports:

I don't know why anyone would want to take coke now ... It was different in my day, because it was all so much purer. Now these dealers mix it with salt, washing powders, anything they can get their hands on. Kids just don't know what they're taking.

this reminded me of other recent complaints by noted cocaine experts, such as current velvet revolver vocalist scott weiland. in an esquire interview this april, weiland described the good old days:

it was not that nasty, gasoline-tasting, cat-piss-smelling sh*t that they have nowadays. It was f*ckin' shale, you know? It was mother-of-pearl stuff that they used to have in the old days. It was so hard, you had to slice it real thin with a razor blade, like little slices of garlic. They don’t even make that sh*t anymore.

weiland's imagery is evocative, isn't it? i can see (mother of pearl), smell (cat-piss), feel (hard, like garlic slices), and taste (gasoline) the differences he's describing. weiland's imagery is richer than rod stewart's, i think, because stewart was only a "casual" user.

weiland was anything but casual about cocaine and heroin. his first-person account of his love affair with these drugs is riveting. i was planning to require it for my deviance class this week, but chickened out. although it is an honest, candid warts-n'-all portrayal, in my view it simply makes cocaine sound too attractive. based on my student surveys over the years, i know that coke remains a deviant taste among my undergrad students (in contrast, lifetime marijuana use is roughly 75 percent). would weiland's words have led anyone to try cocaine or heroin for the first time? would a professor's apparent endorsement make a difference? here are a few excerpts from weiland's piece, highlighting the exotic attractions, the rituals, and the subjective experience:

MY FIRST EXPERIENCES WITH COCAINE were just completely...it was, like, sexual. It was unbelievable. I didn't think that there could be anything that good...

The guy cut us out a couple lines each, like, six inches long and about an eighth of an inch wide. I had two of them. And that was all we needed. We were high for five hours. And there was no grinding teeth. There was no big comedown. I think the devil gives you the first time for free...

He tied me off and shot me up. And then he said, "Now you got your wings." I remember just lying back on his mattress ... Complete warmth went all the way through my body. I was consumed. It's like what they talk about in Buddhism, that feeling of reaching enlightenment. Like in Siddhartha ... there's this feeling in Buddhism where they say there's a golden glow that goes from your fingers all the way through every appendage and into the pit of your stomach. And that's what it felt like to me, slamming dope for the first time. Like I'd reached enlightenment...

I was home. All my life, I had never felt right in my own skin. I always felt that wherever I went...I don't know, I always felt very uncomfortable. Like I didn't belong. Like I could never belong. Like every room I walked into was an unwelcome room. After doing dope for the first time, I knew that no matter what happened, from that day forward, I could be okay in every situation. Heroin made me feel safe. It was like the womb. I felt completely sure of myself. It took away all the fears. It did that socially; it distanced me from other people, made me feel less vulnerable...

Once I started shooting, I realized I'd made a career decision...
WHEN I STARTED DOING HEROIN, I felt almost immediately like I had become part of something bigger than myself, that I'd entered into a new social realm...

I never wanted to quit. Never. I saw narcotics as something I needed in order to function. I believed at the time that I was born with a chemical deficiency. Which I was. I was totally correct. But at the time, I believed I was born with this particular chemical deficiency that only opiates could fulfill. My basic thought was: How the hell can all you people want to keep me away from the one particular medicine that could keep me from blowing my head off?

again, weiland does not endorse use of these drugs -- he just tells us honestly about how he experienced their seductions. drug educators face a real paradox in describing such psychoactive effects to non-users. any realistic presentation must note that cocaine and heroin are experienced as pleasurable by users (recognizing, as howard becker, that such definitions are social constructions). yet, such descriptions have at least some potential to encourage use. and, of course, such use can bring harm to users.

of course, cocaine and heroin have long histories as licit as well as illicit drugs. freud himself endorsed parke-davis cocaine, which it alleged could “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and ... render the sufferer insensitive to pain.”

i would have used weiland to lecture on stigma and the arc of his career as a singer and as a drug user. yet his descriptions were too rich for the task -- i would have needed a few more first-person accounts describing the banality of the experience ("did coke in the club, got really anxious, couldn't sleep, didn't want to do it anymore") for balance. in any case, the students will get plenty of sociological analysis of drugs in america: craig reinarman and reefer madness on moral panics and a little becker on learning to use marijuana. still, i'd like to find a way to responsibly add some sort of first-person account to cover the individual-level processes described by weiland.

6 Comments:

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

I don't know man, if you want to study the deviance and stigma of drug use, who better that Scott Weiland? (don’t throw Rod Stewart back at me…. I am a little concerned he even made your blog)

The totality of his first person account likely gives a fair picture of drug use.... from the remarkable high of initial usage and addiction to the personal and legal troubles caused by sustained usage.

 
At 9:58 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Can I just second the concern over Rod Stewart appearing on your blog? The guy gives me the heebies.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

i know he's a cartoon, now, but check out rod with the old jeff beck group -- their vocal/guitar chemistry rivals plant/page in my book...

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Iago said...

There may well be some aspect of "endorsement" in any first-person description you care to use--people use drugs to give pleasure or remove pain. Drugs are effective in this regard, else people would not take them or become addicted.

Anyway, as you well know, your responsibility as a scientist means that your first loyalty is toward presenting content that your professional judgment indicates as being most accurate, and not including "balance" merely to salve political sensitivities. In other words, go ahead use the example if it's accurate! (I sure would).

Or, if you need a theoretical justification for not worring about "endorsement," even social learning theory would not argue that one example from one lecture would a drug user make.

Just my two cents, Professor!

Enjoy your blog!

 
At 1:36 PM, Anonymous chris said...

thanks, iago. your latter point makes sense -- we don't often worry about our students being too affected by course materials. if the piece had more on social stigma than individual thrills, i likely would have used it. in retrospect, i think it makes a great complement to becker's "learning to use marijuana" piece. weiland would likely claim that nobody had to teach him to experience the sensations as positive...

 
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