Me, meth

I’ve been meaning to update the five or six people who still read my blog on how my studies are going, since, well, the whole reason I’m here in Blandiego is the studying. But, actually, no, I haven’t been studying. And no, I haven’t been doing meth. I’ve been doing all sorts of other things, like teaching and obsessing over gay marriage and untangling myself from the absurd red tape caused by an ill-fated attempt to take a class cross-registered at UC-Irvine. (Irvine use punched cards in the registrar’s office. Still. Really. When I dropped the class I was cc-ed — for realz — on five emails from various admins at two campuses, because no one has figured out how to use the Interweb to connect the two schools.) I’ve also been collecting all sorts of fun stuff about crystal meth, because that’s what I’ve switched my focus to. Yeah — I came here to study assimilation and sexuality on the US-Mexican border and now I will be studying the gay meth “epidemic” in California.

This is what happened: I went to check in with one of my committee members. I had planned on working on a study on HIV-prevention among MSMs in Tijuana. I had spent two and half years studying Spanish and US-Mexican border issues (and theory), and I wrote my Master’s thesis on “Hybridity as Cultural Capital on the US/Mexican Border.” (Wanna read it? I’ll email it to you. And then I will list you in my Outlook contacts in the “masochist” category. Not that I have a category with that name. Really.) So, I was ready, more or less, to do a big ethnographic project of the such. But my committee member told me that the project that I was going to join and study (I was going to study the study, as it were) didn’t exist yet, for a host of reasons. But before I got to freak out, I was offered a number of other projects that I could hook up with, and I jumped on a large study of HIV+ gay men who use crystal meth.

I guess the questions would be: Why did I jump on this? Well, there’s one pathetic reason: My Spanish sucks and will suck for years — I’m convinced I have cognitive deficiency when it comes to languages — and so I’ll never be able to do the sort of psychodynamic interviewing in Spanish that I wanted to do. I could have done it with a translator, which had been offered, but it would have been a barrier/filter that I didn’t want to have to use, let alone totally rely on.


Then there’s the not-at-all pathetic reason: The meth situation in California’s gay communities is … gee, what’s the right word? Explosive. Dynamic. Epidemic. Increasing. Contagious. Confusing. Bizarre. Sexy. Dangerous. And it’s on the tips of everyone’s tongues, gay and straight. This is partly because of the recent, massive “Me Not Meth” campaign from the California Methamphetamine Initiative, the anti-meth arm of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. There are billboards all over the gay neighborhoods of California. There are ads on the sides of buses and in the Bay Area subways. There are 30-second TV spots running during, heh, “Desperate Housewives.” And I haven’t seen such a wide-spread concerted public health effort in gay bars since the early 90s: there are posters in every gay bar I’ve visited in the last month, and many of them also have “I lost ME to METH” drink coasters, too. The ads are the topic of conversation everywhere, and not always for the reason they’re meant to be. The recovering addicts in the ads are, um, kinda hot. As a friend said to me last weekend, “If they want people to stop using meth they should use guys who aren’t so attractive.” The man on the coaster (above) is especially cute; he looks like a cross between Jake Gyllenhall and Ryan Gosling. Yum!


Some people are simply pissed off by the campaign because they think that it unfairly singles out gay men, and this will, supposedly, lead the gays to be further stigmatized. In typical fashion, San Diego’s own Gay and Lesbian Times led the charge here:

Now, this is a necessary campaign – meth addiction is an epidemic in the gay community, and, the fact is, meth use is a risk factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS. It eliminates inhibitions, alters judgment, wreaks havoc on one’s personal and professional lives, and has dire health implications.

Another fact to consider, though: meth addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t single out a gender, race or community – but this ad campaign does.

The important question that must be asked is: does this ad campaign do more harm than good? For the vast majority of heterosexual TV viewers, what message does the campaign send about our community?

Again, it’s no secret: meth is a problem in the gay community, as much as it’s a problem in the straight community, the Latino community, the Native American community, the black community – the risks are as monumental for us all.

But, the well-intended ads, inadvertently we think, send a mixed message; one, that meth abuse is a problem exclusively in the gay community; and two, that the gay community is characterized by drug use and HIV/AIDS.

Why do I use the word “typical”? Because the GLT tends to get their facts wrong, and this is just another example. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on March 14:

The drug, commonly known as “crystal” or “tina,” has been a popular party drug in gay circles since the 1990s. A statewide survey, also released Thursday, found that crystal meth use was 11 times more common among gay men than in the California population overall. Fifty-five percent of 549 gay and bisexual men surveyed said they had used the drug, compared with 5% of the general population.

So, um, meth is not “as much as [of] a problem” in the gay community as the straight community. It’s 11 times worse. That is 1100% worse, if you want to play with the numbers. The GLT is so embarrassing. There are some problems with the “Me Not Meth,” but they aren’t in their focus on gay men. At all.

Anyway, I’m very excited about the shift in my project, and I’m excited about getting my qualifying done. That involves a lot of reading and writing, and then I can write my proposal, which will include, in some form, the following paragraph:

… the governmentality of public health helps to construct gay men as, what I call, risky subjects: neoliberal and sanitary subjects, sexual citizens with a political ethos that connects gendered behavior and subaltern sexuality to a moral regime that promotes individualism and responsibility within, ironically, a culture of hedonism. Since its appearance in the early 1980s, AIDS has been at the center of contestations over biopower, as those who might have, do have, and will probably contract the disease are disciplined, punished, and quarantined. Public health—as well as its surrogates in private healthcare, the ever-increasing number of activist NGOs, and aligned law enforcement agencies—has been charged with not just the modification of behavior, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the construction of subjects. These subjects are not just healthy citizens, healthy Americans, but also productive citizens, responsible, happy, and normal. But what sorts of subjectivities are actually produced? And how? People who are “at risk” for HIV-infection, whether they are men who have sex with men, IV drug and crystal meth users, sex workers, hemophiliacs, or anyone from a disease-ravaged nation, are made into risky subjects with hypercognized biology, bodies, and behaviors. But this is not necessarily (or not always) a negative form of state oppression, despite the tenor of much of the literature on governmentality, the modern form of statecraft that is probably most pronounced in processes of public health. Rather, the history of AIDS shows that both resistance to and collaboration with the governmental public health project has resulted in a slow and steady pushing of the subjected into the subjectors. The public health project is subverted and mutated as the HIV-positive become doctors, gay academics devote their research to HIV and AIDS, and activists, recovering addicts, and former sex workers are professionalized as employees of NGOs and state agencies. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that that there are deeply negative effects of becoming a risky subject, for the mental health ramifications are as potentially insidious as they are deeply under-recognized.

Ya know, in case you were wondering about my theoretical perspective on the whole thing.

“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.”

[youtube:]At last! I finally saw “Southland Tales,” Richard Kelly’s much-maligned, barely released, long-awaited follow-up to “Donnie Darko” (which is one of my favorite movies ever). I had been a bit desperate to see the movie, but, alas, it wasn’t even released in San Diego during the week or so that 18 theaters were allowed to show it. So, I spent a weekend or two back in December trying to BitTorrent pirated versions, hoping someone had stuck an Academy screener DVD on the Interweb. But, alas, all that was available was a pretty shitty shot-in-the-theater-with-a-handicam version. (I guess there weren’t any Academy screeners. Natch.) Still, I downloaded it. And watched about 15 minutes. And I couldn’t stand how bad the video quality was. It was like watching a 20-year-old VHS tape during an earthquake. So, I chucked the file and waited. I was wasting some time (procrastinating like a mo-fo) on Netflix, and I saw that the DVD was coming out on the 18th. I had it in my mailbox on the 19th. How many ways I can say that I love Netflix? Anyhoo, after I finally finished writing my first qual paper (Woohoo! And more on that later…) I set about to watch the film that made all of $227,365 and Richard Roeper called “one of the most confusing, ridiculous, pretentious and disastrous cinematic train wrecks I’ve ever seen.” (For more critics trying to out-nasty each other, check out the Rotten Tomatoes site here.)

I think this would be a perfect moment to cite, in a Fisk-y but not really Fisk-y way, the wonderful essay by Joe Queenen in last week’s Guardian about what really makes a truly terrible movie:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met.

Agreed. Too many people will simply state, as Queenen complains, that such-and-such is one of the all-time worst movies without thinking deeply about what really makes some awful.

For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck?

Totes! That’s why, say, “Bad Love,” a Jenny McCarthy vehicle for Chrissake, which scored all those Razzies a couple years ago, doesn’t count for me. Neither, really, does “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” which was God-awful, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be any much better than the first movie, which was pretty near-God-awful. But, yes, after making “Donnie Darko,” Richard Kelly was expected to make another truly great film. He had a cast of thousands, and he had a lot of money, and he had heaps and heaps of ambition. It seems as if he wanted to make something like a cross between “Nashville” and “Dr. Strangelove,” which is pretty ambitious.

What I’ve been doing besides blogging, Part 6: Seeing movies that don’t suck!

We’ve been really, really good this year about seeing the good movies when they come out and not waiting until the day before the Oscars to see stuff. And this year has been good for movies. In the last six weeks, here’s what I’ve seen:

  • Bitchin'.Rob and I saw “Juno,” the near-perfect, feministy counterpart to “Knocked Up,” a few days after it finally opened here. I liked it more than Rob did, but I really, really liked it. Ellen Page is, as A. O. Scott wrote, terrifyingly talented. She’ll be nominated for an Oscar, and the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, will win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Because the movie is all about the script and the direction, neither of which cover up the deep, moving emotional core with too much hipster irony. Though there is some hipster irony: The Moldy Peaches are all over the soundtrack. It’s the funniest, sweetest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I cried at the end.
  • You just know what he's thinking, and it begins with the letter C...Atonement is one my favorite books; when I read it two years ago, I was devastated by the ending, bursting into tears in the living room and flummoxing Rob. It’s a beautiful, enveloping, and shocking book, and it’s nearly unadaptable. I say “nearly,” because it almost all ways, the film version is wonderful–gorgeously directed, designed, written, and acted. It’s also very moving, but the ending doesn’t work at all, because the film, unlike the novel, is not told in the voice of the person who makes the ending so astonishing. The director, Joe Wright, managed some visuals in the last few minutes that almost make up for the lack of aesthetic power that the filmed ending has, but not quite. Still, it’s an excellent film.
  • I haven’t seen “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood,” so I can’t say this for sure, but “No Country For Old Men” is, so far, probably the best movie of 2007. Okay, no. It’s definitely the best movie I saw in 2007. We don’t get all sorts of things here, in the sticks. Still, it was one of the movie-going experiences that leave you in awe of what can be accomplished with the medium. It’s actually better than “Fargo,” which is my favorite movie, and it gives us Anton Chigrh, who is now one of the greatest film characters ever. Violent and bloody, philosophical and ironic, gorgeous and ugly, haunting and mysterious, and funny, funny, funny, the movie still sits with me, weeks after I saw it. Actually, it’s so layer with symbolism and throw-away-but-actually-important lines that I really need to see it again. Wow.
  • No, really. I just want to use the bathroom.His Dark Materials, the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first part, is, like Atonement, one of my favorite works of literature. I read it the same year that I discovered Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; it was the year I discovered that fantasy could be literary and magical and fun and not totally grating like C. S. Lewis books. And while the filmed version of The Golden Compass is totally defanged–every bit of social and political commentary about the Catholic Church has been removed–it’s still gorgeous and fun and as perfectly cast as the filmed version of Atonement. And the litter furry daemons are so frickin’ adorable! I had a good time. It would have been nice if it had been better, though.
  • By no means is “Michael Clayton” the towering work of cinematic art that a bunch of early reviews made it out to be, but it’s a damn fine thriller, with George Clooney justifying his he-got-fat-and-died Oscar in the otherwise mediocre “Syriana.” Tilda Swinton, continuing in her streak of brilliant antagonists, made the movie for me, because her evil was not mired in sociopathology, but rather in shortsighted, irresponsible ambition. I didn’t like the corporate crime that the plot hinged on, though, because it seemed almost James Bond-ishly silly. And Tom Wilkinson was over the top. But some scenes, like the one in the still here, were just brilliant. A really fun movie.
  • When I first started putting this list together, I liked “The Darjeeling Limited” more than I do now. It’s very pretty, and there were some funny moments, but it’s late 90s twee irony thing is getting really, really old now. And Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman really bug. Hard. The only actor in the movie that seems to be actually acting–instead of hamming–is the always amazing Adrian Brody, who, I think, decided to be in another movie and ignore whatever “acting” advice was being thrown at him. Because I actually cared about him. While I wanted everyone else in the movie to drown in the river with that little boy.
  • Okay, this movie is called “Beowulf,” but it has almost nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxon epic of the same name. Well, it does in the first third, and then all hell breaks loose with the story. But I had a blast nonetheless. It was thoroughly exciting, and it was funny, too. And the huge fight with Grendel at the beginning was totally redunculous because Beowulf was bucknaked, and hottt, and his peepee was covered up by the most strategically places props ever. Fun times.
  • Back when I was a publishing monkey, I worked for Dennis Lehane’s agent, and it was during a very exciting time in his career–the whole Mystic River era. Towards the end of my time at the office, one of his older novels, Gone Baby Gone, which had been bouncing around Hollywood for a while was bought–not optioned, bought–by Disney and Ben Affleck. Affleck was going to write and direct, and I, for one, was worried. This is the guy who had just made “Gigli.” And “Daredevil.” And “Surviving Christmas.” And “Jersey Girl.” He hadn’t been in anything remotely good since “Bounce,” and that’s only an arguably good movie. Really, he hadn’t done anything to be proud of since “Good Will Hunting,” and more than a few people were willing to say publicly that they didn’t think Ben and Matt actually wrote that script. And then someone–an agent, his new wife, God, who knows–said something to Ben, and he made a major shift. He made “Hollywoodland,” which was a fine movie with an amazing performance from Ben that should have gotten him an Oscar nomination and did get him on the Golden Globes. And then he made “Gone Baby Gone,” and it was good. Really, really good. Sure, it has some problems, mostly involving Morgan Freeman sleeping his way through his rather key role. (Monohla Dargis digs into the rest in her unusually smart review.) But Ben’s little brother Casey, who is the lead, is a revelation, as is Amy Ryan, and even Ed Harris is good, though a bit over-the-top, per usual. And the tone of the film is dark, seemy, gut-wrenching, and mired in the clannishness of Boston’s Southie. Ben really directed this movie. And it’s pretty great. Yay for Ben. And, yeah, yay for Dennis. Another great movie. The next movie based on one of his books is going to star Leo Dicaprio and be directed by Martin Scorcese.

What I’ve been doing besides blogging, Part 1: Teaching!

As I’m sure you know, I’ve been teaching for several years and that didn’t stop me from blogging. But this quarter, I taught the first class that I had designed myself. And it was a helluva lot harder than I thought it would be. While I thought the hard part would be choosing the readings and writing the syllabus, it turned out that this was the easy part. I forgot I would actually have to teach said readings. Oops. And that meant figuring what to do during each class–figuring what to do that actually involved students learning. Lordy, Lordy. And I’m not sure I actually succeeded in this. It could have been that I had two classes of shy, bored, or mute students. More likely, I was doing something wrong. I couldn’t get them to speak. Even when I knew they had read, they didn’t speak. It was weird.

I tried youth-ish audio-visual aides, and, still, only three or four kids would speak. Even after showing these two videos and asking them to analyze them in light of Marita Sturken’s “AIDS and the Politics of Representation.” Barely a peep.

Okay, I got a peep from these. But it was mostly nervous laughter. It’s possible that I had such stilted discussions because the kids were too nervous of saying something politically incorrect that they chose silence in order to be safe. It’s also possible that they didn’t care. And it’s possible that discussing AIDS at 8am is just too much for Generation Whine, er, Generation Y.

So, I was pretty worried about where the class was heading.

And then I made some scheduling errors. Actually, they were disasters. And Firestorm 2007!!! happened. And so on. And I started overworking on the class. My comments on their research paper proposals, annotated bibliographies, and paper drafts were rather detailed. Probably too much so, considering how much I’m being paid. And I kept meeting with students, beyond my office hours. Which isn’t really my job. But as I told my students, my goal is not a bell curve of grades. I want everyone to get an A. And that means I have to work with them. And work with them.

Wonderfully, I’m more than two-thirds of the way through the final papers and while a few are not good–a couple students got really, really lazy–there are some papers better than anything I’ve read at UCSD prior to this quarter. Some seem to be on the level of good graduate students. And, no, I’m not high. I still have eight more to read, so it’s possible I may end up with a bell. But it’s looking more parabolic, with y and x getting pretty high. I have no idea if that makes any sense.