Travis Linnemann, Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power

AuthorWilliam Garriott
Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
Subject MatterBook reviews
Travis Linnemann, Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power, New York University Press: New
York, 2016; 304 pp. (including index): 978-1479800025, $89 (hbk), $ 30 (pbk)
Over the past several years, Travis Linnemann has established himself as one of the
most important analysts of methamphetamine working in the United States. His
prize-winning article with Travis Wall, “‘This is Your Face on Meth’: The Punitive
Spectacle of ‘White Trash’ and the Rural War on Drugs,” is essential reading for
anyone trying to understand methamphetamine in the 21st century (Linneman and
Wall, 2013). Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power, extends this work even further. It
covers sites of meth-related meaning making ranging from the television show,
Breaking Bad, to debates over meth in the Kansas state legislature, to representa-
tions of meth use by anti-meth campaigns, police officers, and meth users them-
selves. To bring a sense of cohesion to this wide-ranging analysis, Linnemann
introduces the concept of the “methamphetamine imaginary.” This imaginary
“encompasses the many ways in which methamphetamine mediates the social
world—how individuals imagine themselves and their relations to one another
through this particular drug” (p. 5). For Linneman, this imaginary is “the
taken-for-granted, commonsense knowledge and everyday affects that surround
methamphetamine, its users, and those who are concerned with controlling, treat-
ing, and punishing both” (Linneman and Wall, 2013). This methamphetamine
imaginary is part of a broader “drug-war imaginary” that is likewise produced
and sustained by a broad swath of cultural production taking place in media,
politics, and everyday life, which is then implicated in governing strategies that
draw on and perpetuate the politics of fear and insecurity.
The first chapter deals with what is likely the primary reference point for many
readers’ understanding of methamphetamine (at least in the United States), the hit
television show, Breaking Bad.Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White: a high
school chemistry teacher who becomes a prominent meth cook after receiving a
dire cancer diagnosis. Chapter two examines how methamphetamine has been
racialized as a “white trash” drug. Chapter three explores methamphetamine as
a site of governance, a tool through which state power is extended. Chapter four
looks at meth and policing, with a particular focus on rural police. Chapter five
looks at how methamphetamine is reshaping understandings of rurality itself
within the United States. Chapter six considers the international dimensions of
the drug war, with a particular focus on “narcoterror.”
Proceeding in this way, Linnemann makes a compelling case that the war on
drugs, of which the concern with meth is just the latest iteration, is not just a policy
concern, but a key site of cultural production sustaining political life in the con-
temporary United States. Indeed, for Linnemann, the drug war’s status as a policy
concern cannot be fully understood apart from an appreciation of its constitutive
role in US culture. To this end, Meth Wars is neither a proposal for how to
improve US drug policy nor one more critique of the drug war’s failures and
excesses. Rather, it is an exploration of a different line of thought. As
Book reviews 367

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