Mountainous Transformations: Fear and Meth in Geographical Perspective

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:40 AM
Room 309/310 (Hilton Atlanta)
Elizabeth Mazzolini, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
This paper explores the transformative power of eastern American mountain ranges—the Appalachians and the Ozarks—in shaping contemporary discourses of addiction and identity.  For decades, if not centuries, these mountain ranges have been associated with white rural poverty. This association has lately been articulated through fears related to the contemporary so-called meth epidemic. This study critically examines these transformative processes by taking into account how the production of illicit drugs changes those who come into contact with the manufacture and distribution processes; how these affect the impoverished residents of the mountains; and how medical and juridical discourse surrounding meth creates a political identity marked as “other”  and racialized through economics and geography. By comparing the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s and the “meth epidemic” of the current era, this paper thus looks at how physical and discursive productions of addiction and poverty work vis-à-vis American landscapes—cosmopolitan port cities in the first case, and isolated mountainous backcountry in the second case.  In the case of meth, mountains provide more than just a location for the transformation of raw materials into intoxicating substances; they provide an aesthetic and geographic way to isolate producers and users of meth.  Moreover, meth’s relation to landscape is in tension with other aspects of the drug’s cultural milieu.  Because meth is made with domestically available ingredients, it seems like a threat that comes from within—the interior of American geography, and the interior of American homes, even as we are exhorted at every turn by car bumper stickers to “buy local.”  As this study demonstrates, these low eastern mountain ranges historically associated with American poverty play a crucial aesthetic and political role in shaping the way meth is understood to be a local, social, economic, environmental, and health threat.