Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market
by Eric Schlosser

(Houghton Mifflin / 0-618-44670-2 / 978-0-618-44670-4 / Hardcover 2003 / Paperback April 2004 / 352 pages / $13 / B&N $9.36 / Amazon $9.10)

Reefer Madness is not the absolutely must read that Fast Food Nation most certainly is, but it’s a worthwhile history lesson in America’s underground economy. In fact, The Underground Economy should have been the title, and I am not sure why it was not used instead. In deference to the 1930’s scare tactic movie about the ridiculously overstated dangers of recreational marijuana use, the topic is covered extensively in the first fifty or so pages of Reefer Madness, but that should hardly be sufficient to entitle the book. Reefer Madness was promoted as Eric Schlosser’s follow-up to his groundbreaking, muckraking, and excellent Fast Food Nation, and to some degree, it is successfully so; however, I think this book misses the obvious topicality it should have had.

I expected Schlosser’s second work to cover three major players in America’s underground economy: recreational drugs, illegal immigration, and pornography. I can hear you say Huh? already. The first two, yes, but pornography has been legal for some time and the internet has virtually exploded with free access to such, so how can it be considered a part of the underground economy? The answer would be as an historical perspective. A large portion of the book, way too much in my opinion, is devoted to the long career of one pioneer in the pornography industry and the federal agent who worked diligently for years to bring him down. The illegal immigration part of the story is covered exquisitely and with genuine compassion, but it is far too limited, covering only the strawberry portion of the agricultural industry in California. If I had composed this book, I would have cut the porno section by two thirds and doubled the page count allotted to drugs and immigration. The drug section should have covered cocaine and other drugs more extensively, and of course, the immigration section should have covered far more industries than strawberries!

Aside from these complaints, I have to say that Mr. Schlosser’s research is impeccable and his writing style strikes a perfect balance between information and entertainment. As a modern muckraker, Eric Schlosser has few peers. He chooses his subjects carefully and bulldogs the details diligently. Reefer Madness may be a little misleading in its title and a little off the mark of the real problems of 2010, but for an historical perspective on exactly how our various black markets have developed, Schlosser’s second book is an informative read. The back pages of the book indicate that Eric Schlosser’s next subject will be our prison system, but I would prefer to read an expansion of the strawberry fields.

See also: Eric Schlosser's Amazon Page

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