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Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among many people to refer to the problem of drug-addiction, as one of the most pressing social issues in today’s America. This state of affairs appears thoroughly justified. After all, it does not represent much of a secret that, as of today, just about every large American city features the so-called ‘bad areas’ (believed to be swarmed with drug-addicts), where socially upstanding residents try not to venture, unless absolutely necessary – just as it is being shown in the HBO miniseries The Corner (2000).
What adds to the sheer acuteness of the issue in question is that the currently deployed anti-drug policies, mostly concerned with the functioning of America’s justice system, can hardly be deemed very effective. One the reasons for this is that most of these policies do not take into account the provisions of the Ecological Systems Theory EST (developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner), which stresses out the importance of environmental factors of influence, within the context of how people go about constructing their sense of self-identity and choosing in favor one or another behavioral pattern.
As Duerden and Witt defined it: “EST proposes that individuals exist within a variety of settings, starting at the individual level and extending outward (e.g., family, work, society, etc.)… (deems) development as a process that involves interactions both within and across contexts” (2010, p. 109). In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length, in regards to the themes and motifs, contained in The Corner, while promoting the idea that the realities of a post-industrial living in America call for the reassessment of the very methodological approach to conducting the ‘war on drugs’.
Body of the Paper
Probably the main reason why The Corner does deserve to be considered utterly insightful, in the sense of how it treats the theme of drug-addiction, is that it exposes the fallaciousness of the assumption that one’s addiction is best discussed within the context of what happened to be the addicted person’s ethno-cultural/racial affiliation. After all, even though most of African-American characters, featured the miniseries, are indeed shown struggling with their drug-addictions, there appears to have been nothing biologically deterministic about how these individuals ended up being ‘hooked on drugs’.
The character of Gary McCullough comes in as a good example, in this respect. Despite the fact that Gary’s addiction seems to have been embedded into his personality from the very beginning, in the Episode 3 we learn that this character was once a bright college student, who wanted to become a stock-market broker. The fact that, throughout the series’ entirety, Gary never ceases to exhibit his talent in carpentry, also suggests that, if anything, he is the least deserves to be referred to as a ‘natural born’ drug-addict.
Essentially same can be said about every other character in The Corner – despite being used to drugs and to the drug-related street violence, they nevertheless continue to exhibit their full awareness that leading the lifestyle of a drug-addict is utterly inappropriate. Moreover, many of them make a deliberate point in pledging to raise their children in the drug-free environment. To exemplify the validity of this suggestion, we can refer to the characters of DeAndre (Gary’s son) and Tyreeka (DeAndre’s girlfriend).
After having found out that Tyreeka was pregnant with his baby, DeAndre declares that he will do just about all it takes, in order to make sure that his child would be spared from having to learn the ways of the street (Episode 5). In her turn, Tyreeka proves herself thoroughly aware that the notion of parenthood is synonymous with the notion of responsibility: “I do feel like I’m ready to be a mother, because I will give my baby lots of love and my baby is going to love me back” (00.56.03).
When assessed through the conceptual lenses of EST, the above-mentioned observations can be interpreted as the indication that, contrary to what it is being commonly assumed, the identity of being African-Americans did not have any direct link to these characters’ affiliation with drug/gangsta culture. The reason for this is that, as it can be seen in the series, the micro-systemic (family-related) aspects of one’s upbringing in the drug-infested ethnic ‘ghetto’, do not necessarily presuppose that the concerned individual would be naturally inclined to experiment with drugs. Quite on the contrary – due to having been exposed to the effects of a drug-abuse, ever since its early childhood-years, he or she should be innately resentful of the idea.
What it means is that the actual answer, as to why African-American culture continues to be considered ‘drug-infested’, should be sought at the higher levels of what EST conceptualizes as the process of a socially integrated individual striving to attain self-actualization. According to the theory, the process’s sub-sequential phase is concerned with the influence, exerted upon a person, by the peculiarities of how he or she goes about trying to socialize with others, within the same socio-environmental niche, which EST refers to in terms of ‘mesosystem’.
As Bronfenbrenner described it: “Mesosystem is… a place where people can readily engage in face-to-face interaction” (197, p. 22). As it can be seen in The Corner, it is specifically while being the part of the ‘Crenshaw mafia’ (consisting of his closest friends), that DeAndre became perceptually and cognitively tolerant towards the idea that there is nothing wrong about peddling drugs out on the street. The reason for this is that, while being a young male, DeAndre naturally strived to attain a dominant status among its peers, which in turn could be accomplished by the mean of positioning himself as a ‘tough’ but thoroughly rational individual, who addresses life-challenges in the most energetically sound manner.
For example, upon having been asked (Episode 2) whether he experiences any remorse for the fact that, while peddling drugs, he in fact helps his ‘clients’ to destroy their lives, DeAndre replies: “People who use, they go use. They go buy it from somebody somewhere. Might as well be me” (00.02.27). This DeAndre’s statement provides us with the insight into the workings of his psyche, as such that have been shaped by the realities of living in one of West Baltimore’s ‘hoods’ – the place where, due to being concerned with trying to survive, people could not care less about acting morally. What this means is that DeAndre’s stance in life can be discussed as having been partially reflective of what were the specifics of the peer-pressure in the neighborhood, which he never ceased experiencing.
Essentially the same can be said about many of the series’ other prominent characters, such Gary. The reason for this is that many of this character’s relapses back to using drugs, can be explained by the fact that, throughout the course of all six episodes, he never declines to offer a helping hand to those of his drug-addicted friends that happened to be in need. Unfortunately, most of the time this ‘help’ was concerned with Gary giving his friends money to buy heroin. It is understood, of course, that this could not result in anything else but in keeping Gary in a ‘drug-tolerant’ mood – hence, weakening his desire to put away with the addiction.
Nevertheless, even though that, when assessed from the methodological perspective of EST, many of the series’ themes and motifs do appear to be rather ‘mesosystemic’, there can be only a few doubts as to the overall ‘marcrosystemic’ sounding of The Corner. The reason for this is that, as the series imply, the fact that many African-Americans are indeed addicted to drugs, cannot be discussed outside of the discourse of ‘euro-centrism’, which continues to define the qualitative subtleties of how this country actually operates.
This implicit message, conveyed by the series, fully correlates with the theory’s outlook on ‘macrosystem’ as: “the set of social patterns that govern the formation and dissolution of social interactions between individuals, and thus the relationship among ecological systems” (Neal & Neal, 2013, p. 729). In other words, the actual reason why many African-Americans cannot help becoming drug-addicts, is that they continue being explicitly and implicitly discriminated against, in the social sense of this word. In its turn, this situation appears to have been predetermined by the essence of the U.S. economy’s operational principles, on one hand, and by the fact that many American Whites continue to hold prejudices against their African-American co-citizens, on the other.
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In The Corner, there are a number of scenes that illustrate the validity of this suggestion. For example, at the beginning of the Episode 2, DeAndre comes up with the statement: “It’s a hard work selling drugs in Baltimore ghetto. It’s a hard work being a Black man in America’ (00.01.58). As this statement implies, it was not that DeAndre chose to become a drug-dealer, because the dubious ‘career’ in question really did appeal to him, but that he was simply trying to survive within the hostile social environment. After all, throughout the series, he never ceases to act as a ‘hunter-gatherer’ for his mother Fran and later for Tyreeka.
This, of course, can be interpreted as yet another proof that EST is indeed legitimate, because many of its conceptual provisions do appear thoroughly consistent with the realities of one’s ‘ghetto-living’, as seen in The Corner. For example, the fact that, despite understanding the dangers of drugs, DeAndre continues to sell them, does support the theory’s convention that the manner in which people tend to act, is being reflective of what happened to be the affiliated social circumstances. In DeAndre’s case, the main of these circumstances was his (and his mother’s) condition of poverty.
However, the clearest indication that the issue of drug-addiction in African-American communities is macro-dimensional, appears to be the scene (Episode 4), in which Gary goes to watch Schindler’s List in the movie-theatre and consequently elaborates on what he considers the actual meaning of what he saw. While talking to his friends (drug-addicts), Gary says: “Germans said to Jews you ain’t humans… In the end, the Germans decided to kill all the Jews, because they couldn’t seem them being any better than bugs or rats…
I and sit there watching this movie, while realizing that this is happening again” (00.47.20). Apparently, in the aftermath of having watched this film, Gary realized that it was not that much of his own fault for having failed repeatedly, while trying to become ‘clean’, than that of the society. The reason for this is that, throughout the series, most of the featured characters suffer from being dehumanized by the authorities. There is another memorable scene in the same Episode, where a White police officer refers to Scalio (one of Gary’s drug-addicted friends) in such a way, as if the latter were not a human being, but some soulless commodity (00.11.36).
One may wonder about how it can be explained that, while proclaiming its intention to defend ‘human rights’ around the world, America could not come up with any better idea, as to how its own growing population of drug-addicts should be dealt with, then treating them as a ‘social burden’? The logic behind this can be outlined as follows:
As The Corner series imply, the truly effective solution to the problem of drug-addiction/trafficking would have to be concerned with overhauling the country’s systems of justice and education – a clearly macroeconomic undertaking. However, the implementation of this undertaking would cost billions of dollars. The anticipated positive effects would only become apparent in the long-term perspective. What is even more – there is no economically justified motive for the Government to be actually trying to win in the ‘war on drugs’.
The reason for this is that, due to the Globalization-induced ‘outsourcing’, concerned with the process of more and more American companies deciding to move their production lines to the Third and Second World countries, America grows progressively incapable of generating any de facto wealth, and not merely ‘wealth-indicating’ liabilities (in the form of stock-market derivatives, bonds, treasuries, securities, etc.). What it means is that, as time goes on, the employed status of many Americans will be increasingly referred to as a mere formality – especially if they happened to specialize in such clearly post-industrial professional pursuits, as management or public relations.
In other words, there is no any objective need in trying to rehabilitate as many drug-addicts, as possible, so that they would be able to become the society’s productive members. After all, the American society itself had ceased being productive, while growing increasingly consumerist. This is exactly the reason why, while trying to become employed, DeAndre could not secure any other, but the so-called ‘dead end’ jobs, concerned with the economy’s servicing sector, such as mopping floors and flipping burgers at Wendy’s.
In other words, had American drug-addicts been helped to put an end to their addiction, they would begin representing even more acute of a ‘social burden’, because once ‘clean’, these people would begin demanding to be allowed to pursue the so-called ‘American dream’ (making good money), just like the rest. In its turn, this would add to the intensity of social tensions in the U.S. Therefore, it makes much more sense for the Government to simply provide drug-addicted citizens with monthly welfare-checks (large enough for the recipients to afford buying drugs), while expecting that these individuals will simply die off quietly in their ‘ghettos’.
Thus, it will only be logical to suggest that, as of today, the U.S. Government does not seem to have any plan, whatsoever, as to how address the problem of drug-addiction of America on any of the mentioned ecological levels. The best proof to the validity of this suggestion can serve the scene (Episode 1), from which we learn about the actual ‘progress’, achieved on the way of America conducting the ‘war on drugs’: “Thirty years ago, Maryland had only five penal institutions. Today, there are twenty eight” (00.01.03). In another memorable scene (Episode 3), upon having been asked the question “are we going to win this war on drugs?”, the Police Officer Robert Brown replies “no comment” (00.55.41).
Therefore, the problem in question is now being primarily tackled at the micro-level. Even though that the deployment this particular strategy by non-governmental organizations/volunteers is often being hampered by the lack of funds, it nevertheless cannot be referred to as anything but thoroughly justified. The fact that this indeed happened to be the case, can be exemplified, in regards to the character of Ella Thompson, who succeeded rather splendidly in endowing many children in West Baltimore with the aversion towards the very idea of trying drugs – doing this was her own initiative.
In my opinion, in order for the problem of drug-addiction in the U.S. to begin becoming progressively less acute, this country’s policy-makers should first familiarize themselves with the macro-systemic magnitude of the concerned subject matter. Then, it should become clear to them that the first thing that would have to be done, in this respect, would be legitimizing the idea that one’s addiction to drugs is more of an illness than of a criminal offense.
This, however, would prove being easier said than done. After all, there can be no doubt that the representatives of the so-called ‘moral majority’ in this country would strongly oppose the suggested initiative. As Yates and Fording pointed out: “State punitiveness does not appear to be driven by governmental responsiveness to mass ideology… the use of imprisonment is tied to the ideological tenor of the elite political environment and politicians’ electoral incentives” (2005, p. 1118).
Yet, it is only after the Government adopts an intellectually flexible approach towards addressing the issue in question, that it may begin becoming progressively more manageable. For those familiar with the main discursive conventions of EST, this suggestion will appear thoroughly reasonable, because it emphasizes the sheer inappropriateness of applying the solely euro-centric standards for assessing the measure of one’s behavioral adequateness, especially if the concerned individual happened to be ethnically visible.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, in regards to the discussed subject matter, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there are indeed a number of reasons to recommend The Corner for watching by those who are interested in learning about what account for the qualitative aspects of how the problem of drug-addiction undermines the integrity of American society, in general, and the people’s hope that it can be successfully dealt with, in particular. The watching of these series will also come in handy for those, who strive to gain a better understanding of how EST can be deployed, when it comes to defining the discursive significance of a particular socially interactive phenomenon.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Duerden, M. D., & Witt, P. A. (2010). An Ecological systems theory perspective on youth programming. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 28(2), 108-120.
McVries, P. (2014). The Corner Episode 1 VOSTFR_ Gary’s blues [Video file]. Web.
McVries, P. (2015). The Corner Episode 2 VOSTFR_ DeAndre’s blues [Video file]. Web.
McVries, P. (2014). The Corner Episode 3 VOSTFR_ Fran’s blues [Video file]. Web.
McVries, P. (2014). The Corner episode 5 VOSTFR_Corner boy blues [Video file]. Web.
Neal, J. W., & Neal, Z. P. (2013). Nested or networked? Future directions for Ecological Systems Theory. Social Development, 22(4), 722-737.
Yates, J. & Fording, R. (2005). Politics and state punitiveness in black and white. The Journal of Politics, 67(4), 1099-1121.