restricted access Chapter 4. Swallowing the ’80s (W)Hole: Millennial Drama of the Narcoguerra
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147 Chapter 4 Swallowing the ’80s (W)Hole: Millennial Drama of the Narcoguerra Narcotrafficking is a primary contributor to the transnational American imaginary, in part because of the role of U.S. and Mexican films. In the United States, the most famous of these films are Scarface, whose poster graces the walls of many a narcotrafficker’s home, and Traffic, a film that collated a series of famous rumors about 1980s and ’90s narcotraffic into a moralistic parable aimed at preserving the heteronormative family—­ as nation—­ as the defense against drug consumption.1 An inadvertent, more recent meditation is also relevant here: Dallas Buyers Club, which clumsily and unintentionally reveals the deep relationship between U.S. neoliberalism and transnational drug commerce.2 For most viewers, Dallas Buyers Club is not a movie about narcotraffic; it is a movie about AIDS, the inefficiency of the federal government, and the bravery of an HIV-​ infected man who figures out how to use alternative drug regimes, often in addition to azidothymidine (AZT) to make a cocktail, and how to get these non-​ FDA-​ approved drugs into the United States. Based on the life of Ron Woodroof, Dallas Buyers Club was wildly successful. To the consternation of many viewers, myself included, this film effectively erased the collective forms of DIY medical research and distribution enacted by queer persons and their allies that characterized most buyers’ clubs and advocacy organizations. Critics such as A. O. Scott, who praised the acting in the film, juxtaposed Dallas Buyers Club with How to Survive a Plague—­an award-​ winning documentary that follows ACT UP’s activism in the 1980s. How to Survive a Plague convincingly argues that this activism led to legal dispensation of the cocktail and the effective end of an HIV-​ positive diagnosis as death sentence.3 Scott and others also rightfully criticized the film’s portrayal of trans characters and its stubborn insistence on employing a straight white male protagonist with homophobic tendencies as a hero in the AIDS struggle.4 What was virtually unremarked upon was the way in which Dallas Buyers Club valorized entrepreneurship as an individualistic mode of activism, 148 Chapter 4 encased within this white male body as an ideal conduit. While Woodroof certainly has a staff that helps him, including a trans friend and a butch black woman, most of the research about the disease and trips to fetch the drugs are solo treks by Woodroof, who works with doctors around the world to obtain portions of the cocktail. Nothing in any review I have found mentioned the political implications of his trips to Mexico—­ the primary place he purchased drugs—­ or the role of Latinx persons in the film. But they are everywhere, hidden in plain sight. The first appearance by a Latino is when Woodroof ends up being diagnosed with AIDS after a workplace accident. After indulging in the requisite racialized insults, Woodroof tries to help this undocumented (and never named) Latino worker to escape from an oil drill by cutting the power. This solution is the only possible one as the supervisor in charge is unwilling to call for medical help because of the worker’s immigration status. When the surge he tries to stymie knocks Woodroof out, he ends up in the hospital, linking an act of supposed generosity toward a Latino subject to his own self-​ discovery. The first person to get Woodroof the contraband AZT is a nameless Latino orderly, who dumps pills for him behind the hospital for pay. And finally, there are Woodroof’s trips to Mexico to obtain many of the drugs he needs for the club. The footage in Mexico is nondescript, featuring a fairly standard border crossing by car into the desert, tapping into standard dramaturgies of crossing. Yet the doctor from whom he is obtaining drugs is supposedly in Mexico City, a megalopolis in the mountains never seen on film. This elision reveals a certain U.S. imaginary of Mexico which erases Mexican modernity and cosmopolitanism in its desire to preserve an idea of Mexico as less civilized or advanced than the United States; not surprisingly, this trope underscores the lack of regulation in Mexico, allowing Woodroof his entrepreneurial virtuosity. Dallas Buyers Club betrays a racial unconscious in which the business of narcotraffic is a Latino affair. Brown bodies are everywhere in the background of the film, reminding us of the traffic in bodies and goods between Mexico and the United States, and particularly Mexico and Texas in...


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