Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market Info

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In Reefer Madness, the best-selling author of Fast Food
Nation investigates America's black market and its far-reaching
influence on our society through three of its mainstays -- pot, porn,
and illegal immigrants. The underground economy is vast; it comprises
perhaps 10 percent -- perhaps more -- of America's overall economy, and
it's on the rise. Eric Schlosser charts this growth, and finds its roots
in the nexus of ingenuity, greed, idealism, and hypocrisy that is
American culture. He reveals the fascinating workings of the shadow
economy by focusing on marijuana, one of the nation's largest cash
crops; pornography, whose greatest beneficiaries include Fortune 100
companies; and illegal migrant workers, whose lot often resembles that
of medieval serfs.
All three industries show how the black market has
burgeoned over the past three decades, as America's reckless faith in
the free market has combined with a deep-seated puritanism to create
situations both preposterous and tragic. Through pot, porn, and
migrants, Schlosser traces compelling parallels between underground and
overground: how tycoons and gangsters rise and fall, how new technology
shapes a market, how government intervention can reinvigorate black
markets as well as mainstream ones, how big business learns -- and
profits -- from the underground.
With intrepid reportage, rich
history, and incisive argument, Schlosser illuminates the shadow economy
and the culture that casts that shadow.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market:

4

Jan 19, 2013

Investigating America's Vices
19 June 2013

Written the author of Fast Food Nation, this book contains three case studies that each dealing with an area of the black market: marijuana, immigrant workers in the strawberry fields on California, and the hard core porn industry. As one can expect from Schlosser, it is a thoroughly researched and tries to look at these industries in an objective manner, and does not necessarily try to conclude with some left wing conspiracy.

Basically there are lots of Investigating America's Vices
19 June 2013

Written the author of Fast Food Nation, this book contains three case studies that each dealing with an area of the black market: marijuana, immigrant workers in the strawberry fields on California, and the hard core porn industry. As one can expect from Schlosser, it is a thoroughly researched and tries to look at these industries in an objective manner, and does not necessarily try to conclude with some left wing conspiracy.

Basically there are lots of books that cover the topic of marijuana in the United States and the war on drugs. Being an Australian where possession of small amounts (up to three ounces in some places) is pretty much a misdemeanor that results in a small fine, it is difficult to understand the nature of the war on drugs as it plays out in the United States. In a way the war itself is scary because it has been suggested that if you are caught with even one joint you can be classified as a dealer, locked up, and have all of your possessions confiscated, even before you have been convicted. In a way I believe that this is a really heavy handed approach, particularly since the laws date back to the 1930s, where the Dupont company pushed for the criminalisation of marijuana so that it could dominate the textile industry.

Another argument is also that since it is only recently that marijuana has become a popular Anglo-saxon drug (up until the sixties marijuana was predominantly a Mexican pleasure, and its narcotic purposes were only used in cure-all potions made by chemists, who in those days did not necessarily need a license to practice). Unfortunately, it is very difficult to access anything these days on the history of drugs and drug use since many of these documentaries are generally not made, or if they are, do not appear on the mainstream media (unless of course its message is 'Drugs are bad'). In a way, it feels as if marijuana did not exist prior to the sixties, and that modern drugs, such as meth-amphetamine, did not exist until the late 90s (which is not true because allegedly Hitler used it during World War II and also apparently fed it to his troops).

It appears however that this book is about the black market and how the black market influences all of our lives. In a way we are all exposed to the black market, whether we smoke pot, or rent dodgy videos from those dodgy video stores that have no windows. This is where the second case study comes into play: illegal immigrants. Schlosser looks at the strawberry growers, but this applies to a lot of industries across the United States (and while it happens in Australia, the fact that we do not have any land borders with poorer nations, we have a lot less illegal immigrants than do the United States). The reason illegal immigrants are so popular is because the laws do not apply to them, so they can be paid under the minimum wage, which means more profits for the business owner, and that they are not affected by the unfair dismissal laws (or any of the other laws that apply to legitimate employees).

While the section on the porn industry applies to the black market as well, much of this has more to do with the freedom of speech amendment than it has to do with the black market (even though while the industry was fighting the obscenity laws the profits coming from the porn industry were effectively a part of the black market). Mind you, this section surprised me because I was expecting it to deal with Hugh Heffner or Larry Flynt, but they barely made a mention in this section. I guess the reason is that we are dealing not with what is termed as soft porn (if there is such a thing) but with hard core pornography. Mind you, porn has been around as long as there have been people willing to pay for it (even though before photography, we had to pay for live shows, and then we might as well go to a brothel), however with the advent of film, television, and now the internet, access to it has become a lot easier. ...more
4

Jan 26, 2008

Eric Schlosser, the grade-a muckraker whose widely read Fast Food Nation catapulted him to fame, returns with Reefer Madness, dedicated to nothing less than examining the underbelly of America's black market. Through three distinct essays (dealing with marijuana, migrant workers, and pornography), he examines the history, underlying economics, policy effects, and future directions of products and services that America can neither seem to abstain from nor openly embrace.

Reefer Madness is a Eric Schlosser, the grade-a muckraker whose widely read Fast Food Nation catapulted him to fame, returns with Reefer Madness, dedicated to nothing less than examining the underbelly of America's black market. Through three distinct essays (dealing with marijuana, migrant workers, and pornography), he examines the history, underlying economics, policy effects, and future directions of products and services that America can neither seem to abstain from nor openly embrace.

Reefer Madness is a difficult book to review because, in practice, it's actually three completely distinct essays, tied together at the front and the back. The essays have markedly different style and tone, making a comprehensive review challenging. So, I will take the easier route: briefly reviewing each section. The book's overall score is the average, weighted to how long each essay is.

Reefer Madness: 74/100

Schlosser's first foray into the world of the underground economy deals with the vast disparity between the harshness of marijuana prohibition and its apparent popularity. Heavy on both the legal history and status quo, Schlosser's peerless research shines, giving an unvarnished account of how pot is grown, distributed, prosecuted, and proselytized. He interviews people on both the smoking and the busting ends of the spectrum, and makes a convincing case that pot is, by income, the most profitable cash crop in the country, above corn (a position advocated by some long-time federal investigators, among others).

His final conclusions are that (a) the chemical and psychological dangers of marijuana are likely far lower than those of alcohol and nicotine, (b) proper research into marijuana's properties is being systematically discouraged to keep it classifies as being higher-risk than cocaine or PCP, (c) draconian enforcement has led to America's staggering incarceration rate (which has unduly criminalized that inmate population and destroyed both lives and families), and (d) that a system of taxation and regulation would more effectively solve America's pot-related problems than the utter failure that is the War on Drugs. He makes a solid (if somewhat dry) case for these points, backed up by considerable evidence.

In The Strawberry Fields: 62/100

The weakest essay of the three, Schlosser's examination of the hardships of Mexican strawberry pickers in southern California suffers from an all-too-common affliction in nonfiction: irrelevance. The investigative punch of this section is largely weakened by immigration having, since the book's publication, become the new "hot" issue for American conservatives, which has led many of Schlosser's assertions to become widely known. To his credit, his treatment of the issue does a fair job of both humanizing migrants and of explaining the pressures on growers to use migrants, giving the reasons for poor labor conditions without demonizing or forgiving unnecessarily. The historical angle of the story is also a welcome addition, one rarely heard in today's rhetorical war. Still, the essay is too short and isn't an eye-opener. Schlosser could have done much better.

An Empire Of The Obscene: 86/100

Despite the book's title, it is the third section that is both the longest and most engaging of the three. Schlosser brilliantly weds a comprehensive examination of porn's move from underground to mainstream with the legacy of an almost unknown figure who, by all accounts, essentially controlled pornography distribution for over 30 years: Reuben Sturman. Schlosser's high-density, high-quality research alone would provide much the same interesting tone as in the first essay, but combined with the rise and fall of Reuben Sturman it becomes electric and intensely personal.

Despite its lengthy exposition and its mere 103-page length, the story of Reuben Sturman could easily be an HBO TV series on par with the best serial television ever produced. The story is so incredible it can be hard to believe, with Sturman and his rival Richard Rosfelder (of the IRS) spending decades locking horns with great victories and defeats. The story has a femme fatal, a prison break, money laundering of the highest caliber, the Mob, and explosions. From his first run-in with the law in 1963 to his eventual death in 1997, Sturman waged a personal war on the U.S. government, and it's fascinating stuff.

Perhaps Schlosser's strength in this section stems from his detachment to its outcome. Unlike the first two essays, which have a prescriptive tone, hard-core porn is essentially a done deal in America. While a "war on porn" has been pushed by the Bush administration, a conflict Schlosser anticipates but had not yet had a chance to see emerge, he (rightly) treats it as a futile battle: porn and prudes locked horns for decades, and porn won. As a result, Schlosser spends very little time telling us how things ought to be and can focus on telling us how it was.
Final Overview

Throughout, Schlosser's research is staggering. The endnotes and bibliography make up over 20% of the book, and Schlosser cites just about every fact he asserts, a sadly waning practice in non-fiction. This helps to make his more eye-popping assertions even more striking. It's clear throughout that he isn't making any of this stuff up. Truth is stranger than fiction, and Schlosser is determined to uncover the truths about areas of American living and business that many people would rather not examine at all (in fiction or otherwise). Though it lacks the powerful, life-changing punch of Fast Food Nation, this is nevertheless an excellent book that every adult American should read. ...more
3

Nov 06, 2007

Reefer Madness is a collection of 3 extended essays about the underground market in America for marijuana, migrant workers, and pornography. The author has focused primarily on the economic aspects of the underground. The topics themselves are quite interesting. Reading about the strict laws against marijuana use are both frightening and mind-boggling. How can consuming something as harmless as a joint warrant a harsher sentence than what is often handed out to murderers or other violent Reefer Madness is a collection of 3 extended essays about the underground market in America for marijuana, migrant workers, and pornography. The author has focused primarily on the economic aspects of the underground. The topics themselves are quite interesting. Reading about the strict laws against marijuana use are both frightening and mind-boggling. How can consuming something as harmless as a joint warrant a harsher sentence than what is often handed out to murderers or other violent criminals? How is the US contributing to the influx of illegal immigrants in the US by failing to regulate agricultural growers who employ migrant laborers from Mexico for little to nothing? What does the overwhelming consumption of porn in the US reveal about how out of touch mainstream thought and criticism regarding porn are from what many people feel about it privately? The point being there is never an absence of food for thought. Schlosser feels that few laws albeit strictly enforced ones and government regulation of certain areas like business and worker's rights are necessary to produce the kind of equal and fair economy and country that most people espouse. Few would disagree with him there. Ultimately though, this book is somewhat stilted and doesn't form a very cohesive whole. While some of the essays seem to hold great promise they aren't developed enough and seem to be a little helter-skelter. As if the author gathered up his information from previous papers and interviews and decided to just throw it together to form a book. You understand his position but not convincingly. I am sure the author was riding a high after his previous success with Fast Food Nation but this book fizzles and eventually becomes less than hoped for. Once again, interesting food for thought but to feel sufficiently informed about these subjects you'll have to turn elsewhere for more detailed and channeled knowledge. ...more
4

Feb 02, 2008

Eric Schlosser has made a name for himself by probing behind the scenes of popular American phenomena. He became famous for Fast Food Nation, which was later turned into a film.

Schlosser's subject matter may trend towards the pop world, but his cross of investigative journalism and postmodernist sociology is both fresh and informative. It is obvious that he takes his material as seriously as any professional observer, and the reader reaps the reward of his work in the form of a much clearer Eric Schlosser has made a name for himself by probing behind the scenes of popular American phenomena. He became famous for Fast Food Nation, which was later turned into a film.

Schlosser's subject matter may trend towards the pop world, but his cross of investigative journalism and postmodernist sociology is both fresh and informative. It is obvious that he takes his material as seriously as any professional observer, and the reader reaps the reward of his work in the form of a much clearer understanding of the ways that American culture impacts the lives of real individuals.

In this book, Schlosser explores the American black market trade, as it has developed around three much different parts of society - the world of marijuana cultivation and sale, the immigrant labor market in California's fruit fields, and the nearly legitimized pornography industry.

Although there is a bit of a disconnect from section to section (which makes the book read almost like three), each is explored in detail, from multiple angles. He uses many reliable sources, interviews, histories, and his own observation to bring the reader into these rarely seen realms that nevertheless constitute indispensable columns of the American industrial/economic empire. ...more
4

Jun 26, 2007

I read and enjoyed Fast Food Nation several years ago. This book is by the same author, Eric Schlosser.

None of the detail or commentary in this book is original, but it is put together in a compelling package and in a manor that makes you think about how some of the laws and prejudices that we have in place are that way, and it just may make you think to question that.

There is a quote in the ending narration of the book that talked about what Freedom means, and it said that if you are going to I read and enjoyed Fast Food Nation several years ago. This book is by the same author, Eric Schlosser.

None of the detail or commentary in this book is original, but it is put together in a compelling package and in a manor that makes you think about how some of the laws and prejudices that we have in place are that way, and it just may make you think to question that.

There is a quote in the ending narration of the book that talked about what Freedom means, and it said that if you are going to be a nation with Freedom then you have to be willing to accept the good and the not necessarily so good that comes with it. That really hit home with me. While I'm not for example a supporter of pot smoking or paying immigrant farm workers extremely low wages, I don't necessarily think that the way our government currently treats these situations is the best either.

It is a compelling read, agree or disagree it should make you think about it.

Thumbs Up. ...more
4

Aug 11, 2019

A study of illegal or semilegal industries and what having them be driven to the black market does for operators and consumers of their wares. It covers Marijuana users and dealers, undocumented farmworkers, the history of the porn industry. The sections on Marijuana and porn take up the bulk of the book and undocumented farmworkers section is very short. The book was written 15 years ago so I think the plight of undocumented workers would be much larger if written today. The book documents the A study of illegal or semilegal industries and what having them be driven to the black market does for operators and consumers of their wares. It covers Marijuana users and dealers, undocumented farmworkers, the history of the porn industry. The sections on Marijuana and porn take up the bulk of the book and undocumented farmworkers section is very short. The book was written 15 years ago so I think the plight of undocumented workers would be much larger if written today. The book documents the insane war on drugs and the harsh mandatory sentences meted out to marijuana users and dealers. It covers the problems with porn which is a whole can of worms but was written before the online explosion of porn later in the 2000s. an interesting snapshot of black markets from a decade or so back. ...more
4

May 08, 2019

The FAST FOOD NATION author takes a look at underground, but still incredibly lucrative, markets in the US. We also read about the varied ways different Presidential administrations/governments have dealt with these markets. For example, President Clinton famously joked about trying marijuana and not inhaling, but marijuana policies under his administration tended toward harsh and merciless. And President Reagan's "business first" attitude decried regulations on worker treatment and The FAST FOOD NATION author takes a look at underground, but still incredibly lucrative, markets in the US. We also read about the varied ways different Presidential administrations/governments have dealt with these markets. For example, President Clinton famously joked about trying marijuana and not inhaling, but marijuana policies under his administration tended toward harsh and merciless. And President Reagan's "business first" attitude decried regulations on worker treatment and environmental preservation as unfair and unnecessary, but his administration attacked adult-oriented businesses and put them out of business--even those whose wares seem quite mild to modern eyes. ...more
3

Dec 04, 2008

This was somewhat disappointing after the first section. The section on illegal immigration focused almost entirely on strawberry farmers. That was fine as far as it went (and I don't know that I'll ever buy strawberries again). I was expecting a more broad description of the labor "underground" - and perhaps hoping for a further exploration of the illegal labor market in house cleaning and yards. Those are the places that regular Americans most encounter illegals and I think would have been This was somewhat disappointing after the first section. The section on illegal immigration focused almost entirely on strawberry farmers. That was fine as far as it went (and I don't know that I'll ever buy strawberries again). I was expecting a more broad description of the labor "underground" - and perhaps hoping for a further exploration of the illegal labor market in house cleaning and yards. Those are the places that regular Americans most encounter illegals and I think would have been more interesting than farm policy. But we're talking here about my expectations - he just wrote a different book (with a narrower focus) than I was wanting.

The third section, on the pornography trade, went completely off the tracks of what was sold, in my opinion. Once again, what he wrote was interesting but it didn't really give much information about the pornography business. The majority of the section was spent on Reuben Sturman, who was the "king of porn" for most of the latter half of the 20th century. Rather than using Sturman as a jumping off point to describe the porn industry, Schlosser gives us a "true crime" style story. He goes into great detail on Sturman's tax-evasions and the IRS and FBI attempts to catch him for one thing or another. Schlosser glosses over and gives small details on some of the things that would have highlighted the porn industry (why do women get into it, who were the customers, etc.) in favor of the Sturman story. While a story of Swiss banks and FBI forensic accounting can be interesting (and a general topic of tax cheats in America would even somewhat fit the overall theme of the book), it wasn't a description of the specific portion of the underground economy (porn) being discussed. The Phil Harvey story was very interesting and was exactly what the Sturman story should have been - a description of one of the major industry figures whose story is told to flesh out the overall topic but doesn't take it over.

It was an interesting book overall and I liked reading it, but I think it could have been better. ...more
3

Oct 03, 2007

Reefer madness is a look at the underground economy. Schlosser uses three aspects of the underground economy as a lens; the cultivation of marijuana, the hiring of illegal migrant workers (specifically California agriculture), and the production and distribution of pornography.

Scholosser is very much sympathetic towards the participants in these industries. He paints marijuana growers as small time farmers who are trying to make ends meet, and who are caught in the war on drugs by outsiders who Reefer madness is a look at the underground economy. Schlosser uses three aspects of the underground economy as a lens; the cultivation of marijuana, the hiring of illegal migrant workers (specifically California agriculture), and the production and distribution of pornography.

Scholosser is very much sympathetic towards the participants in these industries. He paints marijuana growers as small time farmers who are trying to make ends meet, and who are caught in the war on drugs by outsiders who do not have the will to go after dealers of more sophisticated drugs and their lawyers. Migrant workers as those who are hoping for a better life who are caught in hypocracy of an American agricultural market that can only survive because of cheap, exploited labor (although he identifies a few companies as treating their migrant workers well). And those who produce and distribute porn as people trying to make a living who are attacked by hypocritical politicians and conservative activists who want to draw attention away from their own moral failings. And in all cases, he advocates legalization to enable regulation. Marijuana as something without the culture of violence of harder drugs, and fewer effects than alcohol. Migrant workers so they can come and work the fields without the moral hazards. Pornography so it can be regulated and the participants protected under labor laws.

His use of stories has the big danger of lack of balance. You should be skeptical that he is cherry picking examples, and should be hesitant to generalize what he says. But you walk away thinking a couple of things.

1. There are at minimum, specific examples where the U.S. legal system should back away from, and the current system does more harm than good.

2. That the U.S. legal system is messed up in its priorities, its sense of proportion, and in the case of its morality/sin aspects, focused on the sins that are held by those without money and power. ...more
4

Mar 31, 2013

Fascinating triptych of articles from the author of Fast Food Nation. Schlosser has an enviable way of braiding facts, meticulous research, reportage and anecdotes into a speedy, punchy read.

The three long articles comprising the meat of the text deal with migrant labour, marijuana, and pornography. Schlosser's appetite for particulars regularly up-ends received wisdom. Of the largest mail-order sex shop in America, the headquarters is 'high-tech and impressive but surreal. Dainty, white-haired Fascinating triptych of articles from the author of Fast Food Nation. Schlosser has an enviable way of braiding facts, meticulous research, reportage and anecdotes into a speedy, punchy read.

The three long articles comprising the meat of the text deal with migrant labour, marijuana, and pornography. Schlosser's appetite for particulars regularly up-ends received wisdom. Of the largest mail-order sex shop in America, the headquarters is 'high-tech and impressive but surreal. Dainty, white-haired southern women - ladies you could easily imagine singing hymns in a Baptist church - were smiling and chatting and packing brightly coloured dildos into boxes.'

His facts are often surprising and always revealing. Three quarters of all $100 bills printed are used outside the USA: the 90s redesign of the bill was largely driven by concerns over a superior counterfeit that had emerged in Saudi Arabia. Drug lords and Islamic terrorists alike deal in dollars more than any other currency (more stable). Republicans produce and finance more hardcore porn films in Southern California than Democrats. Most astonishing is the annual U.S. revenue from adult entertainment. The estimate is between $8 and $10 billion, more than 'Broadway theatres, regional and non-profit theatres, and symphony orchestra performances - combined.' Rather odd for such a god-fearing nation, you might have thought. ...more
3

Jul 02, 2007

This book proves how bloody hypocritical the American government is (as if anyone doubted it already). An in-depth look at three of the US's most productive underground industries (pornography, illegal immigrant labor, and the marijuana trade), "Reefer Madness" details the ridiculousness with which the US government approaches the processes that make up ten percent of the country's total business. Judging by sales, Americans love pot and porn, but live in a country that has law about them that This book proves how bloody hypocritical the American government is (as if anyone doubted it already). An in-depth look at three of the US's most productive underground industries (pornography, illegal immigrant labor, and the marijuana trade), "Reefer Madness" details the ridiculousness with which the US government approaches the processes that make up ten percent of the country's total business. Judging by sales, Americans love pot and porn, but live in a country that has law about them that are more strict than most any other developed nation. Americans support laws that say what they're doing is wrong and then go out and buy exactly what they're not supposed to buy. The discrepancy between law and consumption is alarming and Schlosser points this out through primary accounts and excellent research. Also alarming is the extent to which the government has mounted a witch hunt against these industries and "crimes" that arise from them, while ignoring other and more dangerous ones. When a person can spend more time in prison for minor marijuana possession than rape, there's something that's all screwed up. Schlosser raises some interesting points that are well supported by fact. The marijuana section alone is worth reading. ...more
1

Jun 27, 2008

Like others who have read Fast Food Nation, I picked this up with great hope. Like others who have read this book, I was sorely disappointed.
It is what it is: a gussied up textbook version of marijuana, porn, and migrant labor statistics that feels as sterile as a World Book encyclopedia. I would have been completely disinterested if the book was not peppered with personal accounts. Still, in pages where these stories were absent, reading became unbearable, as if I was in high school again and Like others who have read Fast Food Nation, I picked this up with great hope. Like others who have read this book, I was sorely disappointed.
It is what it is: a gussied up textbook version of marijuana, porn, and migrant labor statistics that feels as sterile as a World Book encyclopedia. I would have been completely disinterested if the book was not peppered with personal accounts. Still, in pages where these stories were absent, reading became unbearable, as if I was in high school again and been given a horrid research assignment. I grit my teeth and read on, but at the end I felt really guilty; I could have spent my time reading something else worthwhile about te same subject matter.
The only redeeming points about this book is the migrant labor section, especially during this immigration crisis the United States is enduring. Perhaps if all were made to read this section, along with researching other informative texts, instead of carrying uninformed and rather ignorant opinions based on no facts at all, we would be much farther along in the immigration issue than we currently are.
...more
4

Jan 23, 2008

(written 6-03)

This was a collection of three essays, one about marijuana law, one about immigrant strawberry pickers, and one about the porn industry. I had already read the first one, found it on the internet, and liked it. The other two were just as insightful and I agree with Schlosser on all points - that the black market is too large to be ignored, that marijuana should be decriminalized, that corporations need to be regulated and the market cannot be trusted to serve the best interests of (written 6-03)

This was a collection of three essays, one about marijuana law, one about immigrant strawberry pickers, and one about the porn industry. I had already read the first one, found it on the internet, and liked it. The other two were just as insightful and I agree with Schlosser on all points - that the black market is too large to be ignored, that marijuana should be decriminalized, that corporations need to be regulated and the market cannot be trusted to serve the best interests of humans.

However, I was disappointed in this book. It was nowhere near as good as Fast Food Nation. Not as cohesive, and the book seemed to have been hastily put together as a follow-up to FFN, riding on the wave of its success. Did Schlosser sell out? At least he got lots of press exposure for these ideas.

I learned a lot from these essays but feel they were more appropriate in the setting of the Atlantic Monthly than marketed as a cohesive piece of investigative journalism. But keep up the good work, Schlosser. ...more
4

Jul 28, 2015

In Reefer Madness, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser exposes three of America's biggest black markets--pot, porn and illegal immigrants. These shadow economies bring in billions of dollars that remain off the books. The author's research brings to light how each of these industries has experienced unbelievable growth even as the government has instituted stricter laws and harsher penalties to keep them out of society or out of our borders.

4

Jan 17, 2010

This review originally appeared in the BOULDER WEEKLY
http://archive.boulderweekly.com/0513...

Notes from the Underground Nation
Through pot, produce and peep shows, Eric Schlosser explores America’s shadow economy.

by Vince Darcangelo
- - - - - - - - - - - -

A poor Midwestern farmer serves time in Leavenworth for growing pot. Migrant farm workers from labor camps sleep in parked cars in Southern California. A comic-book salesman in Cleveland builds a pornography empire and turns the modern porn This review originally appeared in the BOULDER WEEKLY
http://archive.boulderweekly.com/0513...

Notes from the Underground Nation
Through pot, produce and peep shows, Eric Schlosser explores America’s shadow economy.

by Vince Darcangelo
- - - - - - - - - - - -

A poor Midwestern farmer serves time in Leavenworth for growing pot. Migrant farm workers from labor camps sleep in parked cars in Southern California. A comic-book salesman in Cleveland builds a pornography empire and turns the modern porn industry into a mainstream multi-billion dollar business. How in the name of Kurt Vonnegut are these folks related? They are all part of America’s underground economy, documented in Eric Schlosser’s new book, Reefer Madness.

In his newest work of investigative journalism, Schlosser, the author of the best-selling Fast Food Nation, explores America’s black market–a shadow economy that accounts for an estimated 10 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product–through essays on marijuana, illegal immigrants and adult entertainment. The essays in Reefer Madness stand alone as individual works of investigative reporting, but Reefer Madness is not an anthology. It is a cohesive, multi-layered piece tied together by a narrative thread that gives voice to the winners and losers of the black market.

"It’s a different kind of book, not purely a collection of essays because the three [topics] share a lot of common themes," says Schlosser. "But it’s also not a book that I sat down and conceived from scratch like Fast Food Nation."

Though he pitched this book prior to writing Fast Food Nation, Schlosser says he couldn’t get publishers interested in Reefer Madness until Fast Food Nation spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list.

"It was terribly difficult to get people to care about pot smokers being locked up and really hard to get people to care about illegal immigrants being exploited," he says. "It took the success of Fast Food Nation to provide the leverage to pay attention to these things. It’s a lot easier to write about Britney Spears if you want attention and publication, but poor people of color is not something that publishers are desperate to publish at the moment.

"I feel like a lot of what I’m doing is in opposition to the celebrity journalism that has been so popular for the last 20 years," he continues. "I’ve really been trying to do old-fashioned investigative journalism… to take voices and people who don’t have access to the mainstream media and give them the opportunity to be heard. I think these subjects are important, but they’re maybe not getting the kind of coverage they should be."

This is especially clear in the book’s second essay, "In the Strawberry Fields," which takes the reader beyond the produce counter and into the fields where migrant farmers are exploited for cheap labor.

"Once people felt comfortable that I wasn’t an immigration officer, people were really eager to talk," says Schlosser. "There are not reporters banging on the doors of migrant workers every day. These are people who are completely excluded from the mainstream, whose voices really aren’t heard every day."

Schlosser’s ability to gain intimate access to his subjects and follow them into the fields accentuates the human component of black-market politics, part of the struggle that is often neglected in discussions of legal battles and illicit profits concerning the underground economy. "In the Strawberry Fields" tackles the intricacies of immigration law, sharecropping and the agricultural industry, but what is most compelling are the portraits of the exploited workers, the tragic victims of America’s black market.

Another tragic figure in Reefer Madness is pornography kingpin Reuben Sturman, one of the black market’s winners whose improbable rise and ultimate fall is documented in "An Empire of the Obscene." Sturman was a comic-book salesman who built an adult-entertainment empire that shaped the industry in the ’80s and ’90s and was victorious in numerous freedom-of-speech battles with the federal government. But Sturman was eventually nabbed for tax evasion, making him an ironic figure akin to Al Capone.

"I found Sturman to be an incredibly charismatic, bright and interesting person," says Schlosser. "When he was battling the obscenity laws, I really felt like he was on the right side. When he was funneling millions of dollars in cash to offshore accounts and threatening people with violence, he went over to the dark side.

"He’s somebody who I just think got corrupted by power and money. He started out maybe in one place and wound up in a very different place. It’s a very American story in that sense," he continues. "But had the laws been different, you would have seen his face on the cover of Fortune magazine and hailed as this great, brilliant chief executive."

Whatever his thoughts on Sturman are now, in Reefer Madness Schlosser presents each of his characters with absolute objectivity. The impartiality and lack of an agenda in Schlosser’s writing allows the reader to experience the subjects as though they are the ones conducting the investigation. Schlosser attributes this to his approach of investigating first, opining later.

"I have the good fortune on most of the subjects I write about to start from a place of total ignorance," he says. "For me, a lot of the pleasure in the work is educating myself about what’s going on and learning about the subject. It’s toward the end of the research that I have very strong views about what’s going on."

This is especially true in the book’s opening essay, "Reefer Madness," which Schlosser says came about through a discussion with an editor at the Atlantic Monthly about whether there was anyone in prison for marijuana.

"I had smoked pot, but I didn’t begin the investigation from the point of view of trying to persuade people to change the marijuana laws because I didn’t know anything about it," says Schlosser. "Once I’m done with a subject and I’ve come to my conclusions, then I speak out, then I become more of an activist on an issue. I don’t start as an activist and then decide to write something."

The result is Reefer Madness, a thoughtful collection of essays that takes the reader into America’s economic underbelly and into the lives of its often colorful participants. In the end, the reader will never look at a doobie, strawberry or porn flick the same way.

"I think I write things to open people’s eyes and maybe wake them up," says Schlosser. "What’s gratifying to me is if people start the book and then finish it and at the end of the book they’re more aware than when they started it."
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5

May 11, 2010

Journalism as social criticism--or vice versa

There are three long, but very well-written essays in this book, portions of which previously appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone and the US News and World Report.

The first, the title essay, is on the marijuana business in the United States with a concentration on the "killer weed's" legal history, its economics and how it is cultivated today. Schlosser presents the unembellished facts along with some vivid detail about the growers, the Journalism as social criticism--or vice versa

There are three long, but very well-written essays in this book, portions of which previously appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone and the US News and World Report.

The first, the title essay, is on the marijuana business in the United States with a concentration on the "killer weed's" legal history, its economics and how it is cultivated today. Schlosser presents the unembellished facts along with some vivid detail about the growers, the sellers, the law enforcement people, and the politicians. Reading this reinforces my belief that the "new prohibition" (not so new anymore of course) is really a full employment program for the law enforcement establishment endorsed by hypocritical social conservatives (Rush Limbaugh would be a fine example) and Christian fundamentalists, most of whom have little idea about what is going on.

The second essay, entitled "In the Strawberry Fields," is about Mexican laborers in virtual peonage in California, the history of this phenomenon, its politics, its economic consequences, and the reality of today's conditions in the field and across the border. The endemic political and economic hypocrisy is illustrated by Scholosser's eye-opening observation on why Mexican migrants are routinely rounded up and sent back to Mexican in a kind of (wink, wink) revolving door policy. When migrants are allowed to settle here and raise their children, the states end up paying for their education and welfare. However by periodically deporting them we benefit from their cheap labor "while Mexico...in effect...[pays:] for the education, health care, and retirement of California's farmworkers." (p. 95)

The third essay, "An Empire of the Obscene" is about the pornography business with the focus on porn king Reuben Sturman and his nemesis IRS agent Richard N. Rosfelder, Jr. who finally got Sturman for tax evasion. Although this is the longest essay in the book (longer than the other two combined), I found it the least interesting. That Sturman was able to launder and hide his profits off shore in the same manner as drug dealers (and, for example, Enron) was interesting, as was the way Schlosser chronicles how pornography has become such a huge business that it now accounts for a significant part of the revenues of some Fortune 500 companies.

Holding the essays together is Schlosser's idea that the private morality of Americans is inconsistent with our public morality, and that the evidence for this is especially compelling in these three domains of the black market economy. He frames the essays with an introduction called, "The Underground," and a postscript named rather hopefully, "Out of the Underground."

Some highlights:

"Today approximately three-quarters of all $100 bills circulate outside the United States." As Schlosser notes, this "serves, in essence, as a gigantic interest-free loan" from them to us. (p. 7) (I just hope that George W. Bush's huge deficients don't lessen the world's love for the Yankee dollar and lead them to adopt the Euro instead!)

"Import barriers [on marijuana:] drove prices high enough to make domestic production extremely profitable," allowing UCLA professor Mark A. R. Kleiman to note that this is "a rare instance in which protectionism actually worked." Schlosser adds, "Some American marijuana is now worth more per ounce than gold." (p. 36)

"The new mandatory minimum laws [for marijuana possession and trafficking:] took...power from the judge and handed it to the prosecutor" who could decide who to prosecute and for what. (p. 45) This results in an uneven application of the law and "de facto sentencing by police and prosecutors." (p. 53) Added to the power the police have because of the forfeiture laws, and one sees that justice in marijuana cases can be anything but. Schlosser cites an example in Ventura County, California in which drug agents had first obtained an appraisal of a $5-million ranch and then raided it for marijuana cultivation only to find nothing growing there. (p. 62)

A further point about the forfeiture laws (which I think are unconstitutional since they are seizures without due process) is that informers may get up to one-quarter of the proceeds. Schlosser claims that this has resulted in a "new business: the buying and selling of drug leads. Defendants who hope to avoid a lengthy...sentence...can now secretly buy information from vendors on the black market." (pp. 62-63)

Recalling that justice Douglas H. Ginsburg (nominated by Reagan) declined nomination to the US Supreme Court "after confessing that he smoked marijuana as a young man," Schlosser recalls the McCarthy era's "defining political question"--"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?"--with today's question that congressmen and political candidates have to answer: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a pot smoker?" (p. 49) On page 51 Schlosser notes however that "Legislation to impose drug testing on members of Congress has repeatedly died in committee and never reached the floor for a vote." One wonders why.

Finally, Schlosser compares America's attitude toward the drug Viagra with its attitude toward marijuana. He recalls Bob Dole's TV commercial for Viagra and then notes that "Elizabeth Dole, now a US senator from North Carolina, apparently doesn't oppose this sort of recreational drug use."

Bottom line: social conservatives will deplore this book, and right wing AM shock jocks will rant against it, while most of the rest of the country will ignore it. Too bad. This is a fine piece of work by Schlosser and everyone involved in the project, and an engrossing read.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is” ...more
3

Aug 14, 2019

Lacks the usual narrative thread that I enjoyed so much in other Schlosser titles such as Fast Food Nation or Command and Control. But I still enjoyed it overall.
5

Oct 24, 2013

Fantastic history of marijuana and migrant farm workers. The theme of the book is the underground industries where people are paid "under the table". The 3 themes are the marijuana market, migrant farm workers, and the porn industry. Eric Schlosser has done some great research and has presented enough facts and data to make strong conclusions on these topics. The writer states his own beliefs and the end of each section but the facts are so compelling that the reader can figure it out on their Fantastic history of marijuana and migrant farm workers. The theme of the book is the underground industries where people are paid "under the table". The 3 themes are the marijuana market, migrant farm workers, and the porn industry. Eric Schlosser has done some great research and has presented enough facts and data to make strong conclusions on these topics. The writer states his own beliefs and the end of each section but the facts are so compelling that the reader can figure it out on their own. I never really knew the real story behind the war on drugs and the mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. It's amazing that there are so many hundreds of life sentences based on non-violent marijuana offenders. It really has to do with how well they play ball and how many names they can give. One of the characters they examined had been a middle-man on a large marijuana sale but he received a life sentence because he had no names or people to rat out and he was too stubborn to play ball. A life sentence for no real reason is just a waste of millions of tax-payer dollars and is another sign of how America is in a state of decay compared to Europe. There have been something like 700,000 Federal sentences handed out for marijuana related crimes. Each one of them will cost at least a million dollars in prison costs and the damage becomes multiplied considering the damage done to family members. Meanwhile in the Netherlands, all drugs are legal and the amount of drug use is much lower that the US. There is much more to it than that but this book shows the war on drugs to be the worst sign of government incompetence. I was amused to read that the citizens of the Virginia colony were required by law to grow hemp and that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew marijuana plants as part of their farm. Yet today Virginians can receive multi-year prison sentences for growing marijuana plants.

The section on migrant farm workers is also very informative and eye opening. Anyone who thinks these illegals are taking American jobs have no idea what these jobs consist of. The people picking strawberries are making good money in terms of Oaxacan peasants in the poorest area of Mexico. The idea of Americans happily taking jobs which pay a small fraction of minimum wage is silly. These migrant workers live in caves and shanty-towns filled with garbage. They work solely to send money back to desperately poor communities in places like the Mixtec indian areas of Oaxaca, Mexico. Picking strawberries is so hard that college students trying to make extra money couldn't last an hour. But the free labor is a major support for the economy of California and most people don't realize it. Americans can't do the work and it needs to be done meaning that we need those people. I guess everyone is better off but the treatment and exploitation of the migrant workers is disturbing. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to have a clear understanding of the immigration issue.

...more
3

Oct 14, 2009

Reefer Madness is not so much a collective novel as much as it is a collection of three essays with a unifying theme. The unifying theme is meant to be the undermining and corruptive “black market” of marijuana, illegal immigrant workers and the porn industry. While each essay has its strengths, the theme as a whole does not really work.

The theme is weak in part because the “black market” aspects of each topic are corruptive in completely different ways. The first essay is the most effective and Reefer Madness is not so much a collective novel as much as it is a collection of three essays with a unifying theme. The unifying theme is meant to be the undermining and corruptive “black market” of marijuana, illegal immigrant workers and the porn industry. While each essay has its strengths, the theme as a whole does not really work.

The theme is weak in part because the “black market” aspects of each topic are corruptive in completely different ways. The first essay is the most effective and is about the ridiculous sentences charged to those people who produce, distribute and consume marijuana, sentences that are often vastly more severe than those passed out to violent criminals such as murderers, rapists and child molesters.

The author Eric Schlosser, who also wrote Fast Food Nation, clearly has no love for big business and an unchecked profit motive. Schlosser makes the argument there is no real reason for the criminalization of marijuana other than the fact there is no money in it. If pharmaceutical companies could package it and sell it as profitably as a pill, it would probably be in every corner pharmacy. While I agree with many of the assertions Schlosser makes for the hypocritical reasons marijuana remains illegal, I am not sure if I believe pot is quite as innocuous as Schlosser suggests.

The most effective part of the piece by far is Schlosser’s description of the people affected by the harsh penalties, especially one poor individual who was sentenced to life in prison for merely introducing a buyer and a seller. The section also describes the lengths to which some of these people go to avoid capture. The narrative, if nothing else, is an interesting read.

Schlosser’s description of the plight of California immigrant strawberry pickers is equally effective. Much like he did with the meatpacking workers in Fast Food Nation, Schlosser illustrates a group of people with no rights who nonetheless risk everything to do backbreaking work in the hot sun for 12 hours a day because it is still better than the options back home. If nothing else, it acts as a kind reminder of some perspective when complaining about some of life’s smaller inconveniences.

The last essay is by far the weakest, which was surprising. To have the porn industry detailed by a reporter of Schlosser’s pedigree seemed like an excellent opportunity to examine the hypocritical, two-faced Puritan roots of this country. While some of that is explored, the essay is far and away dominated by the story of one man who rose up through the industry, gained enormous wealth, and then lost it all and was sent to jail because of tax evasion. That’s right tax evasion. Not because he broke any ethical laws over the materials themselves, but because he skimmed millions off the top and was sent to jail for it. The guy is clearly meant to be seen as a persecuted hero but I did not entirely buy it. ...more
4

Feb 15, 2015

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this is far better than I imagined. Don't let the name fool you - this is no apologia for sitting around and toking up. It is instead a well-researched and highly informative trio of essays about those that exist in the underbelly of American culture.
The first and eponymous essay concerns marijuana trafficking and the societal costs, the second is about migrant workers in the strawberry fields of California, and the closing essay is about the rise of the I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this is far better than I imagined. Don't let the name fool you - this is no apologia for sitting around and toking up. It is instead a well-researched and highly informative trio of essays about those that exist in the underbelly of American culture.
The first and eponymous essay concerns marijuana trafficking and the societal costs, the second is about migrant workers in the strawberry fields of California, and the closing essay is about the rise of the sex industry. Though disparate topics, Eric Schlosser hits on many themes that echo within each piece and ties the book together as a whole.
The tone is never harsh or preachy: the style throughout is purely journalistic. Mr. Schlosser seeks out many varied sources to support every aspect of the issues under scrutiny. However, it is difficult to come away from this book without the feeling that moralistic and protectionist views influence legislation and perpetuate poverty and disenfranchisement. I read the ebook version of this, and my copy is littered with highlights and annotations. I knew I had to write this review in either under 300 words or over 4,000. For me, it was a binary option with nothing in-between – much like the life experiences of the demi-monde discussed within the pages of Reefer Madness.
...more
2

Nov 12, 2007

Well written, but overall badly done....don't bother. This follows Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which was an excellent, well-researched piece of journalism. But this book is very disappointing.

It is supposed to investigate three illegal markets...marijuana, illegal immigrants, and pornography. The section on illegal immigration is less than 35 pages, which is pathetic and doesn't even skim the surface. (He confines his discussion to agricultural workers, leaving our all other categories of Well written, but overall badly done....don't bother. This follows Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which was an excellent, well-researched piece of journalism. But this book is very disappointing.

It is supposed to investigate three illegal markets...marijuana, illegal immigrants, and pornography. The section on illegal immigration is less than 35 pages, which is pathetic and doesn't even skim the surface. (He confines his discussion to agricultural workers, leaving our all other categories of illegal immigrant labor.)

The section on pot is detailed, but still misses a lot. But the most annoying (and longest) section is on porn. While trying to convince readers that the pornographer he's focusing on was treated unjustly, he criticizes the government for treating the man like 'organized crime'. Then he describes the guy's tactics for tax evasion, intimidation, threats, and even paying people who bombed his adversaries...if that isn't organized crime than I'm a natural blonde with a weight problem.

Also, what have popular authors got against footnotes? He's got oodles of references at the back of the book, but you can't really link them to statements in the body.

I don't recommend this at all. ...more
3

Feb 27, 2008

although by this point, a lot of the statistics are pretty old & some stuff is surely outdated, this is still a very good introductory examination of not only the concept of the black market, but some of the ways society feels its impact. i'm not quite done yet, but there seems to be a dearth of focus on the internet in the porn section, considering that this was written in like 01 or 02...

update: okay, so he did talk more about the internet in the final chapters. the whole thing still just although by this point, a lot of the statistics are pretty old & some stuff is surely outdated, this is still a very good introductory examination of not only the concept of the black market, but some of the ways society feels its impact. i'm not quite done yet, but there seems to be a dearth of focus on the internet in the porn section, considering that this was written in like 01 or 02...

update: okay, so he did talk more about the internet in the final chapters. the whole thing still just felt a little old, though. but if anything, i'm sure every situation is worse than what is represented in the book. all in all, this book was monstrously depressing. i found myself frequently laughing out loud, because laughing is what you always do in the face of something huge & horrible & gruesome & inescapable. which is what our culture has become. a ruthlessly efficient machine that churns out billions upon billions of dollars & is fueled by thoughtless exploitation & worldwide human suffering. we have crafted the instrument of our own destruction & there is nowhere to hide from it. reading this book makes me feel/sound like sarah connor.
...more
4

Oct 28, 2007

Another book on CD I listened to on the way to work - it was really fascinating... lots and lots of info on the taboo topics of the US underground trades of drugs, sex and illegal workers. I liked how the main focus was on the economic and legal impact of each of these issues and not so much on the morality surrounding it (although the laws are often impacted by that!). The author spent a lot of time on the drug trade (almost exclusively about marijuana use/sale) and way too much time on the sex Another book on CD I listened to on the way to work - it was really fascinating... lots and lots of info on the taboo topics of the US underground trades of drugs, sex and illegal workers. I liked how the main focus was on the economic and legal impact of each of these issues and not so much on the morality surrounding it (although the laws are often impacted by that!). The author spent a lot of time on the drug trade (almost exclusively about marijuana use/sale) and way too much time on the sex trade (could have done without all the details on the life of Reubin Sturman (the supposed king of pornography distribution)... there was not as much info on the illegal immigration issue which I would have liked to hear more about. Overall it was a really good 'listen' although not as good as the author's class 'Fast Food Nation.' ...more
3

Mar 02, 2013

This book is divided into 3 parts, the common link being black market economics, politics and social implications of weed, farm labor and porn. The porn section was by far the most interesting, covering the fascinating life of porn kind Reuben Sturman, the Godfather of American porn long before the emergence of Playboy and today's current incarnations. Incredibly well-researched, and a fascinating study of a man who started from nothing, from when "porn" barely existed up to the modern era when This book is divided into 3 parts, the common link being black market economics, politics and social implications of weed, farm labor and porn. The porn section was by far the most interesting, covering the fascinating life of porn kind Reuben Sturman, the Godfather of American porn long before the emergence of Playboy and today's current incarnations. Incredibly well-researched, and a fascinating study of a man who started from nothing, from when "porn" barely existed up to the modern era when organized crime eventually became involved with much adventure and intrigue along the way.

An overlooked piece of American history, filled with background details of how the underground business evolved and was legally attacked. ...more
4

Mar 22, 2007

Many of the themes in "Fast Food Nation" return here, particularly in the section on migrant labor: Reading it, you quickly become aware of the corner into which our economy has backed itself. As is the case with the fast-food industry, the low costs we take for granted are only possible at the expense of the workers who produce these products. The section on pot is particularly disturbing as well; among other things, it's yet another reminder of what a disaster mandatory minimum sentencing laws Many of the themes in "Fast Food Nation" return here, particularly in the section on migrant labor: Reading it, you quickly become aware of the corner into which our economy has backed itself. As is the case with the fast-food industry, the low costs we take for granted are only possible at the expense of the workers who produce these products. The section on pot is particularly disturbing as well; among other things, it's yet another reminder of what a disaster mandatory minimum sentencing laws have created in the penal system, and what terribly thought-out political window dressing these laws are. I know you don't want to read it, but really, please do. ...more

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