The haunting spectacle of crystal meth: A media-created mythology?


From  Crime Media Culture 

Media-fuelled panics about drug use and drug control have occurred throughout the history of the modern press. This study examines the creation of current concerns about crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) over the last decade, and how popular perceptions of drugs and drug users have been influenced by disproportionate and sensationalised alarmist media reporting. This movement can be seen as a case demonstrating the use of both propaganda and myth. The representation in the British mediahas created its own hyper-reality, influencing political debate, drug policy and public reaction. What is striking about the coverage of crystal meth, or ‘ice’ as it is commonly known, is that the media’s predicted epidemic in the UK has proved to be an exaggeration of mythic proportions. Quite simply, indicators measuring drug use in the UK suggest its use is almost non-existent.  This article has demonstrated that crystal meth represents a unique story.  The predicted arrival of an ‘ice age’ in Britain has not materialised. The article recognizes how the use of graphic visual images is pervasive in the24-hour, global, technology-driven, mobile, multi-mediascape and is even more significant in communicating the message and manipulating meaning.

It is concluded that the reality has become lost in the visual representation, and a hyper-reality of crystal meth use has been constructed in order to distract people from the veracity of social life and from more urgent socio-political issues. The haunting spectacle of crystal meth has become a central aspect of social order and culture; a ‘permanent opium war’ and an instigator of change.  The press has become the new battleground for this war on drugs.


For over a decade the media have been reporting in alarmist tones that ‘crystal meth is coming’ to the UK. Using clichéd discourse (‘crazed’, ‘epidemic’, ‘horror’, etc.) and visual images of deformed and disfigured faces, the meanings attached to the drug are clear: crystal meth creates dangerous ‘others’. Yet an identifiable crystal meth problem has hitherto failed to materialise, and press reporting of the issue appears to constitute an exemplary case of what Stuart Hall has described as a double movement within ideological discourse: a movement towards propaganda and a movement towards myth. This article examines how the threat of ‘ice’, as it is commonly known, has been symbolically, aesthetically and textually constructed in the British media, and how this representation has created its own hyper-reality, influencing political debate, drug policy and public reaction. The analysis places particular emphasis on the importance of visual images as a sensory expression of cultural meaning, an aspect of media representation that has too often been theoretically and pragmatically neglected within mainstream criminology.


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Article details
Tammy C. Ayres, & Yvonne Jewkes (2012). The haunting spectacle of crystal meth: A media-created mythology? Crime Media Culture : 10.1177/1741659012443234

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