The drug war in popular fictional entertainment

The recent explosion of comic-book-sourced movies and television shows have had the luxury of creating entire classes of bad guys – meta-humans, aliens, super villains, etc., and there’s no need for writers to actually know anything about the science, economics, or sociology behind shark-men or Martians. But for ages, standard action shows have had a limited number of bad-guy options. Sure, you’ve got the specialty shows like SVU (sexual predators), but otherwise it’s bank robbers, terrorists, and… drug dealers.

For decades, drug dealers/cartels have been a go-to stereotype action bad guy for this kind of fiction. It’s a convenient mechanism with ruthless villains versus the good guys in law enforcement.

Of course, when you spend so much time studying drug policy, it’s hard to enjoy the fiction, in part because you can immediately see how ridiculous the plots and characters often are.

This week, I was watching “Scorpion,” a TV show about a dysfunctional group of geniuses who are called upon by the government to use their special skills to solve a problem, or stop a catastrophe. This episode, there was a visiting drug agent from Mexico, and this was the dialogue in the opening scene.

Federal Drug Agent Sanchez of Mexico: Three days ago a rancher found this brick of heroin attached to a drone that malfunctioned and crashed by the Arizona border. Our sources are certain it came from Central America through my country and into yours.
Paige (looking at the label on the heroin): Gold Mule? This is the heroin that’s been in the news?
Sanchez: Extremely pure, very dangerous. Kids are OD’ing on this poison all over the country.
Cabe: It’s potent stuff. Users are willing to pay top dollar for it and dealers are willing to kill for the distribution territory here in the states. It sparked gang wars in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami.
Sanchez: Innocents are getting caught in the cross-fire. (shows picture of a body) A father, walking home from work. An 8-year-old, doing her homework, bullet came in through her bedroom window, three blocks from my home.
Sylvester: (looking at picture) She was doing math!
Walter: I assume you want our help because drones are involved?
Sanchez: Correct. So far, we have been able to confiscate 85% of the shipments coming across the border.. trucks, tunnels, airplanes.
Happy: Are you telling me that all the drugs in the United States only account for 15% of the potential supply?
Sanchez: Imagine if the rest got in via drone!

There’s just so much wrong in that exchange. Both factually (85%???), and because a bunch of geniuses could easily point out how stupid the government’s approach is to problem-solving when it comes to the drug war, and would understand more about supply and demand.

The rest of the plot was pretty pathetic – the cartels sent all their drones across the border at the same place, where the geniuses knew where to be, in packs that could be tracked by radar, and, after a bunch of hair-raising chases and a medical emergency that had nothing to do with the original plot, the good guys won, bad guys were arrested and nobody died. And at the end of the episode…

Sylvester: Given the size of the shipment we stopped, and near future shipments of the same size, taking into account overdose statistics, the gang war over distribution and adjusting for a margin of error, we saved 4,287 lives. Minimum!

Of course, it’s fiction. Nobody’s looking for realism here. But man, it’s hard to keep a straight face when watching this stuff.

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