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Daily Register Exclusive (Part 1):

Trysh Travis comments on HBO's Addiction project

Advance press for HBO’s Addiction has been referring to it as a “film,” but if you look at the website you’ll have the strange sensation of not being sure what to call the programming event that begins on HBO on March 15th.

There is a “Film”—it’s the last drop-down menu on the right, and you encounter it only after your eyes travel over five other drop-downs labeled (in fine Public Service Announcement-style) “Understanding Addiction,” “Adolescent Addiction,” “Treatment,” “Aftercare,” and “Stigma and Discrimination.” These appear over the site’s central image—an arresting close-up of a blonde, blue-eyed, young woman, over which is super-imposed the legend “I need help for….”

Push past the informative and interactive features of the site to click on “The Film,” and you’ll find that the generic and formal entity you were expecting doesn’t really exist. There’s a “centerpiece documentary” titled Addiction—but it’s bundled with a “supplementary series” of thirteen additional short films, as well as four additional feature-length documentaries that “capture the personal, family and community struggles caused by addiction.”

If you’re worried (as I am) that all this content is going to crash your DVR capacity, you’ll be relieved to know that a DVD version will be available in stores next week. There is also a “companion book” from Rodale Press, titled Addiction: Why Can't They Just Stop? Rather than duplicating programming content, however, the book offers “a comprehensive consumer guide to navigating the world of addiction treatment.” And finally, lest poring over all this addiction-related material alone in your house start to make you feel a little weird, you can meet some other people who have been sucked into the Addiction vortex, thanks to the 30-city outreach program of “town hall meetings, house parties, briefings and other community-wide events” that piggy-back on the HBO-generated materials.

All this is just to say that you shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that much of the advance press on Addiction has been written by the television critics of your local papers. As the saying goes, “It’s not TV—it’s HBO.” Rather than a program, Addiction is sheer content: crafted with the explicit goal of what the website calls “multiplatform” delivery, it’s a high-quality realization of what media studies scholars call “post-network” TV.

Addiction’s formal aspects should be of interest to readers of the ADHS Daily Register because it looks like its content will be fairly familiar. The website reiterates the classic formulations of the disease concept, emphasizes the need for professional treatment, and stresses that recovery is a life-long project. Save for the expansive language of “alcohol-and-other-drugs,” much of the site content could have been lifted straight from the writings of Marty Mann, Harold Hughes, or some other mid-20th-century Alcoholism Movement activist.

As Addiction unspools over the next couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see whether the various film-makers, clinicians, and educators involved pay any attention to the questions that have compelled the attention of ADHS members and other scholars in recent years—issues like the social construction of vice and disease, the political economy that lies back of addiction (captured so well on that other HBO gem, David Simon’s The Wire), and the cultural politics of the recovery movement, to name just a few. Addiction’s ambition suggests it could encompass such complexities. If it doesn’t, and all we’re getting for the price of premium cable is the old wine of the disease concept packaged in some spiffy new bottles, it will be important to try and figure out why.

Trysh Travis
Assistant Professor of Women's Studies
University of Florida

Posted by Cynthia on March 15, 2007 at 04:15 PM in Addiction | Permalink