Character Studies

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

Jason Ruiz was a D.A.R.E. kid. Like many American schoolchildren in the 1980s, his introduction to the “Just Say No” message came from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. He was also a TV kid. In that era, many “very special episodes” served as a sort of pop culture component of the national War on Drugs.

Now a Notre Dame professor of American studies, Ruiz does not draw a straight line from those childhood influences to his latest book, Narcomedia: Latinidad, Popular Culture, and America’s War on Drugs. But in its pages he focuses a scholarly lens on one-dimensional depictions of Latinos as the bad guys, kingpins and users in works such as Scarface and Miami Vice, up through more recent series like Narcos and Breaking Bad. Film and television, he finds, have given scant attention to ordinary lives in all their complexity, favoring instead a narrow, villainous portrayal of latinidad — “the idea of Latino-ness” — in drug narratives.

Ruiz joins our podcast to discuss Narcomedia, Latino representation in the iconic movies and shows that he studied, the tragic impact of drugs on his own extended family, and his hope for a more humane approach to preventing and treating addiction.