In a 1903 edition of the Baltimore American, you can find a proto-genocidal gesture that goes beyond the negligence of a system letting you die (like when Mike Pence as governor of Indiana waited over two months amidst mounting HIV diagnoses to authorize a needle exchange program for IV drug users). Here is the editorial fantasy that prefigures Nazi Germany’s Black Triangle:

“Will Wear Badges: Smokers of Opium Will Have Labels of Identification” Baltimore American 06-12-1903, p. 4 —

And here’s the article, first published in a May 16th, 1903 issue of American Medicine, that’s reproduced  above (though it seems it may have been altered?):

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 12.57.29 PM

Across publication events, it would seem, the item does undergo significant alterations — not least of which the paranoia-deflating deconstruction of the logic of the original in its republication. If the American Medicine original triply encloses the report (under “Foreign News,” by “General” proximity to happenings in Germany, and simply by the fact it takes place in Fukien, China), the Baltimore American reprint “smiles to think of a purely democratic government undertaking such a direct ordering of the lives of its rulers, the common citizen.” That is to say, it brings that classificatory drive to bear, lightly, on its fantasy of democracy. It does this by reducing the taxonomizing impulse to absurdity, by unfolding its “logical consistency.” According to the logic of badges, one would have to invent “insignia” for “users of cocaine, morphine, and alcohol” but then immediately also for “every sort of crime and evil habit.” Where this ends up is in an indefinitely particularizing taxonomy manifested in “crosses, buttons, pins, badges, ribbons and insignia galore,” each recording, Scarlet Letterlike, some “demerit” on the “breasts” of “fellow citizens.” By the end of the item, its critique of proto-eugenic forms of social administration turns out to ground itself in a white liberal abstraction of commonality in which every citizen is supposed to be equally vulnerable to the law. Jokingly, but with a clear investment, the item ends by imagining administrative and police apparatuses sweeping across and thereby leveling every “common citizen.” Once assembled together, “our drug-users, patent medicine guzzlers, our gamblers, senators, drinkers and our advertising doctors, the Eddyites, etc.” — “should all be properly badged!” A senator, in whom the rule of the citizen is supposed to have been reposed, would appear just as susceptible to profiling as the “drug-users” and “gamblers” he crowds in with and ambiguously shades into.

At the same time, in the American South, a “coke” epidemic (which should be assumed, throughout, to be synonymous with moral panic) was underway. Newspaper panic about black “degeneracy” in this instance helps to underline why it makes sense to construe the badge system as a eugenic project.

A form of surveillance actually implemented in the US (from what I can tell so far, badges weren’t) – pharmacy registers that recorded names, addresses, and reasons for acquiring drugs like cocaine and morphine.


I’ll leave it at that because I really just wanted to get down some notes on this startling documentary relay.



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