ENGL 200 C: Reading Literary Forms

Drugs on Demand: The Fiction, Film and Television of Narco-trafficking

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 11:30am - 12:20pm
LOW 106
Gibran Escalera

Syllabus Description:

Drugs on Demand: The Fiction, Film and Television of narcotráfico

Gibran Escalera |Spring 2016 | University of Washington

Office: Padelford Hall A505                                                                           Class Location: LOW 106

Office Hours: Friday 8-10 (or by appointment)                                    Class Time: MTWTH 11:30-12:20 LOW 106

Email: escalg@uw.edu                                                                                   Class Site: via Canvas

What does Walter White’s meth empire in Albuquerque, New Mexico have in common with Sinaloa’s capital city of Culiacán over 1,000 miles away? This course investigates the divergences, contradictions and intersections in portrayals of crime and cultural formations across the U.S. southwest and Northern México by comparing 21st century U.S. film and television with Mexican-authored narrativas del norte. In addition to the political urgency of government corruption and impunity, critics note that the “boom” of literatura norteña results not only from the allure of sex, crime and violence in fronterizo cityscapes but the increased prestige and transnationalization of once-insular publishing houses. Crime has become fashionable throughout academia and across media arguably as a reflection of the times in which we live. Consequently for audiences there apparently may exist little to no difference between the methamphetamine superlabs run by what the L.A. Times identified as “Mexico’s most powerful organized crime group” in the Sinaloa Cartel, the fates of tiradores (dealers) in narco-novelas, and Heisenberg-cooked glass pervading the southwest, even if this latter form of trafficking occurs digitally and on-demand via Netflix and AMC.  

 This course argues that the selling power of these U.S. and Northern Mexican aesthetic forms often relies on a set of referents whose meaning is achieved less through any concrete bases in reality than the interaction between larger discursive representational systems, their capacity for reinvention, and their ability to naturalize social constructs as given realities. In this sense, the conditions of production for Northern Mexican fiction, as well as U.S. film and television, are simultaneously marked by commercial demands to generate content that sells and critical imperatives to mediate social truths. By comparing trans-border representations of narcotráfico, this course urges students to analyze the ways that circulating popular culture via box-office leaders, bestsellers and hit shows creates sophisticated readerships and by extension a common critical vocabulary with which to read and digest new cultural productions.


Along the Border Lies (2001) by Paul Flores

Balas de plata (Silver Bullets 2015) by Élmer Mendoza

Breaking Bad (2008-2013) by Vince Gilligan

The Bridge (2013-2014) by Meredith Stiehm

The Brothers Corona (2014) by Rogelio Guedea

Miss Bala (2011) by Gerardo Naranjo

Señales que precederán al fin del mundo (Signs Preceding the End of the World 2015) by Yuri Herrera

Sicario (2015) by Denis Villeneuve


Secondary Texts:

“Authority, Transgression and Border (on the narrative of Yuri Herrera)” (2014) by Martin Lombardo

"'The Bridge' Brings U.S.-Mexico Border Tensions to TV" by Melissa Macaya

 “Narco Realism in Contemporary Mexican and Transnational Narrative, Film, and Online Media” (2014) by Christopher Nielsen

“On Reading About Violence, Drug Dealers, and Interpreting a Field of Literary Production Amidst the Din of Gunfire: Culiacán-Sinaloa, 2007” (2008) by Gabriela Polit Dueñas

“The Politics of Drug Trafficking in Mexican and Mexico Related Narconovelas” (2006) by Diana Palaversich

Sicario” Offers A Stupendous, Morally Chaotic Dive Into The Drug Wars” (2015) by NPR

Sicario: Why Denis Villeneuve’s Latest Stands Tall in the Field of Narco-thrillers” (2015) by John Patterson

“So Close and Yet so Foreign: Trans-border Relations in Paul Flores’ Along the Border Lies” (2001) by Maria Antònia Oliver-Rotger

“Conducir un tráiler: Subalternidad, género y violencia en un relato a dos voces” (2010) by Adelso Yánez Leal

“Television from the Superlab: The Postmodern Serial Drama and the New Petty Bourgeoisie in Breaking Bad” by Morgan Fritz


  1. Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, and culturally.
  2. Students are able to perform competent close readings of course texts.
  3. Students understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the kind of close reading skills and approaches under study.
  4. Students have a fundamental knowledge of genres and/or arguments about genre.


Reading Calendar: Sp16 ENGL200C Reading Calendar.docx

Grading Breakdown:

Reading Responses: 20%

Participation: 20%

Essay 1: 30%

Essay 2: 30%


Includes submitting all assignments in MLA format and on due date; contributing to discussions and regularly submitting appropriate discussion questions.


At the end of each week, you will turn in at least a one-page, single spaced response to the week’s readings (12 pt. Times New Roman Font, 1” margins). You must have ten responses total at the end of the quarter.

Discussion Questions:

You will all be assigned to groups for the purpose of generating discussion questions. There are ten groups, comprised of four students. Each week, a different group is responsible for submitting that week’s questions. Every person in the group must submit at least two questions and one person only, on Sunday by 5 p.m., must submit the group’s collective questions. For instance, if Gibran is in Group Two, then by 5 p.m. on April 3, 2016 he uploads his group’s questions onto Canvas. Every person in class will then visit Canvas on Sunday night, print the questions, and bring them to class, ready to provide thorough responses.

Discussion Questions Format:

All questions must be single-spaced, written in 12 pt. Times New Roman Font and with 1” margins. Your question cannot be a “yes” or “no” question. In fact, the most successful questions will open up the possibility for a productive, academic argument. These questions will most likely begin with “How…,” “In what ways…,” “Given the formal structure…,” etc. Further, aside from typing your question, you must also provide a substantive rationale explaining the stakes, or the significance, of your question. This rationale need only be 2-3 sentences, but it must be clear and persuasive.


You will use Canvas to upload your questions, reading responses, and essays. Also, throughout the quarter, you may be responding to questions that I pose. Not only does this count towards participation, but it will be a source of discussion in the course (and can help spark your thinking for essay assignments). Save files in the following format: Last Name_First Initial_Assignment Name.

Sample: Escalera_G_Week One Questions; Sample file name for responses: Escalera_G_Response One.


Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else’s ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people’s thoughts and writing—as long as you cite them, and as long as their work is relevant to your own. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any writing whatsoever in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.

Late Policy and Essay Return:

Unless you have an actual doctor’s note (not a generic Hall Health slip)or other valid note of absence, there are no exceptions to the late policy. Every time you fail to turn in an assignment, whether it be a response, a discussion question, or an essay, you incur a .10 deduction to your final class grade. If you show up to class and do not turn in your essay or assignment at the beginning of class, you incur a .10 deduction. If you submit an essay that is not in the appropriate format (which includes font, size, margins, and MLA citations), you incur a .10 deduction. Also, it is your responsibility to pick up essays, questions, and any other assignments when they are handed back to you. If you walk out of class while graded assignments are being returned, any lost work is your responsibility.


If you need accommodations please let me know as soon as possible so that I may contact the UW Disability Services Office (DSO). More information about support may be found on the DSO web site at http://www.washington.edu/admin/dso/.

Writing Centers

The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-on-one help with your writing. Located on the third floor of the Odegaard Library, the OWRC is open Sunday through Thursday from 12:00 to 9:00 p.m. To make the best use of your time there, please bring a copy of your assignment with you and double-space any drafts you want to bring in. While OWRC writing consultants are eager to help you improve your writing, they will not proofread your paper. To make an appointment or browse the center’s online resources, visit http://www.depts.washington.edu/owrc.

Campus Safety

Preventing violence is everyone’s responsibility. If you’re concerned, tell someone.

  •  Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don’t walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at http://www.washington.edu/alert.

 For more information, visit the SafeCampus website at http://www.washington.edu/safecampus/.

 Course Concerns

If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact Colette Moore, Director of Undergraduate Programs at eungrad@u.washington.edu. If, after speaking with Professor Moore, you are still not satisfied with the response you receive, you may contact Professor Brian Reed, English Department Chair, Padelford Room A101, 206.543.2690.




Additional Details:

Drugs on Demand: The Fiction, Film and Television of narcotráfico

At the heart of this course is the assertion that narco-cultura, the literature, music, fashion and film of narcos (drug traffickers), is not exclusively Mexican but is actually trans-American. Due in no small part to the increasing celebrity of narco-cultura as well as the intensification of nationalist rhetoric that collapses anti-Mexican and anti-narco to mean the same thing the U.S.-México border is both textually imagined and materially organized as a crucial threshold. This course compares narrativas del norte, texts produced in or thematically concerned with Northern México, with 21st century narco-themed U.S. film and television in order to conceptualize the border outside of binary North-South models. Reading across literary bestsellers, box-office leaders and hit series allows us to see how new articulations of la frontera emerge from sophisticated readerships and their shared interpretive vocabularies.

Texts include Elmer Mendoza’s Silver Bullets (Balas de plata); Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (Señales que precederán al fin del mundo); Paul Flores’s Along the Border Lies; the films Sicario by Denis Villeneuve as well as Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala; select episodes from Breaking Bad and The Bridge; and also a selection of critical works by authors such as Diana Palaversich; Rosa Linda Fregoso; Hermann Herlinghaus and Óscar Martínez. All texts are in English but students have the option of reading material in the original Spanish versions. The consistent focus on reading and writing in this course satisfies the University of Washington’s writing requirement (W).

Catalog Description: 
Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 5, 2016 - 9:22pm