It is all around us, ever-present, yet we tend not to comment on it. We see it on TV, we hear it on the radio, we stream it, we impose it on ourselves, we subconsciously embrace it; at least most of us. Your 5-year old nephew can get absorbed by it, your 70-year old grandma probably in some sense already is. As are you and I. It is not capitalism I speak of, nor is it sex in media or some other ubiquitous phenomenon. It is the romanticisation of substance abuse, and alcohol in particular.
Too much of anything is bad for you, even water. Most people know this, but there are certain things on this planet that are worse for you, in large amounts. Intoxicating substances fall into this category. We see it as our parents’, society’s, maybe even your educational institution’s responsibility to educate you accordingly in regards of the matter. Most of our parents tell us that drugs are bad. Smoking a single joint will eventually lead to you performing fellatio on elderly men to get your heroin fix. The gateway theory. Most of today’s young adults, and some older as well, know that this is complete humbug. I am in no way stating that weed does not have its side-effects, or that stronger stuff such as cocaine or amphetamine aren’t highly addictive, but I feel that the worst is neglected and not properly attended to on an educational level; in regard to harm reduction and safe use. Alcohol. Considering its legal status, few parents feel the need to push an agenda with it. Yes, they may give certain warnings about it, but on your 18th birthday they won’t think twice about toasting with you over a glass of champagne. Imagine if someone did it over a line of cocaine, I can hear the societal outrage rumbling.
Why are things this way? Why is alcohol not perceived as a hard drug? Simply because of its legal status? I, personally, believe alcohol to be one of the most addictive and life-ruining things out there, I’ve seen it happen and felt the force myself. Yet, we dare not speak ill of it; at least not in the same manner we speak of other substances. I believe the reason why this is, is plainly and simply, money. Whatever detrimental thing that makes some fatso rich, we tone down the negative side-effects and shine a light on the positive elements of it; if there are any. Sugar is another example, we have no trouble pumping our kids full of sugars and make them nice and obese, but we will rue the day they puff on a plant. Given, that plant might make them eat more sugar, but I digress.
Let’s break it down. How does it all start? I believe, with pop culture. We have stars of different genres of music singing about brushing their teeth with whiskey, downing molly and snorting lines of different substances of different body parts and/or objects. And we do not question it. We simply adore it. Welcome to step one. Now, I know at the age of 25, I am able to scrutinise what I actually watch and listen to, albeit not fully. But imagine someone in their preteens hearing lyrics of the sort. These words have no deeper meaning, there is no second thought, it merely seems ‘cool’. Move into teen years, and the effect is worse; when a reason to rebel is highly coveted. A mean to an end is provided. I will admit, I certainly fell for it. In my teen years, I believed the best way to oppose authority was by being as problematic as possible and by getting as fucked up as possible, in a futile attempt to prove ‘I can’t be controlled’. Even as we grow older, and are supposed to become wiser, there is that underlying admiration of getting ‘crunk’. Take for example a show like Jersey or Geordie Shore. For anyone not familiar with the show, it might as well be called ‘Human Zoo’. I seriously believe I have encountered more intelligent primates at an actual zoo. Nevertheless, people watch it and adore a show of such. Even well-educated people. Why? ‘It’s just entertainment’, yes, fine, but still feeds something that should not be fed. I am not saying light-hearted entertainment should not exist, but seeing humans take a step back in evolution should by no means be called entertainment. That is a disgrace to the bare word entertainment.
I choose to finalise the previous paragraph with Jersey/Geordie Shore because it is a show that completely neglects the second step. The repercussions. Listening to artists whom have struggled with substance abuse, and/or reading their biographies, there is usually an atonement that follows. The party ended, and what was left was, well, usually not much. So there is a sort of reprimand in parts of pop culture, consequences are being shown, but not when it comes to shows like Jersey/Geordie Shore. The shows would fail if the horrible hangovers were shown (not that anything on the show is real). But the façade needs to be upheld. Partying is cool. Who wants to see Gaz develop alcoholism and struggle to take care of himself? Or Snookie sucking off strangers to get a line of a dirty toilet seat in a cheap club on the Jersey Shore? That’s just not good television.
What is the answer? I wish I had it, I’d create rehabilitation clinics and become rich. I do not have the answer, but I believe certain steps can be taken. Especially within media. The first is to understand the meaning behind a lot of the art created as a consequence of substance abuse, and to not romanticise it. A lot of people enjoy getting drunk/high and so forth, but there is a price to pay. Whether it is in the form of a hangover the next day or a life-long struggle with addiction. Maybe it is for the best, not to find out which price you have to pay.