Why Does American Culture Glamorize Getting Dangerously Wasted on Booze, While Vilifying Pot?
Photo Credit: Chelsea Green Publishing
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The following is an excerpt from Marijuana is Safer, So Why Are We Driving People To Drinkby Steve Fox, Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert ( Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013):
"Drink Life”: The Portrayal of Booze in Popular Culture
Although booze and pot are woven into the fabric of America’s popular culture, they are typically portrayed in entirely different ways. The use of alcohol by adults is marketed aggressively, celebrated openly, and is normally depicted by the media in a positive manner. That’s why most Americans give little, if any, thought to the moral and health implications surrounding the use of alcohol, and many could not imagine a society that was anything but accepting of the public’s “right” to drink.
Just for a moment we’d like you to think about your own social routine. Now think about how often alcohol plays a role in your activities. For instance, have you ever given wine to a family member as a gift during the holidays? Chances are, you have. Ever gotten together with friends to have some beers and watch a sporting event on television? Or asked your colleagues to “grab a drink” after work? Of course you have. Who hasn’t? And what about the last time you attended a wedding ceremony? Friends and families “celebrated” the marriage by toasting the bride and groom with a glass of champagne, didn’t they? Sure they did; after all, it’s the customary thing to do.
In virtually all of these examples, people don’t really think about how or why they’re consuming alcohol. Rather, the use of booze is simply viewed as a traditionally and socially acceptable means to complement a festive occasion—no more, no less.
Now think about how often you are exposed to images glamorizing the use of alcohol. Even if you don’t drink booze, all one has to do is turn on the television—a billion dollars in TV advertising goes a long way—to witness the various ways in which contemporary culture glorifies the consumption of alcohol. For example, a national marketing campaign for one top-selling American beer a few years ago commanded consumers to “drink life,” as if to imply that those who imbibe get more satisfaction and enjoyment out of their days and nights than those who abstain from booze. A prominent series of ads for another top-selling brand implied that nothing else but a cold beer can sufficiently counter the aftereffects of a long, hard workday. In fact the very term “happy hour” (or its brand-specific equivalent, “It’s Miller time!”) is synonymous with the use of alcohol at the end of the day. Conveniently, this ubiquitous phrase promotes the positive, euphoric effects of alcohol while making no mention of the drug’s downsides—such as the hangover that might follow the next day.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, one of television’s most popular sitcoms was the lighthearted barroom drama Cheers, where a cast of lovable characters routinely bantered over beers at a local watering hole “where everybody knows your name.” Alcohol-fueled arguments, fistfights, and regrettable drunken hookups—frequent occurrences at most bars on any given Friday or Saturday night—were rarely incorporated into the show’s plot during its eleven-year run. And, aside from some friendly ribbing, there were few complaints that the characters’ consumption of alcohol made them hopelessly unproductive—although they routinely spent a significant part of their day sitting at a bar.
How many of you reading this routinely watch professional sports on television? How often have you witnessed pro athletes celebrate important wins by publicly dousing one another—and usually, in recent years, at least one attractive female broadcaster—with beer and champagne? Curiously, were a group of nonathletes to engage in similar behavior at, let’s say, a private fraternity party, there’s no doubt that their actions would be castigated (and rightly so) as alcohol abuse and sexual harassment. Yet this same behavior is routinely aired on primetime network television following major sporting events without any thought given to the “message” these activities might be sending to younger viewers.