With the Alcohol Reform Bill making its way through Parliament, there have been many ideas proposed by political parties and advocate groups to ‘change the way New Zealand’s drinking’ and much discussion by the mainsteam and social media. Proposals include: a ban on alcohol advertising, raising the drinking age, and establishing a minimum price. Each of these would have an effect – but just how much and whether it would be the desired one is very much up for debate.
Take the ban on alcohol advertising, which the Labour Party and National Addiction Centre are calling for. I would argue that most alcohol advertising is not aimed at children or even much at teens and therefore isn’t having a lot of impact. A better target would be the American teen movie industry. In films like 10 Things I Hate About You, Superbad, and anything based on a college campus, excessive drinking is portrayed as leading to hilarious antics, adventures and sex – sure there’s trouble and some injuries, but it’s all in good fun.* These movies establish as young as thirteen that excessive drinking is the key to a good time – but there’s no way the New Zealand government could keep them out, so why bother with alcohol advertising?
The simple truth is, you can’t legislate cultural change. The New Zealand Parliament has tried before – six o’clock closing anyone? – and failed miserably. The only way to get cultural change is for the people in the culture to want to change – to view alcohol as a normal part of dining or a taste experience; not as a pathway to greatness, freedom or whatever it is people want to get munted for. I’ll readily admit I don’t know how to bring such a change about, but I know I’m doing my small part – I don’t binge drink and I don’t party with people who do. And the government had very little to do with my decision to do so.
* I would like to point out though that Superbad does do a fairly good job of balancing the fun of alcohol with consequences – and I love that Emma Stone’s character doesn’t drink at all and doesn’t need to explain her reasons.