Monday, 15 February 2010

Nothing changes when it comes down to wagging fingers at drinkers

Whilst flicking through the Faber Book of Drink, Drinkers and Drinking (great book, get it here), I came across this gem, it sounds like the sort of thing that is scaring us on the telly now, but it dates back to 1975, which shows that there’s nothing new in the media’s tactics regarding drink. It’s written by Martin Amis, when he was seen as a precocious sprog of Kingsley (there is always that tale of the New Statesman running a competition asking for the most preposterous book titles, My Struggle by Martin Amis was one). I’ve cut out a couple of lines but otherwise it’s as printed. It’s also interesting to note the figures for wine consumption, this was obviously the period when people started to think that a bottle of wine was aspirational.

If you drink a bottle of wine a day (or five pints of beer or ten pub whiskies) you’re more or less an alcoholic, according to Tonight’s documentary on drinking (BBC1, Thursday). Over the past five years the consumption of beer has risen by 12%, spirits by 60%, wine by a ‘staggering’ 73%. A bottle of Scotch now costs half what it did in the 1930s. Housewives are boozing more these days; children are boozing more; we all are. I am an alcoholic for instance. You probably are too.
Bestial drunks brawled in a hospital casualty ward; an apologetic Irishman had a Guinness bottle removed from his crown; battered wives told of nightly atrocities; dazed tramps staggered backwards from camera; wrecked liver fizzed in a medic’s discard tray. The point of the programme, apparently, was to show that social drinking and alcoholism are not so sharply differentiated as closet alcoholics like ourselves wish to believe. But the images of impending Yahooism were too garish to convince. As one hard-drinking tot pointed out, ‘I see blokes drinking tons of pints — and drinking really fast — and they’re in the best of ‘elf.’ or as a liver expert more vindictively explained, ‘some of them get away with heavy drinking — that’s the problem.’ The problem? Admonitory documentation of this kind ought to be less scary if they really want to scare anyone.

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