Sunday, 6 November 2011

Drinkaware.ie praised at European Health Forum: satire dies again

As Tom Lehrer famously said, while he wasn't poisoning pigeons, 'Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize'.  In the same spirit, though rightly without the same fuss, drinkaware.ie was recognised for its 2011 student film competition as a 'model of best practice' at the European Alcohol and Health Forum in Brussels this month. 


Drinkaware.ie, it should be remembered, is the education wing of MEAS, an organisation funded by the alcohol industry for the Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society .  MEAS's modest aim is that "we must respect alcohol when we consume it" which it promotes "with no commercial purpose".  Drinkaware.ie itself has another aim - to educate the public about the dangers of alcohol so the government doesn't have to.  In this role as an educator the alcohol industry infact has greater access to the press, to universities and teenagers to promote more of what it has cleverly renamed "responsibility when drinking". 

Bulls - eye

The competition which earned them praise asked students to make a film about home drinking.  Incase its benefits were missed, drinkaware.ie reminded participants that 'Home drinking ranges from people enjoying a couple of drinks in their family home to house parties with large numbers of guests in attendance. In recent years, drinking in home settings has become increasingly popular: more than half of the alcohol consumed in Ireland is now purchased in the off-licence trade, rather than in pub settings'.

"Specifically targeting 18- to 24-year-olds, with a bulls-eye of 22-year-olds" the drinkaware.ie campaign placed "a stronger emphasis on the use of social media as a promotional and communications tool".  Said  Fionnuala Sheehan, Chief Executive, “The way we see it, the competition not only gets students thinking about drinking, but also offers them a valuable opportunity to meet people working in their chosen careers; to network with them; and to develop contacts and skills that will stand to them in the future.”  A good job this is education and not advertising, because the industry's own code on advertising prohibits associating drinking with social success or targetting the young.  A bulls-eye indeed.  

"Mortifying memories" and "slippery nipples"

Drinkaware.ie is not new to advising students on how and when to drink.  Its website offers 'myth busting' messages in which 'we don’t set out to lecture to students, or to patronise them. Instead, we aim to engage with them as equals'.  An essential part of the message is to play down the effects of drinking by being funny about them. For example:
"For those with something better to do, remember that just one drinking session can result in the most embarrassing and mortifying memories. For each pint you drink, you have more of a chance of falling victim to the beer goggles effect. Add a slippery nipple or two and you'll be waking up next to a face you will try to spend the next few years forgetting".
According to drinkaware.ie another myth to bust is that drinking impairs your abilities.  In fact it just promotes a carefree attitude, they say. 
"Canadian volunteers were asked to press a button when prompted by a computer screen but told not to press it if a red light also appeared. Those drinking were more likely to press the button when the red light was shown. However, when drinkers were offered a small reward they performed just as well as sober volunteers. Funny that".
Does drinkaware.ie think alcohol causes you to do to things you wouldn't have done sober?  No.
"The alcohol made you do it? Oh purrr-leease. The lamest excuse in the book. Its up there with the dog ate my homework. Researchers around the world have proved that it is possible for people who have been drinking to control their behaviour if they want to.  No matter how hard you might convince yourself otherwise".
The "dangers" of drinking too little

And the most dangerous myth is apparently that it is important to cut down the number of times we drink.  Far from it, we should be careful to drink more often.  If you only drink at the weekend
"You are flooding the brain with large amounts of alcohol, then subjecting it to a sudden cold turkey withdrawal, then doing the same again next weekend, which seriously messes with your brain cells.  So think ahead. [Instead, just] have a couple of alcohol free days during the week"
And on the five nights a week you are drinking simply "Pace yourself with water or a soft drink after every alcoholic drink and you’ll sparkle all night long".

Drinkaware.ie ads left on the toilet floor

This is apparently the message that the students want to hear. "What they want are the facts on how to ensure they don’t miss the best part of the night, avoid hangovers and fall victim to the beer goggles effect. The Booze Myths campaign is a fun way to deliver these facts."

Another drinkaware.ie campaign familiarised students with the effects of drink by placing 'images of drunk students sprawled on the ground pasted to the floors of college toilets as part of a hard-hitting campaign on the dangers of alcohol'.  Against research which shows that single issue shock tactics are ineffective and in-fact tend to reinforce drinking norms, drinkaware.ie claims that the images were 'designed to warn third level students enjoying RAG Week events of how their night could end if they abuse alcohol'.


Jessie J without beer goggles

Sadly you no longer need to go to the toilet to see drunk students on the floor, as singer Jessie J found at her Trinity Ball gig this year.   "Just came off stage at trinity ball" she tweeted . "Probably one of the hardest gigs to date. To see so many people so drunk they couldn't even stand. Girls unconscious and literally trampling on each other. It wasn't easy."

The singer, who has risen to fame over the past year, later posted: "I'm not upset they weren't all listening. It upset me to see so many young people so not with it. I'm not used to it. It's hard to sing when I just wanted to go into the crowd and help all the crying girls who were being squashed." 

Drinkaware's university campaign obviously isn't working, or is it?

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