How much free will do we really have over our desires?
Working within advertising, I have this tendency to wryly describe what I do to earn a crust as “using my powers for evil”. Almost anything goes in adland. Boobies and bums are used to sell everything from books to burgers, kids who still believe a giant bunny brings them chocolate once a year are slammed with the full seductive force of marketing. If I think about it hard enough, I end up pouring myself a big glass of wine and entertaining wildly erratic thoughts of retraining in a more noble profession.
Unfortunately, that big glass of wine makes me wonder about the extent to which I’ve been brainwashed by marketing more than anything else.
I managed to make a complete and total tit of myself after a few too many drinkies last weekend, which is hardly a new occurrence. In the latest chapter of my ongoing and tempestuous saga with the bottle, I was dismissive and rude to Biker’s brother’s girlfriend, which is hardly going to endear me to his family. And just to make it extra cringeworthy, the very reason I had a few more drinks than usual was so I could be more friendly and talk more easily. I tend to clam up completely when meeting a new boyfriend’s family. I worry so much about saying the wrong thing that I come across as cold and unwelcoming.
But instead of doing the smart thing and trying to chill the fuck out and be myself, I turned to the turps. And therein lies the problem. Drunk Jem is much more outgoing, fun and confident than Sober Jem. She also tends to be erratic, inappropriate, messy and (on occasion) a complete out and out bitch.
Advertising shows us that getting thunderboozed leads only to awesome places. You’ll dance wildly with really attractive people who all think you’re super cool. You’ll be flirted with by sultry-eyed men with perfectly sculpted six-packs, or wasp-waisted girls in bikinis with huge knockers. You’ll have the best of fun times with the best of friends, and all will be merry and bright and sexy.
Of course we realise on a conscious level that these images are fantasy. We all know drink has a dark side. But sometimes I wonder if we’ve been led to believe so strongly for so long in the magic social powers of piss that we subconsciously downplay the bad times and over-emphasise the good.
In alcohol adland, nobody gets punched in the face by boozed-up meatheads looking for a scrap. Nobody drives drunk and writes off their car and injures their mates, or has to go to hospital for a stomach pumping. Nobody ruins a friendship because the alchy melts away their brain-to-mouth speech filter. Nobody ends up chundering their guts out in the middle of wedding speeches, or calls up their ex-partner and cries pathetically. Nobody wakes up the next day with a thumping headache and spends the whole day gacking up stomach acid.
Like all good marketing fibs, the story we’re told about alcohol works so well precisely because it contains a truth at its core. Binge drinking can be fun. It’s spontaneous and exciting, it chucks a spanner in the works of otherwise predictable social gatherings and mixes everything up.
But when I ask myself truly, honestly, if the good I get from binge drinking outweighs the bad, the answer is a stark (if rather sulky) ‘no’ … quickly followed by ‘but I don’t want to be a social outsider’. I suspect there are many many others out there like me. We want so badly to believe in the fantasy we’re sold that we go along with the herd and deny the strength of our own experiences.
Fuck I sound old.