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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anti-Alcohol Campaigns: Nice Art, Little Accomplishment

Below is one of the most telling images I’ve seen depicting the approach of state-run anti-alcoholism campaigns.  It is the classic Soviet-era ‘icon’ against alcohol…

The Soviet approach was the world-wide one: more self-will is what is needed when people become addicted.  Inspire them to stop, and they will stop.  Remove the alcohol, and sanity will return.
The problem is that it never works.  As you can see in this article, which describes the origins of the art (and how it is now being ‘reworked’ to advertise soft drinks in Russia), Russia (and the rest of the world right now) has had numerous efforts to combat drinking, and in the end the decision to give people their cheap vodka won out, either as the true ‘opiate of the masses’ or merely as a popularity stunt for politicians offer a liquid-version of ‘bread and circuses.’
Yes, advertising may help combat rampant Coca-Cola drinking and help Russians return to the much healthier ‘kvass’ (the latter of which I prefer, and I’m not a Russian), but advertising against alcohol consumption is akin to thinking that better facial tissues will cure the common cold.
Alcohol and drug usage are symptoms, they are not the problem.  The disease lies underneath the substance.  The substance is the symptom, not the cause.  Take away the symptom, the disease will still be there.
Despite how the message may be delivered, either by slick Agitprop art or ancient Slavic woodcut prints (produced by Communist artists!), admonitions to alcoholics don’t work:
Compare this with art from the 19th century temperance movement in the US and Prohibition:
Prohibition demonstrated that alcohol, unlike marijuana and other drugs, could not be banned for the simple reason that it is so easy to make.  In the end, the desire to drink overrode societal regulations, and this desire was not necessarily coming just from alcoholics.  Plenty of average drinkers (including my grandfather), made liquor and beer simply because they enjoyed it and resented being told that because others had a problem they could not enjoy an occasional drink themselves.
In the end, however, most campaigns carry the same message: will yourself to stop drinking.  This never works for the addict.

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