“Dear Millennials (or whatever the media refer to you as),
This is an appointed representative of the older generation. You know, the ones making the rules you’re expected to live by. We need to talk about alcohol. But no lecture this time, just some honesty and some advice about your drinking.
First of all, what would be useful to you would be role models. You know, older people that you might look up to who consume alcohol responsibly, behave well when under the influence, that kind of thing. They exist, but they’re hard to spot.
There are plenty of high profile problem drinkers for you not to copy. You know, sports people, politicians, captains of industry who picked up a lot of the bad habits of generations before us.
It’s getting easier by the year to watch them being outed. But it’s going to get harder to find the plain old regular users of alcohol – let alone see them in a positive light – because we’re all against “normalising” drinking now. We’re all about hiding the booze behind partitions in stores, and putting drinking back in the shadows.
So you’re more or less on your own when it comes to positive role models.
Then there’s the law. We’ve got a pretty silly history with alcohol and the law. For years we’ve tried to use the law to make it hard for people to get a drink. There was six o’clock closing, banning barmaids, banning Maori from bars, allowing some bars to ban women altogether. But pretty much everything we’ve ever done to stop people drinking has had the opposite effect. Six o’clock closing just made people drink like they were in a race, because they kind of were, then take home crates of booze.
Being an English speaking country means that we not only inherited these weird conflicted attitudes to alcohol, we also inherited a sense of defiance against laws that we feel limit our freedoms. That meant that laws like six o’clock closing and a legal purchase age for alcohol of 20 have been some of the most breached laws in history.
But breaching those laws was our prerogative. We expect you to toe the line on these new ones. No matter how barmy they might be. You know, like the planned Auckland policy that will tell you which drinks you’re allowed at different times of the night.
We freed up the drinking laws in 1989 and sure enough consumption has been dropping ever since. Not only that, because the pubs didn’t shut so early, we stopped going round to each other’s homes to work through huge stashes of drink. Instead we could congregate together in the centre of our towns, at businesses that were purpose built for socialising.
But there was a catch. Those people who get ugly after too many drinks – they’ve always been among us – they’re now together in one place. It was a lot easier to ignore our ugly side before it was laid out in front of us in our city centres.
So some of us have insisted that it’s time to turn the clock back on those 1989 changes. But it’s important that you don’t behave like we did in the 80s. That was a different time. For one thing there were no smart phones recording the mayhem at student drinking horns, all day boozing sessions at cricket tests etc. If you carry on like we did, there won’t be enough current affairs TV programmes to show outrage at the footage.
Here’s the gist of what we’re asking. We want you to be better than we are, or were. We want you to tolerate even pettier laws than the ones we did. We want you to cope better than we did with all the compelling reasons for wanting to drink – the peer pressure, the temptation to rebel, the desire to look sophisticated, the promise of good times. We’re going to act like your baby-sitters every chance we get. And we’re going to be a lot less forgiving for the mistakes you make than our parents were for ours. That’s cool, right?”