Thursday, July 24, 2008

“Just don’t do it, ok?” – Part I

(To set the record straight, this blogger only uses one drug, Aspirin, and does not drink or smoke anything. However, she does not mind if others do responsibly. Which is why she's writing this.)

I went to Yuk Yuks only one time and, to be honest, only enjoyed one comic. I can't recall his name but the main issue of his act was the US hostility towards Canadian decriminalization of marijuana. He was mainly pissed off that he had to carry his passport to cross the border. His issue was the vilification of marijuana use. The stand-up ganja lover went on to ridicule the US government's notion that by using marijuana, you are "supporting terrorism." He laughed it off. "Terrorism? When I get high the only folks I'm supporting are Rastafarians and single mothers."

Nancy Botwin isn't hurting anyone on Weeds. She's just trying to feed two kids.

The notion of supporting terrorism every time you light up is another in a series of poorly planned and ineffective anti-drug government campaigns, usually issued in releases only picked up by newspapers not read by the crowd they're targeting. Couldn't they come up with anything better? Clearly not.

I remember when we were in grade school, the DARE program was a huge deal. Everyone used those t-shirts they gave out as PJs or smocks for paint class. Regardless of the style choices, DARE seemed useless. For starters, no one knew what it stood for. Most of us still don't. I still think that the goal of the program was to just give you a t-shirt. Maybe I'm just upset that I never got a DARE t-shirt. Who knows, if I went to that school a little longer without a DARE t-shirt, I would feel like an outcast, isolated from my peers, and turn to drugs.

The DARE lion didn't need drugs, because he had this t-shirt and blended in with his friends. Yes to being an individual!

We were well out of the age of the after-school specials and mascots, and the campaign, complete with preppy videos and dancing was just so Zach Morris, the generation couldn't stand it, much less remember its message.

What do you think Zach was doing after school? And wait a minute, how could he afford that phone? Hmm....

Then there was the clip of Rachel Leigh Cook smashing an egg with a frying pan, staring square into the camera and screaming "This is your brain on drugs."

The path to any teenager's heart, as any high school teacher will tell you, is not a lecture. Although the speaker is very attractive, mere talking doesn't seem to be incredibly innovative or effective, regardless of the number of smashed eggs. That quickly became a favourite of sketch shows and the late night talk circuit. There were also campaigns to keep kids off drugs and promoting sports programs instead. But the no-drugs rule expires once you hit the major leagues, where drug use is pretty much the norm... until you get caught. It's hard to chase the dragon.

The issue with all these campaigns was that they were telling the audience what to do. It’s hard to argue that teenagers are the smartest crowd, but it’s unreasonable to assume that they are completely incapable of thinking for themselves. They just need extra persuasion and a clever way to deliver the message. Young people are going to make their own decision – we’re just stubborn like that – and there is a need for information, not a dictator. This does not only apply to drugs, but anti-drug campaigns make for a great study of appealing to teenagers and altering their behaviour patterns. Stay tuned for Part II and the discussion of significantly better anti-drug ads.

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