Lyndon Hood - self-dramaturg, Lower Hutt

Friday, November 19, 2004

ACTing Out

The following is a transcript of an interview conducted in my head during today's Morning Report.

Lyndon Hood: Mr Hyde, you've just proved that it's possible for parties to kick elected MPs out of Parliament by expelling them. How do you feel?

Rodney Hyde: Pleased as punch, thank you.

LH: I discover that ACT is against the party-hopping legislation.

RH: Yep. We voted against it and we're glad it expires at the next election.

LH: So you just went all the way to the Supreme Court to set a precedent for a piece of legislation you don't agree with?

RH: No. We did it to kick Donna out of parliament.

LH: But you're against parties being able to remove MPs?

RH: That's right. It's okay if we do it, though.

LH: You don't think that's hypocritical?

RH: No. I think it's mightily convenient.

LH: It's almost as if you've got two personalities.

RH: I think ...

LH: As in, may I speak to Doctor Jekyll?


RH: I don't think that's funny or clever.

LH: Is this a new attempt by ACT to seize the moral low ground? I mean, what with the way you are for property rights but apparently dead against drug liberalisation and freedom of expression, and what with, how shall I put this, Deborah Coddington? What do you say to that? Huh?

RH: Duh, look at me, I'm Rodney Hyde!

LH: And we'll have to stop there.

Finish Off the Last One, Have Yourself Another

It seems the people who brought your the campaign against drink-driving are ready to try and make New Zealand drink less. I'm considering pitching an ad where, just as he's starting his third triple bourbon, the protagonist's liver explodes out from under his ribcage Alien styles.

I don't want to go too deeply into the principles of behavioral psychology, but I had issues with the approach of the drink-drive ads. Showing terrible things happening to people who drink and drive won't work nearly as well as show people being rewarded for not drink-driving. For being a sober driver. For leaving the car. For not taking the car because you're going to be drinking. For stopping someone else driving drunk.

Since, in the real world, the reward for driving sober is not injuring yourself or others (or at least being less likely to), there's a place for the negative message by way of comparison. And I understand there has been the occasional positive ad in the drink-drive campaign. I never saw any. Mind you, I haven't had a TV in a while.

The new campaign has been announced amid much tutting about the level of and attitude towards 'binge drinking' in New Zealand. I'm not sure how many of the newsreaders and talkback hosts would be able to keep a straight face if every time they quoted the ALAC study they had to say that a 'binge' is defined as seven or more standard drinks in one session. Ah, yes. How often have we heard it: "I went on such a bender last night. I got through seven-eighths of a bottle of wine!"

Drinking at that amount in one go is no doubt bad for you. Probably worse that drinking rather more but spread over the whole week. And god knows drunk people get into enough other trouble. But there will be a lot of resistance if they expect people to limit their consumption that much.

Anyway, trying to stop people getting drunk is not so much like stopping them drink-driving as it is like stopping them smoking, This can be expected to be much harder. Not only are they both addictions but in both cases the health consequences arrive on a scale of years, quite unlike the immediate results that can be achieved by driving while intoxicated. This makes it harder to sell and, as I say, the negative approach isn't the best anyway. All it will do is make the drunks surlier.

Besides, ads about the dangers of smoking just make smokers realise it's time for a cigarette. And as a matter of fact, I'm feeling more and more like fixing myself a gin and tonic as I write this.

There are other options. Jim Anderton suggests putting the drinking age back up, and there's always more tax. Both of these would vex me intensely, but they would have a noticable effect on the levels of drinking. The Government (though it is talking about more enforcement of the current laws) is dismissing these as 'not enough' and is instead concentrating exclusively on an option which even they expect to take years before it starts working.

Which probably explains why the campaign has the support of the Beer Wine and Spirits Council.

Listening to their spokesman maintaining that it wasn't actually in their financial interest to have people drink as much as they can, I was reminded of a pamphlet I once saw (I think they put it out). It was about the benefits of moderate drinking. As I recall, beer contains some vitamins and minerals as well as many important calories. One the positive side, I don't think they resorted to calling wine fruit.

There was, however, a graph showing the point where the benefits to the heart of drinking was outweighed by the detriments to the liver. It was drawn as a line graph when it should have been a bar chart and the illness curve bottomed out at a liquor consumption that I estimated to be about twice as high as it should have been.

If these people are in favour of an ad campaign, I take it as conclusive proof that it won't damage their sales.

Besides, if the consequences are supposed to make stop people drinking, how come people put up with hangovers?