Can you remember the bear? That bear? “Follow the bear”? Have I lost you already? Older readers may be aware of a certain advert that portrayed a rather groovy looking bear that promoted a certain alcoholic drink. It was huge at the time, just as big as Jack Dee’s “Widget” campaign for John Smith’s bitter… remember that one? Please don’t make me sing the song as it was the literal definition of an earworm. Oh ok, it went like this:
“Widget, it’s got a widget, a lovely widget, a widget it has got…”
You had to be there I think. It was catchy, we all sang it. It was rumoured that it was going to replace God Save The Queen as the national anthem.
Ok, another advert? How about the cigar ads? Cult classics such as Panama Cigars – “Happiness is a cigar called Panama” – or Hamlet, I don’t know, shows it didn’t work on me. The campaign depicted an arduous task that was made all the better for having a nice cigar. Bill Clinton of course went on to take this concept literally. An obvious gag you’ll agree, but I couldn’t leave it hanging – ironically; that’s what he said too. Moving on.
Why am I getting nostalgic on you? Why the halcyon look at yesteryear? I bet I drink Carling Black Label? Peter Kay and his infamous set of John Smith ads? The list of good advertising campaigns is as endless as the liver transplant list.
Think of these ads in a different way though, imagine cocaine was being pushed by the nations favourite comedians, or a cosy bear was peddling heroin; follow the bear and shoot up? Just doesn’t cut the mustard really does it? Logically and laterally; there is no real difference between attaching a fancy strap line and gimmicks to these substances over alcohol and tobacco, it’s fundamentally still pushing drugs. So why is one allowed but the other is simply shocking to conceive? Although, I must admit, I think an LSD ad campaign would be something to behold! Imagine the notion of an LSD Unicorn as national logo? In fact, I bagsy that idea, copyright, all rights reserved to Outlaw!
To correct my deviation, why is one form of drug pushing allowed whilst less harmful substances must be brushed under the carpet, and indeed, any discussion is forbidden. We’re not even allowed to speak of any other drug; Debra Bell once said that any time you mention cannabis, a fairy dies.
One word gives free license to hypocrisy – marketing. Marketing covers all evils, and the antipode, marketing also can suggest and impart evils. In society, a free market has been giving to alcohol. Until recently, tobacco also had a free reign on what it was allowed to do. I believe with no factual checking whatsoever, that tobacco once sponsored the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. This is how dangerous marketing is. It tarts up the morally questionable and makes it acceptable without anyone actually noticing. Try and shop for a birthday card that has not got a reference to getting drunk. Marketing doesn’t just extend to big television adverts where tick follows tock follows tick follows tock, no, marketing also accounts for a turn of phrase. “I could murder a drink”, “Bottoms up” and so on. Alcohol has been marketed to the point of societal saturation. Despite being one the greatest harms of society and accounting for a heavy burden on the NHS, around 10 000 direct deaths a year, and an arguably greater risk of mental illness than cannabis, all is forgiven because of that damn bear. Follow the bear… to casualty, the psych ward? Follow him to the grave, Hades even? What?! Nothing makes sense.
It is a clever world where such a killer can be dressed up to mask all sins. It is very curious that cannabis suffers from the opposite syndrome. With comparatively little to show for the harms, cannabis is a full and unmitigated evil. How can this be when a substance that can’t kill you is demonised in such a manner when alcohol is a guilty little pleasure? Yup, one word again; marketing. It’s no coincidence that we have a hypocritical and juxtaposed position of drugs, someone has had the job of controlling the output of image.
In the U.S, cannabis has a massive subculture, we have pot associated films, celebrities, programmes, jokes. Pot is mainstream, only politics holds back the place of legitimacy that is warranted. In the UK, we have an extensive underground culture. As a result, cannabis in generic terms is dirty and morally illicit. Our commentaries of cannabis come from programmes such as Shameless, Skins and the seedier side of life. Put a joint in the hands of Rita from the cabin in Coronation Street, and you will have cannabis accepted before you can say; “Sponsored by Harvey’s Furniture Store”.
Any portrayal of cannabis on UK television is of the down and out; the dregs of society. When Phil Mitchell was going through his crack whore phase, somehow cannabis was brought into the fray. He’s also a raging alcoholic, but the story didn’t feel the need to bring that part into correlation when he was doing ’drugs’ – no, generic and lazy concepts were adhered to fully. Further addressing the London soap opera; the Comic Relief special of Eastenders focused on the sex industry and female exploitation. How did they portray the depraved ethics of this life? Yes, you know where I’m going don’t you. It went something like this – bearing in mind I never watch Eastenders you understand?!
The scene: a squalid house party with two girls and 20 men – you do the math!
Girl 1 – “Glad you’re here, it lightens the load.”
Girl 2 – “What?”
Girl 1 – “You know. Want some of this?” (holds up a lit spliff to convey how risqué and depraved the party is)
Girl 2 – “Oh god no, I don’t do that stuff, I’ll stick with this, it’s safe” (holds up a can of beer and we all thank the lord she’s not into drugs)
Girl 1 – “Go on, it’ll take the edge off” (offers spliff once more, and we’re all shocked as a viewing audience)
Girl 2 – “No, honest, I don’t want to take my chances with that stuff.
I think they then went on to talk about golf, the Russian revolution, and Steven Fry somehow popped up surprisingly, but I’m still not too sure my Mum didn’t turn over to QI, so I’ll stop at this point.
You see my point though, to transmit a message – no matter how hideously invalid – is acceptable through the medium of popular television; all the thought process needed for the average person. The malaise of morals is forgivable simply because marketing has done a good job. Cannabis is simply a whipping boy.