This continues to just piss me off — I know, what doesn’t? — but it’s resurfaced again in a HealthDay News report on the television website for Channel 13 WTHR Indianapolis. The article, Alcohol Companies Use New Media to Lure Young Drinkers: Report, is about the time-honored practice of believing that current times are the worst they’ve ever been (not like when we were young) and today’s youth is in more danger (not like the innocent times when we were young). Every generation seems to go through these machinations that the corruption of the young is either a new phenomenon or is far worse now because of some modern innovation that wasn’t around (in those innocent days when we were young).
Today’s bogeyman is the “latest new media technologies — including cell phones, social networking sites, YouTube and other features of the expanding digital universe — [used] to reach young drinkers.” Or at least so says a new report, Alcohol Marketing in the Digital Age, by American University in Washington, D.C. The report naturally singles out Facebook, MySpace and other social media and the web more generally as the new moral vacuum where our youth is being corrupted. It’s slightly more grounded than many of these types of reports, but it’s still fairly alarmist of the-end-is-nigh if we don’t do something variety. The fact that every older generation is afraid for the younger generation and pretends to be protecting it by trying to stop some imagined danger makes such arguments fall flat for me.
But here’s the bit that continues to chap my hide:
One area the study authors want officials and activists to look at is weak age-verification mechanisms, pointing out how easy it is for a young person to enter a false birth date so they are legally “of age” to enter a Web site.
Yet I’m not aware of any website that can dispense beer or any other alcohol. All you can do at the average website is — drum roll, please — read. So why on earth do you have to be 21 to read? Could someone check out a book about beer at the local library if they were under 21? Of, course. But online, now that’s dangerous. Until it’s against the law to read then no one has to be “‘of age’ to enter a Web site,” whether it’s about beer or anything else. Trying to keep people from information, even if it’s perceived to be the wrong sort of information, is a very slippery slope. And frankly, keeping people in the dark about something that’s supposedly bad for them keeps them from the truth, forming their own opinions, and exposes them only to the “approved” message, which is often laced with propaganda and misinformation to promote a specific agenda. That’s in part, at least, why so many people today fall for neo-propagandist arguments about the evils of alcohol. As long as the propaganda is so one-sided and people, young or otherwise, have no access to a balance of perspectives, then ignorance will continue to rule the day, as it so often does.
Henny Youngman was probably the exception to the rule when he quipped “when I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.” Unfortunately, more people probably believed what they read and gave up drinking. And that will continue to be the case if we continue to keep people from reading about things that others believe to be dangerous. That’s the very definition of a society that’s not free. Now I need a drink. See how dangerous this all is?