God, it’s that time again already, when there’s so little considered newsworthy in the world that a collection of photos of youths staggering along streets inebriated is deemed a lead story. We should thank the Daily Mail really: without their tireless efforts we’d stand no chance of knowing that people sometimes get drunk.
‘Why do intelligent young women who are nurses, teachers and mothers drink themselves to oblivion every night across Britain?’ screams one headline, the familiar drumbeats of public-service denigration and casual misogyny rolling behind like a club track. Elsewhere photographers are despatched to pub crawls near university campuses to capture freshers doing what freshers have always done, for the twin purposes of horrifying and titillating a middle-england that longs to stare at females in tiny outfits but needs a mask of outrage to do so.
There’s no ‘news’ in these stories but the narrative is clear: that we’re less responsible than previous generations, that our morals have degraded and our sense of shame long since ebbed away. It is, of course, impossible for the argument to be proven either way – there was a decided lack of freelance photographers on the streets of Victorian England, sadly – but hey, the Broken Britain mantra makes for good copy.
And sure, some of the details are shocking, a lurid landscape of public urination and casual promiscuity conveyed in bold type and orange street-lighting. But by placing this behaviour centre-stage the press is promoting it, whatever editorial line might be taken. Showbiz columns churn with debauched tales of D-list parties, zoom lenses trained on every make-up smear and high-heeled stagger: of course that’s going to spill across to our town-centres, to the mindsets of individuals ever more atomised from a wider society.
The very organs paternalistically moralising are those that have created this culture of doublethink, where we simultaneously abhor and crave the lifestyles of excess presented to us each day. The press aren’t alone here, of course, but it’s their hypocrisy which truly riles, and their failure to acknowledge any part in endorsing these behaviours. We do have an issue with binge drinking in this country, with unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption and some dangerous attitudes regarding what our nights out should involve. But this annual media orgy of selective shaming isn’t helping to address them.