17 Aug 2022

‘New’ craze just the latest red herring

And so, the controversial ‘neknominations’ fad looks set to die out in the way that always seemed inevitable.

And so, the controversial ‘neknominations’ fad looks set to die out in the way that always seemed inevitable.

On Monday, Irish people living abroad or who had not yet seen the news were still posting their neknomination videos. They can be forgiven for being a little taken aback at their friends’ admonishments, however, because what had been the height of hilarity and friendly banter the day before, was suddenly morbid and taboo.

The sad, avoidable death of a young Carlow man was the catalyst. Cue people asking Facebook to ban pages – even calling to ban Facebook. Such arguments miss the point, however.

Facebook did not invent drinking games, social pressure and irresponsibility. Getting angry and demanding ‘action’ over neknomination is comforting for people, because it allows them to feel as though something is being done about Ireland’s alcohol problem. It’s also convenient because it allows people to convince themselves they are not part of this alcohol problem, because most of us – even self-confessed heavy drinkers – do not drink pints in one go and post a video on the internet.

They like to drink ‘responsibly’ – a term we love in this country, because it implies that ingesting a quantity of a highly poisonous and inebriating substance is a reasonable action. Saturation marketing and supposed social norms might convince us differently, but anyone congratulating themselves because they consume their poison at a marginally slower rate than a neknomination can hardly be described as ‘responsible’.

Neknomination is the ultimate red herring. It is the tip of an iceberg, where hand-wringing over the regrettable, high-profile death of a young man means we can pretend that our ‘normal’ drinking is okay.

The sad reality is that many thousands of lives are destroyed in this country every year from the kind of drinking that doesn’t outrage our sentiments: Violent assaults where alcohol is a factor, car accidents, broken homes, social problems, mental health problems and suicides – but before any of that – we know that liver disease in young people is soaring, and that every year, twice as many people die from alcohol than all other drugs combined.

Alcohol Ireland decried neknomination because it ‘reinforces the belief that getting drunk is both normal and fun’. But we already convince young people to believe that drinking is a ‘grown-up’ and mature activity, or an appropriate way to deal with problems and stresses.

After all, arguments defending alcohol consumption roughly follow the same pattern, ie. it’s a social activity, etc, and neknominate certainly was social – friends nominating friends, taking videos of one another.

Where did it all go wrong? Neknominations should have followed the example of the industry of course! Facebook users, when nominating their friends, should simply have added ‘Always Neknominate Responsibly’, thereby absolving themselves and the fad of all responsibility.

I was in Berlin last summer. Alcohol is cheaper there than it is here; it is more widely available (in every little corner shop); and people can legally consume it at a younger age. There are also few laws on public consumption, and it is perfectly acceptable to walk around the streets sipping a can of lager.

In my entire time there I went to plenty of pubs, but I saw no drunkenness or even people drinking in the same way people do here.

Banning neknomination or spouting the usual vapid invectives is a cosmetic treatment for a far deeper-rooted problem in this country that nobody is really interested in tackling. Arguments about low cost, availability, social media, etc, do nothing to address why people feel the desire and need to inebriate themselves – be it the first sip or in excess – and the commitment required to continue drinking until it has become a problem.

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