Interestingly, Arthur Cauty is not some reformed alcoholic on a mission to alert his fellow man about the evils of drinking. But a young British guy who just never liked the taste or effects of alcohol. I mention this because such is the normalization of abnormal drinking in the UK that ‘not drinking’ just because you don’t care for it, is seen with suspicion and as something that is just plain weird. Cauty has been considered ‘weird’ his whole adult life and became curious as to why so many people in Britain drink abnormally and call it fun despite so much evidence to the contrary.
In may respects ‘A Royal Hangover’ begins the necessary process of dismantling a faulty belief system that has enabled binge drinking to entrench itself so much in our culture. The documentary starts with a brief history of British alcohol habits and then compares our relationship with booze to that of other countries. Our problem with alcohol is not unique but our cultural relationship with alcohol is.
There are similarities in the Spring Break/College campus culture in the U.S. But ‘not drinking’ is far more accepted by the wider population there than it is in the UK.
The film highlights how open container laws and less public acceptance of public drunkenness has curbed the eruption of inebriation that British towns centers endure every weekend.
The movie takes us into the ‘belly of the beast’ as it were and there are several scenes taken from an average Saturday night in Britain. It makes for unpleasant viewing. I am a reformed alcoholic, so for me it was like looking at myself 20 years ago and it wasn’t pretty. The participants adamantly state they are having ‘fun’ and ‘there is nothing else to do.’ However, it is clear to the viewer that as people lie passed out in the street and groups wobble by clinging to each other spouting nonsense that this really isn’t the definition of ‘fun.’
British towns prepare for the onslaught of carnage the nighttime economy unleashes. Local health services and policing are focused on limiting the damage that is wrought on an average Saturday night. To the point that 50% of the violent incidences that police deal with are fuelled by alcohol. At one point the film crew were so alarmed by a young man who was passed out covered in vomit that they called an ambulance. The paramedics arrived and then dismissed the potential patient as ‘just drunk,’ they had seen it so many times before they didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
The film creates a convincing picture of British culture that supports, encourages and celebrates alcohol abuse on every level. Try buying a birthday card for an 18 year old that doesn’t have a reference to getting drunk. Or celebrating an event without everyone assuming that alcohol abuse is necessary for the event to be enjoyable. It’s impossible.
With commentary from Russell Brand and various professionals throughout the film they convey the point that the reason behind our alcohol abuse lies in the ‘numbness’ that alcohol promises. It is this aspect of binge drinking that needs further examination in our culture. Why don’t we want to feel anything?
The film does offer solutions to the problem of binge drinking by outlining how research has proven that tax increases on alcohol can limit some of the damage drink causes. Minimum unit pricing can be effective in reducing the amounts people drink. Limits on advertising would also prevent the alcohol industry creeping into all areas of our lives. Alcohol certainly has a place in our culture but drinking and being drunk has come to dominate our free time, our celebrations and has redefined what the word ‘fun’ means.
The message that ‘A Royal Hangover’ conveys so brilliantly is just how silly the British really look in their pursuit of doing something so dangerous with such delusional abandon. It clearly lays out the answer is not prohibition but balance. Our culture needs to reflect back alternatives to binge drinking such as moderation. Being ‘alcohol free’ in 2014 Britain must be like being a vegetarian in the 1940’s – who had heard of such a thing? Now vegetarians are catered for everywhere and no one bats an eyelid. Why can’t ‘not drinking’ be seen the same way? What’s the problem?
The alcohol industry, that’s the problem. The self-regulated alcohol industry that lobbied the government to reverse its decision on minimum unit pricing. An industry that relies on us consuming as much of its product as possible to be profitable.
An industry that tries to insist that it’s only a small portion of the population that has a problem with alcohol and any regulation would unfairly impact the large amount of drinkers that enjoy its product sensibly.
Once you have seen ‘A Royal Hangover’ you will be unable to believe that anymore.