December 12, 2011

You Had a Drink, So Your Friend Got Raped

Most of the time, I find the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to be unfortunate. Annoying, certainly, but not bad or evil. I agree with Lew Bryson that it should go, but I'm a bit less strident, perhaps because I spent some time in and around politics. When you see the system from a certain angle, you get used to the idea that artifacts of dumbness will persist long after anyone wants them, particularly when those artifacts let people take kickbacks.

So PA keeps it LCB, despite many attempts to get rid of it, and Lew and company keep pushing that rock up the mountain. I cheer them on, but I'm never surprised when the stone rolls back down the hill.

Recently, there's been some progress, with the LCB doing its part by being terrible at lots of things, prompting the pro-privatization governor Tom Corbett to appoint a chairman of the Board who is also pro-privatization. Again, this I support, but I've learned better than to get emotionally involved. 

But then they decided to launch this ad campaign.
Go ahead. Read it again.
The "Control Tonight" campaign has one simple message: Date rape happened to your friend because she decided to drink, and so did you.

Now, I could spew all the venom about how this is the most odious blame-the-victim trash that is responsible for the "she was asking for it" mentality. But City Paper already contacted someone more qualified than me to say that. Or I could go on about how disingenuously provocative the imagery is, when most date rape is far more disturbing, subtle and murky than waking up on a bathroom floor with one's panties around one's ankles (that's why it's a different kind of assault, and a whole different kind of societal evil). But Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan put it well already:
Shock tactics aren't necessary to increase awareness of the possibility of rape. We know what can happen after a night of drinking. An ad featuring a shot of forcibly removed panties around ankles with text that reminds the reader that ladies drunk friends are what cause rape is not increasing awareness, it's just shifting blame away from the rapist and onto the victim and, oddly, the victim's friends, aka the guardians of her vagina...
Was Anne wearing a short skirt? Because I hear that makes it her fault, not mine.
Rape is not just a bad thing that happens to someone after drinking too much, a wave of nausea that ends in vomit that smells like Red Bull. It's not something the victim conjures up with a mixture of alcohol and phermones. It's a deliberate act on the part of the rapist, a violation of another person committed solely because the rapist wanted to rape. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we'll be rid of stupid, finger wagging ads like these.
For rebuttal, we turn to PLCB spokeswoman Stacey Witalic:
First and foremost our intention was never to offend anyone with the images but to bring about a greater conversation about the dangers of binge and problematic drinking. We did a lot of work with focus groups and a lot of research for this campaign, and heard from our target — individuals 21 through 29 — that these are scenarios they have faced and their friends have faced...it was never intended to feel as if blame was placed anywhere but the perpetrator of the sexual assault. That specific ad is encouraging people to maintain control, and if you see one of your friends losing control, step in and help.
And that's patently absurd, so I could go on and on about how alcohol use is not the same as alcohol abuse, and that having a martini is not synonymous with passing out while your friend gets brutally raped. But... you're readers of a beer blog, and anyway I have no reason to believe any of you are morons.

No, instead, I'll focus on the part of this that seems small - that is small, considering the topic - which is the fact that the organization using 600,000 Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars is also the one that happens to be the STATE-OWNED MONOPOLY IN CHARGE OF SELLING ALCOHOL.

In PA, we've managed to create a system where the guy selling you vodka is also the one who confuses beer with GHB for the sake of making a wrongheaded rhetorical point. In business, we call that a conflict of interests. Actually, that's what everyone calls it, everywhere.

Imagine you own stock in a boozeahol company, perhaps a brewery. The CEO tells you that the company has decided to launch a campaign urging people to be responsible. Being a fan of corporate social responsibility, you say that sounds great. The CEO then tells you the campaign is called "Beer=Death." Well, wait, you say, that doesn't sound like it's about drinking responsibly. The CEO assures you that it is, since lots of people die from accidents involving drinking and driving, and many of those involved beer. Well, you say, first of all, that's not logically consistent; it's both employing the fallacies of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, and reductio ad absurdum. Second of all, we sell beer. Won't people just be, well, confused, if we say Beer=Death? The CEO responds that you clearly are in favor of death, and you'll continue this discussion later, but first needs to go order some hops and a new kegging machine.

You have just been placed in the shoes of every Pennsylvania taxpayer. 

We are consistently asked to accept the claim that the LCB sells alcohol better than the private sector every could, in spite of a literal planet of evidence to the contrary. We are consistently told we should pay more for this service we don't want, because if we do not, children will be downing vodka on every street corner. And we're told all of this by a string of politicians and their flunkies in patronage jobs, right before they spend more than half a million dollars, in a recession that is so bad we can not possibly afford to ask gas drillers not to poison the water, telling me that my friend was raped because I had a Long Island.

Look, when it's the neo-prohibitionists, or groups that have gone off the deep end, that say my responsible choices are just like someone else's criminal negligence, I get it. I don't agree with them, but it's a free country and you're allowed to work for the banning of alcohol if that's what you want to do. 

But when the insane arguments and offensive ad campaigns equating drinking with rape come from the same government body that is a consumer's only option for purchasing alcohol, we have gone over the top of William Penn's hat, around the bend at Horseshoe Curve, and a whole City of Bridges too far. This is beyond ridiculous, and it's time for someone to stop it.

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