There’s a reason you crave a beer when you see someone on the big screen enjoying a beverage. Despite many of us thinking it doesn’t affect us, what we see in the media has a huge effect on our subconscious beliefs. In turn, these beliefs influence our behaviours and actions. Studies have shown correlations between exposure to alcohol portrayals on TV and viewers’ drinking behaviours, particularly when it comes to children and teenagers.
The best characters in movies and TV shows always seem to have a drink in hand. The cool girl drinks, the cool guy drinks, the serious businessman drinks, the hardworking doctor drinks, the experimental teen drinks. The most likeable characters all drink alcohol. Most who make a point of not drinking are portrayed as boring losers. Drinkers are shown to be more charismatic, sexually active, attractive, and fun. They are rich, successful, aggressive, and go-getting.
This might be okay if we were also shown the negative consequences of all this boozy fun. Drinking is further glamourised on our screens because the bad effects are often ignored. Characters can knock back drink after drink on a regular basis and it doesn’t seem to have any kind of negative impact on their lives. This unrealistic depiction of alcohol is incredibly harmful to viewers.
When we start to believe the narrative movies portray, it creates cognitive dissonance in our minds. On the one hand, we have internal beliefs (picked up from the media) that suggest alcohol makes you interesting and cool and hardly damages your life. On the other hand, we have first-person experiences of blacking out, being brutally hungover, and dealing with major hangxiety. We simultaneously believe that alcohol is both good and bad, but because we are told it is key to living an interesting life, we try to explain away the bad stuff. This creates unrest within ourselves.
There’s no easy fix when it comes to the portrayal of alcohol in films. Films are intended to reflect real life, and in real life, a lot of people drink. I don’t think we can even blame the producers of these movies; they likely believe that alcohol is great, and spreading that message is a good thing to do. I don’t have the answers, I just want to open up a conversation. To illustrate my points, I’ve created a list of movies and TV shows from the top of my head that perpetuate a pro-alcohol sentiment in one way or another…
List of movies & TV shows that portray alcohol as glamourous, normal, or fun
I Love You, Man
Most of the James Bond films
How I Met Your Mother
Him and Her
About a Boy
School of Rock
The Royal Tenenbaums
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Darjeeling Limited
Midnight in Paris
The Good Place
Lost in Translation
I May Destroy You
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Game of Thrones
The End of the F***ing World
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This list includes some of my favourite shows and films, and so it should be noted that this isn’t intended as a harsh critique of them. Rather, it just shows how normalised alcohol is and that it can be found in many of our favourites.
Let me know of some more movies and TV shows that come to mind in the comments!