The press makes me tired…

On the one hand I’m depressed at the disintegration of print journalism as the result of the economic non-viability of the newspaper business model.  On the other hand we have this whole [tag]Michael Phelps[/tag] bullshit bong brouhaha that makes me eager for the demise of what passes for journalism today.

I’d like, very much, for someone to explain to me what public interest has been served by outing Phelps as a guy who stuck a [tag]bong[/tag] up to his face at a party (because, absent any blood tests proving anything else, that’s all we know for sure that he did).  Even being generous, there’s no public interest served by labeling him as a drug user.  Plenty of halfwits will argue that “he broke the law” or “set a bad example for kids who look up to him.”  I call bullshit on both counts.

Let me ask this question – if the photo in question was of Michael Phelps hoisting a can of Bud instead of smoking bud would any news outlet have run it?  The answer is no, and the reason the answer is no is because our national attitude towards intoxicants is illogical, hypocritical and blatantly stupid.  America isn’t at war against drugs.  Americans love drugs.  We ingest 1.5 cups of coffee per day, with about 135 mg of caffeine per cup.  Read up on your caffeine folks.  It’s a powerful and extremely addictive drug and it’s not entirely benign.  I had to eliminate caffeine from my diet 7 years ago in order to correct a serious medical condition (the details of which I’d rather keep to myself).  And I’m not even touching on the amount of caffeinated sodas consumed per capita in the US each year.

Then, of course, there’s alcohol.  Sure, there are a fair number of teatotaling Americans who would tsk tsk Phelps for drinking booze as much as for taking a bong hit, but generally speaking we Yanks love our hooch.  We’ve built elaborate consumer industries around alcohol, not to mention entire segments of popular culture that are utterly dependant on the presence of liquor to sustain themselves.  If you like popular music you can thank the distilled beverage industry for heavily subsidizing rock, country and jazz and making their continued practice possible.  Confused?  Let me explain – live music venues depend on the revenue generated by the consumption of beer, wine and spirits to sustain themselves.  Without the money brought in through selling drinks none of these venues would stay open and the opportunities for live music fans and people who just like to dance to pre-recorded music would evaporate.

I can’t leave this subject behind without talking about prescription pharmaceuticals.  Mood altering prescription chemicals make up a gigantic segment of the pharma business.  The generation that once gobbled illicit chemical mood alterers at outdoor rock festivals now consumes larger quantities of compounds that have many of the same properties of their hippy precursers.

Yup.  We Americans love our dope.  But in typically puritanical hypocritical fashion we only approve of people who get stoned or stimulated in very specific ways.  Business people who get jacked on caffeine every day = fine.  Bars full of tottering boozers = no problem.  Suburban tract homes full of mood-altered residents funneling their savings into big pharma = it’s the American way.  One of the greatest Olympic athletes in history sucks down a bongload with some friends at a party = he’s a bad example who needs to be punished.

Again, bullshit.

The real message of that photo, and the teaching moment, if you want to call it that, is that when someone works hard to acheive great things he needs to chill every now and then, and most people who are under great pressure and stress need a chemically induced nudge to successfully take the edge off.  Instead of telling our kids that Michael Phelps is a bad guy and a disappointment we ought to tell our kids that what he did was very little different from the successful business person who caps off his or her day with a Martini.  And then follow that with explaining that yes, pot is currently illegal, but it was not always so.

Instead of telling our kids that some drugs are evil and some are good, which is really what we do as a society today, is to tell them that all drugs are potentially dangerous and should be approached with caution and care.   Instead of preaching this ridiculous and blatantly false story that gets sold in the D.A.R.E. program that if you ingest intoxicants your life will get messed up (a story that most kids figure out is nonsense, by the way, which leads them to mistrust adults and to discount and toss out good advice that comes from the same parents and teachers as equivalent manipulative bullshit), we should be using someone like Michael Phelps to say, “in spite of that crap they’re teaching you in school it should be obvious to you that Michael Phelps is not a loser or a failure, so it is possible to imbibe on occassion without it ruining your life.”

Of course that’s a complex and layered story to tell, and we Americans are getting progressively worse at complexity as times goes on.  But I can dream, can’t I?

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