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Published on Saturday, February 9, 2002 by Common Dreams
Drugs and Terror and Teens and Death and Booze: Contradictions Dominate Super Bowl’s Commercial Breaks
by Dennis Hans
 
In one of a pair of provocative anti-drug ads that debuted on the Super Bowl broadcast, a young drug user declares, “I helped murder families in Colombia.”

Indeed he did. And still does. But not because “Drug money supports terror,” so “if you buy drugs you might too” -- the reason given in capital letters at the end of the Office of National Drug Control Policy message.

No, he is an accomplice in the murder of families by Colombian terrorists because he is a U.S. taxpayer. Our government lavishly funds a Colombian army that harbors, protects and conspires with an array of right-wing paramilitary death squads, known collectively as the AUC, that are responsible in recent years for approximately 75 percent of Colombia’s politically motivated killings. What the Taliban was to al-Qaida, the Colombian army is to the AUC.

Our State Department is well aware of the AUC’s depridations. The day before terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated the AUC a “foreign terrorist organization,” or FTO. But that doesn’t mean Powell is out of step with the vast majority of Bush administration officials who couldn’t care less that the U.S.-sponsored Colombian army facilitates AUC massacres. Powell’s carefully crafted statement branding the AUC an FTO (http://usinfo.state.gov/admin/011/lef105.htm) offered not one hint of army-AUC collusion.

Technically speaking, Powell didn’t lie; rather, he told the truth in a Clintonian way. If he had spoken what regular folk think of as “the truth,” it would be impossible for the White House to justify additional assistance (on top of the two billion provided the past two fiscal years) to the Colombian army. The administration would be put in a difficult spot trying to explain how such aid fits into the “War on Terror.”

There are other problems with the ONDCP ad. In addition to the drug user quoted above, other users -- each of whom appears to be a teen -- confess their contribution to terrorism. But surely the ONDCP knows that the illegal drugs most popular with teens are not the ones that finance terrorists.

The heroin trade has financed Afghanistan’s murderous Northern Alliance as well as the murderous Taliban. The Taliban, as awful as it was, apparently honored a U.N. request last year to suppress opium cultivation. Today, in areas where the Northern Alliance has regained control, planting is widespread and a bumper crop is anticipated. That wasn’t an intended outcome of the “War on Terror,” but it certainly was predictable.

The illegal drugs most favored by American teens are alcohol (illegal until 21), tobacco (illegal until 18) and -- to a much lesser extent -- marijuana (illegal at any age). All three are produced domestically, yet even imported varieties bear scant relation to terrorism. Colombia’s big exports are cocaine and heroin. Fortunately, teen use of those dangerous drugs is miniscule.

Alcohol doesn’t finance terrorism, but it is the drug most likely to kill the teenagers in the ONDCP ad. Hundreds of young people die every year from alcohol overdose, while thousands die in alcohol-related accidents. Because excessive alcohol consumption simultaneously impairs judgment and coordination while reducing inhibitions and heightening aggressive tendencies, it’s a key factor in the leading causes of youthful death -- not just drunk driving, but drownings, falls, suicide and homicide.

Alcohol is a paradoxical drug: It can be used in moderation in good health for a lifetime, but one in ten users becomes addicted, and drinking problems wreak havoc on families.

Alcohol also can be used to bring viewers the Super Bowl: Anheuser-Busch, parent company of Budweiser, the NFL’s “official beer,” aired more spots (10) than any other advertiser and secured from the NFL and/or Fox the right to be the sole recreational-drug sponsor.

As in past years, hilarious Bud and Bud Light spots blew away the commercial competition. But one thing missing from the ads was a list of “side effects” likely to be experienced at some point by a minority of users -- you know, the stuff pharmaceutical-drug advertisers are required to include. No mention of “addiction,” “cirrhosis,” “throat cancer,” “fetal alcohol syndrome,” “flunking out of college” or “date rape.”

Nor were those mentioned in any of the commercial-critique segments I saw on cable TV the day after the game. For those who don’t subscribe to cable, “news” channels such as CNN and MSNBC employ actors, models and the occasional buffoon who sit in a studio and pretend to be journalists. To discuss the Super Bowl ads, these “journalists” interviewed ad-industry shills who likewise were posing as journalists! Not surprisingly, all participants accepted it as perfectly normal that the NFL and Fox would promote “America’s most destructive drug” (as former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, in a rare insightful moment, once described alcohol) with ads that never mention the word drug.

The Bud and Bud Light ads are as deceptive and manipulative as those from ONDCP, but much more effective: Soon enough, young people will be laughing at the ONDCP ads, but they’ll continue to laugh along with Bud’s cast of characters.

In Beer Commercial Land there is no such thing as drinking problems, and there’s only one drinking-related problem -- drunk driving. Bud Light won’t fill you up and never lets you down, so drink as much as you want whenever you want for as many years as you want. If you remember to bring along Dale Earnhardt Jr. to give you a ride home in his Bud car, you’ll turn out just fine.

You might, but the mindset Augie Busch and his fellow brewers promote increases the likelihood you won’t.

Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and elsewhere. He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida. Among his areas of interest are the mixed messages about mind-altering drugs delivered by the government, pro sports and the media. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.

©2002 by Dennis Hans

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