Emotionally Present / Personal Is Political

Local Liquor Store’s Revolting “Poverty Pack” Advertisement

Today, while I was on the express bus, which stops just across the street from a liquor store, I spotted this from the rear of the vehicle while it was stopped at a red light:

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Rather than vomit in my mouth like I felt the spontaneous urge to do, I quickly snapped a picture with my cell phone while my entire face silently wrinkled in disgust. You’re looking at the front window of a liquor store at the corner of Boundary Road and East Hastings in Vancouver, which proudly features a large red box labelled “poverty pack of the month”, within which an advertisement by Budweiser is hung on display. The liquor store is explicitly and aggressively targeting the working poor, homeless people, and people living on a fixed income; literally attempting to sell them alcoholism. Assuming this approach to advertising is successful, the store will take $11 a hit (plus applicable taxes and deposits, so $13) from the very livelihood of its target audience (and their children), from which both the store and Budweiser will no doubt rake in enormous profits. I have little doubt that it will simply be a different beer label on display in two days from now. This is not to suggest that liquor stores, Budweiser, and other corporate liquor labels have not already been raking in absurd profits from the direct exploitation of the poor for several decades, or that this is even limited to booze merchants. Rather, it is to suggest that there is something particularly heinous or sinister about this particular liquor store’s approach to advertising. There certainly is something to be said for anyone boldly parading this fact around as if it was something to be proud of; and in fact, even actively attempting to sell it to those most vulnerable. This ad is not at all like the gaming commission ads that attempt to dissuade people from gambling outside of their personal financial constraints; or laws that currently require that revolting packaging be plastered all over tobacco products, which are also to remain hidden behind something opaque (at least in BC) so that impressionable youth in particular aren’t tempted to pick it up as a habit. In fact, this liquor store’s approach to advertising is the direct opposite. And for me, it hits a deep nerve, usually buried beneath decades of trans-generational trauma.

Full Personal Disclosure Relevant To This Issue

I come from several generations of alcoholics on the maternal side of my family, and am the third and youngest adult child of a woman who herself is the adult child of an alcoholic. My mother never sought help to learn skills to make her a better parent, or to work through the trauma of growing up in a household dominated by an alcoholic father (whose wife was emotionally unavailable and chronically ill until she finally died of dementia while I was still young). Like me, my mother had two sisters; and like her, neither of them sought help either (the younger of my maternal consanguineal aunts is a chronic alcoholic married to another chronic alcoholic — a match made in a liquor store just like the one above, I’m sure). Because my mother never sought help to unpack and work through all of this trauma, and the only thing she knew to do right was to stay as far away from the bottle as she could, I spent my entire childhood unable to emotionally connect to her. She spent my entire childhood thinking the universe revolves around her because now that she’s an adult, if she says so, then so shall it be. From this one side of my family alone, I am confident that I have virtually all of the psychological baggage and genetic disadvantages that make me hyperbolically vulnerable to alcoholism. I’ve certainly experienced directly that I can actually consume a startling amount of hard liquor, either without getting drunk or sobering up even as I continue to drink — meanwhile, everyone around me is completely shit-faced from watered-down high-balls or beer alone (less than a quarter alcoholic content in the same amount of liquid) before I’ve even started to get a lasting buzz. My magnificent ability to metabolize alcohol is, in and of itself, a recipe for the tragedy my mother tried to put an end to by avoiding the bottle. Throw in the psychological baggage from her bad parenting, and 999 other people in the same position would be dead and buried a long time ago or dying of a lack of will power right now. Hell, that would be true of that 999 other people even without a similarly astounding ability to hold their liquor.

But then there’s the other side of my family. If I didn’t personally have enough diatheses for a life-long struggle with addiction and/or alcoholism, the paternal side of my family certainly makes a point of introducing several more of them. My father grew up with one (younger) sister in what had the appearances of a loving and compassionate family — at least, that’s how it looks on paper and even in the occasional family film. It doesn’t take much digging to find some deeply troubling history and other assorted indicators of gravely serious trauma on this side of my family. My paternal grandfather is not only completely geographically isolated but also totally estranged from all but one of his own siblings, whose children have never shared with him the names or precise birth dates of my ten cousins (who I did not even know existed until three years ago when I started asking; and with whom I share no common language either, even if I could find out who they are). Based on many things he has said and done in addition to this rather alarming insight into the structure of my Danish relatives, I have a profound suspicion that he was a Nazi sympathizer as a teen during the occupation of his home country. I also have an equally profound suspicion that he is a pedophile—let’s be serious: my father didn’t magically pick that up from his workplace after it had already begun in my home, and my aunt didn’t spiral into drug addiction until she became a born-again Christian simply because she was scolded a few times during her childhood. Through all of this, my paternal grandmother has been flip-flopping, just like my mother does, between passive aggression and apologetics for male violence towards females in our family (can you say “Oedipus complex”?) It is literally a miracle that I’m not an alcoholic or struggling with a drug addiction (it’s also a “miracle” I’m an atheist, though this sentiment is neither to the exclusion of my experience of spirituality, nor to my identity as a Satanist).

The Issue Is About That 999 Other People

But enough about my baggage, teetering on the very brink of self-annihilation. This issue is about that 999 other people who would be already dead and buried or dying of a lack of will power as I write this. Many dozens of my own relatives (related by blood and marriage) are part of that 999 other people. Several dozen people from my grade 12 graduating class are part of that 999 other people. Many of my chosen families, and their families (and children), are part of that 999 other people. Countless friends of mine and acquaintances over the years have been or still are part of that 999 other people. Where East Hastings crosses over to West Hastings, you’ll find the rest of that 999 people, in Vancouver’s most socially marginalized neighbourhood; where police throw disabled women out of their wheelchairs and arrest homeless men for sitting, while the relatively wealthier wring their hands with concern bordering on a phobia of the poor whenever they are delayed by a red light at that intersection.

This should be all the proof anyone needs, that alcohol is liquid murder. And that local liquor store window display? It’s selling it to you. You’re being metabolized further and further into systemic violence from the moment of your first voluntary breath, and advertising is brainwashing you into accepting mass murder as par for the course. But what is your bottom line? How close to home does it have to hit before you stop looking merrily at a bottle of booze when it’s time to celebrate something, and instead start feeling silently horrified every time you’re offered one? We all deserve better than this. Our children deserve better. Indigenous peoples deserve better than these liquor stores directly outside their reserves, leeching upon the welfare benefits of the 80% of unemployed residents. Say no next time, and be grateful that you can safely drink tap water.

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