Go sober for October? No thanks…
April is the cruellest month, but October is now, officially, the most boring. Go Sober for October, the Macmillan Cancer Trust campaign, is in full swing, accompanied by the NHS Stoptober anti-smoking campaign. Both campaigns follow a procession of government health campaigns like Change4Life, which offered such life-changing advice as trim the fat off your bacon to make the bacon less fatty. While the rest of us wonder what kind of fun-sponge trims the fat off their bacon, hearty voices on our radios and televisions have been punning and rhyming in a bid to communicate that October is no-fun zone.
It seems that the price of fatty food, fags and booze has doubled overnight – now, after indulging in your favourite vice, you’re made to pay an additional moral price by repenting for your heinous behaviour. Turn on your radio or TV and you’ll be plagued by adverts emphasising the naughtiness of normal adult tastes. It’s like a nationwide Weight Watchers meeting, but, instead of shedding pounds, people are encouraged to relinquish their personal responsibility.
This Autumn festival of sobriety is indicative of the indulgent character of charity today. Those taking part in Go Sober for October are encouraged to join teams and elicit donations for their pious efforts. As Brendan O’Neill pointed out earlier this year, charity fundraising today seems more about holding yourself up as a moral exemplar rather than discreetly helping those who are less fortunate.
However, many of these state-backed health campaigns come from a more controlling place. The current lack of public engagement in Westminster politics seems to have led to a sort of warped outreach project: ‘Look, we really do care! You can’t worry about housing or education policies if you’ve keeled over after too many Benson and Hedges.’
Any free-thinking individual should reject these nudging campaigns. It is not just their patronising tone, or the ridiculously exaggerated figures they trot out; it’s the suggestion that following state-sanctioned health advice somehow makes you a better citizen. Smokers aren’t just killing themselves; they’re killing the community, apparently. Parents aren’t just eating a takeaway; they’re setting a bad example for the next, obesity-prone generation. Drinkers aren’t just having a few pints; they’re displaying signs of a deep and serious problem.
How much we choose to smoke, drink and eat is really no one’s business but our own. If you are a free-thinking individual, fry that bacon, or don’t – it’s up to you.
Ellamay Russell is a writer based in London. She will be speaking at the debate Cotton-wool campus? at the Battle of Ideas festival, held at the Barbican in London on 18-19 October. Get tickets here.
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