Thanks to a television news report during the 2012 London Olympics, one of my favourite sayings is: "Alcohol may have been a factor." Following a tale in which an athlete went on a rampage and broke a window late at night, the newsreader said something along the lines of: "It's believed alcohol may have been a factor." The deadpan delivery of this only enhanced my appreciation.
Even before this last line was uttered, I had become interested in the blood-alcohol levels of the athlete concerned. As a good Kiwi, I understand that antisocial behaviour is often fuelled by alcohol. So when the newsreader added this particular gem, I was like: "No s***, Sherlock."
Since then, upon hearing of a dramatic incident, thoughtless comment or reckless antic, I often ask the storyteller concerned: "Was alcohol a factor?" So far the response has been affirmative at least ninety per cent of the time. I'm kind of impressed with that hit rate but it probably says less about my intuition and more about my understanding of classic Kiwi booze culture.
But is being impaired by alcohol ever a good excuse for bad behaviour? Michael Lorimer, the husband of the woman who uttered a racial slur in the latest episode of the Real Housewives of Auckland, seems to think it might be. It was reported that "Lorimer said alcohol may have been a factor in the explosive episode." Yet blaming alcohol isn't always the wisest strategy. Here are five reasons it was potentially unhelpful in this instance.
One: It's just an excuse
It can be seen as an attempt to diminish responsibility. It promotes the unspoken and absurd idea that the person responsible for the slur was herself some kind of victim. Yet it's not as if the alcohol concerned poured itself down the throat of an unsuspecting woman who is unfamiliar with its wily ways.
If that was the situation, then perhaps we should all be on the lookout for random assaults from booze. Stay vigilant. Lock your windows and hope a series of alcoholic beverages doesn't attack you in a similar fashion. In this case, the old alcohol-may-have-been-a-factor line can be interpreted as an attempt to disassociate the person involved from responsibility for her words.
Two: She's "a grown ass woman"
Michelle Blanchard (the housewife targeted by the racial slur) said that Julia Sloane (the housewife who uttered it) is "a grown ass woman". The implication was that she needs to take ownership of what happened. And that's true in more ways than one.
By the time they're middle-aged, any seasoned drinker should understand what sort of a drunk they are. Excess alcohol in the system can bring out extremes in anyone. Which of the seven dwarves are you once you've had too much? I like to think I'm a "Happy" drunk. If, on the other hand, you're more of a "Dopey" drunk, you'd be well advised to avoid becoming overly intoxicated when cameras and microphones are in the vicinity.
Three: The n-word is a terrible word
Attributing some of the blame to alcohol takes the focus off the main issue: that is, just how offensive that word is. In a Broadcasting Standards Authority survey, 66 per cent of respondents found the N-word either "Totally unacceptable" or "Fairly unacceptable". (I'd go for "Totally" myself.) The C-word sat on 74 percent while the F-word was at 51 per cent. Dictionary.com takes it a step further: the N-word is "now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years ..."
Four: Excess alcohol can be revelatory
Excess alcohol can sometimes have an effect similar to that of a truth serum. It can reveal our prejudices, our innermost thoughts. The things we'd never say stone-cold sober can just roll out of our mouths when we're drunk. You give your inner censor the afternoon off and worry about the consequences at a later date.
Lorimer revealed that this particular racial slur "was a term he and his wife used occasionally in a tongue-in-cheek way when sailing" which sort of explains why Sloane, basking in the warmth of alcohol and the North Queensland sun, chose to unleash it on the housewives. (A betting person might wager that these are the type of people who would possibly say aloud: "I wonder what the poor people are doing today." While sailing, obviously. But only ever in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course.)
Five: It was imprecise
Saying "alcohol may have been a factor" was imprecise. By his own account, it would have been far more accurate to have said: "indulging in a day-long drinking spree may have been a factor". Lorimer said: "There were three drinking sessions that day. They had cocktails for two hours in the morning, wine over lunch and when they went on the boat they carried on drinking." In short: it sounds like Sloane was on the turps all day. With husbands like that who needs enemies? Sometimes the smartest comment is "no comment".