Lizzie Marvelly: Late bars serve nectar of stupidity

Violence makes alcohol less fun, so why not act on CBD bar hours.
A young woman was knocked off her feet during a downtown brawl among drunken youths in the CBD.
A young woman was knocked off her feet during a downtown brawl among drunken youths in the CBD.

If I had a dollar for every funny story I've heard that counted intoxication as a major plot feature, I'd be rich. Hare-brained stunts, public humiliation, fervent declarations of love ... Alcohol, that nectar of stupidity and inflated self-confidence, has a lot to answer for.

But what motivates us to drink ourselves into oblivion? To become so utterly wasted that we become a threat to ourselves and others? In a country where having a few beers with mates is part of the national fabric, where have we gone so wrong?

As much as we like to argue that we're a nation of good-natured, friendly people who simply like having a good time, getting drunk has become an integral part of our party culture. From crates to pre-loading to beer pong, Scrumpy-hands, yardies, funnels, shots and beyond, getting hammered has become the goal, rather than an unintended consequence.

We are hardly alone in our problematic drinking culture - as anyone who's walked through the main streets of Manchester or Sydney after dark can testify - but we are punching above our weight.

And not in a good way.

Watching a video of a group of drunken young men in a barbaric, high-energy street brawl in Fort St last weekend - in which a young man hit a young woman so hard she flew off her feet and went sprawling on to the ground - I had the distinct sinking feeling that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The behaviour recorded on that video was revolting. What's worse, the police later announced that street brawl was one of four separate public fights that night. They implored the Auckland Council to bring in a one-way door policy, much like that enforced in Sydney in 2014, which would require bars to close their doors to new patrons at 1.30am. The policy has seen a 40 per cent reduction in alcohol-related harm. The Auckland mayor, however, said he believes the current 4am closing time is right.

Some Auckland bars were up in arms, prioritising their profits and "the culture of the CBD" above concerns for the safety of partygoers. When the culture of the CBD includes violent punch-ups between groups of aggressive young men, I'd argue it's due for an overhaul anyway.

It's not that long ago that I'd walk between bars in Fort St, Fort Lane and Britomart in the early hours in varying states of inebriation. My drinking had nothing to do with rebellion or falling in with the wrong crowd. I was one of the so-called "good kids", but it was simply something that we all did. We partied. We went to town. We got drunk.

We still do it occasionally. When we take that temporary leave of our senses that is required beyond the age of 25 to stand in lines outside in the cold waiting to be admitted to clubs where we'll be pushed around, have drinks spilled on us, bat away lecherous men and likely encounter poor, wretched strangers depositing their last five drinks noisily in a half-closed bathroom stall. Nice.

Why do we do it? What is it about getting drunk that we find so mistakenly attractive, when we know deep down that we just look like morons?

Alcohol is legal, easily accessible, and often billed as a social lubricant. Among people of all ages, alcohol can play a significant role in dating rituals especially. Ironically, while the finger is often pointed at young people when it comes to drunken stupidity, some of the most tragic examples I've ever witnessed involved middle-aged adults who should know better.

Just a few years ago, at a "respectable" establishment, I found myself on the wrong end of a badly aimed punch, as a middle-aged former sports star took a drunken swing at an acquaintance, missed, and decked me in the side of the head. While the event inspired a few gasps, nothing happened. No security descended and as I stood there rubbing my temple in shock, people turned away, preferring to pretend nothing had gone awry. If that can happen in a public place, I wonder how much our drinking culture contributes to our various OECD-leading violence statistics.

Our cognitive dissonance when it comes to drinking is also staggering. While studies have consistently shown that alcohol is correlated with violence, is a known human carcinogen, a causal factor in heart disease and increases the risk of contracting a number of other potentially fatal diseases (such as liver disease and depression), it is cheap, taxed at low levels and heavily advertised.

Drinking is portrayed as glamorous, fun and highly sociable, with alcohol companies aligning themselves with everything from major sports events to A-list parties. We've learned to shun tobacco, and we persist in demonising even low-level drugs like cannabis, yet we have no qualms about drinking alcohol.

I'm not suggesting we bring in the fun police. When a few drinks with mates really are just a few drinks with mates, a night out can be a great time. That's a culture worth protecting, not one that fills emergency rooms every Friday and Saturday night.

Closing the doors to new patrons at 1.30am is entirely reasonable. It'll require some planning on the part of revellers, sure, but I'm with the police on this one. It's time to bring in regulations to keep partygoers safe. Go home Auckland Council - you're drunk.

- NZ Herald

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