The Four Loko Moral Panic Continues
Every alcoholic beverage is “potentially hazardous,” and none will ever be proven “safe,”… But there’s no question that a can of Four Loko, which has less alcohol than a bottle of wine and about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, can be consumed without serious adverse effects. If every alcoholic beverage had to pass the reckless college student test, they all would be banned.
I’m sure it’s no surprise, but I agree.
- Concern – There must be awareness that the behaviour of the group or category in question is likely to have a negative impact on society.
- Hostility – Hostility towards the group in question increases, and they become “folk devils”. A clear division forms between “them” and “us”.
- Consensus – Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the “moral entrepreneurs” are vocal and the “folk devils” appear weak and disorganised.
- Disproportionality – The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.
- Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic.
The folk devils here are the evil alcohol pushers, of course. They may even include yours truly, indicted before I’d so much as made a peep about the stuff. I still haven’t tried it, and I’m not too enthusiastic, to be honest. While I greatly enjoy both caffeine and alcohol, I also enjoy a good night’s sleep, thanks.
The disproportionality is that Four Loko is mostly just caffeine and alcohol, two very familiar substances. Taurine only has minor effects, if any, on one’s mental state, while guarana — the fourth of the four horsemen — is mostly just a vehicle for more caffeine.
All of which is to say Four Loko’s got nothing much on rum & Coke. That drink brings another risk factor, because you never know quite how much alcohol you’re getting if someone else mixes it for you. Why don’t we ban that, too? (Is someone coming after my French press and 1.5L of Jack Daniel’s? Why on earth not?)
Still, the consensus seems to be building. I’m mystified. I genuinely don’t get it. No, a world without Four Loko isn’t going to be an appreciably worse world. Maybe a handful more people unemployed, but no biggie, I guess. I’m not worried about Four Loko bootleggers, or the bathtub variants you might cook up in the space next to your meth lab. I just find it silly to imagine that we’re doing any particular good here. We seem to be banning a class of drinks based on a few anecdotes and an embarrassing tic of human social psychology, by which we demonize a little too easily, and only later come to question it.
So why am I the one being asked to blush here, and not all of you?