Do Not Do This Cool Thing

A lot of anti smoking and campaigns and no to drugs campaigns actually make things worse. Many adverts show people succumbing to peer pressure and smoking or taking drugs in realistic, everyday situations. Coupled with the way that forbidding something often makes people more likely to do it, out of rebellion or just by putting the idea in their heads, these campaigns often end up saying, “Do not do this cool thing.”

One non-drug example is war; it has been said that it’s impossible to make an anti-war film. The hyper-realistic war games and films don’t seem to put people off by showing the horrors of battle, and war-based video games are incredibly popular, whether the enemies are Nazis and zombies, or the player is.

There was a digital piracy prevention advert which backfired spectacularly in this respect. Not only did the pirate imagery bring cool villain pirates from films such as Pirates of the Caribbean to mind, the evil imagery seemed over the top, and statements such as “You wouldn’t steal a car!” successfully compared physical theft to piracy – and caused internet speculation about how cool it would be to illegally download supercars.

Many stories have trouble creating realistic villains, as all but the ugliest villain whose actions invariably lead to failure are the favourite character of somebody. There is not a vampire story since Dracula which didn’t concede that even evil vampires who are trying to kill you are cool and sexy, or give up entirely on portraying them as villains. No matter how many Harry Potter fans have Order of the Phoenix tattoos, a good percentage have Dark Mark tattoos. In fact, many films’ intended villains are taken by many to be the hero of the piece, including the destructive terrorist Tyler Durden of Fight Club, the same-as-the-government-villains V of V for Vendetta and even the mad Scientist Frank n Furter of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (itself making a mockery of science fiction b movies, and loved by many fans of those films, and many who have never even seen them.)

This effect even happens when people avoid showing the thing they are trying to condemn. As long as positive media exists, the message just becomes Do Not Do That Cool Thing. When celebrities who live lives of excess enjoy great success, and surround themselves with expensive things and beautiful people, even an equally famous person who tries to promote cleaner, more virtuous behaviour seems a lot less exciting and fun in comparison.

The only anti-drug speech that I’ve ever thought truly fulfilled its aim was told to my class at school by an ex drug addict; his tales hardly included any effects of the actual drug taking at all.


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