Above the Influence
There is an interesting television commercial that has been on the air lately. It is a fake documentary of a new fad in high schools. In the girls’ bathroom, a group of students are standing around a sink full of leeches. One girl says, “Some people start slomming as a social thing. You know, I probably wouldn’t do it by myself.” All the girls are grabbing for the leeches. A boy in the hallway explains, “SLOM stands for Sticking Leeches On Myself.” Various students are shown with bloodsucking leeches on their bodies, even in one boy’s mouth. The principal is confused and disappointed about the bizarre practice. “I don’t get it,” he says. In a classroom, a boy says, “It’s like you hear people talking about slomming over the weekend.” A girl, leech in hand, agrees, “It’s hard not to get into it.” The sentence “What could you be convinced to do?” is displayed on the screen, followed by a marijuana joint and a link to the “Above the Influence” anti-drug campaign website.
I rather like the commercial. It’s not really a perfect analogy for illegal drugs (assuming leeches don’t get you high), but I just love the overall message. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea! Think about what you are doing! Don’t just follow the crowd! What a great challenge, to be above the influence of your peers. Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than creative advertising like this for such a campaign to work. The desire to fit in often overrides good sense. For many, camaraderie is more appealing than truth.
The commercial seems to imply that using leeches for fun is so gross and absurd that nobody would actually do it, but I could easily imagine its scenes playing out in real life. Imagine an average teenage student. What does he or she want? I imagine friends, popularity, social activities, acceptance, and approval. To get all of that, having a leech on your arm is a small price to pay. How many are going to choose not to “slom” when it would doom them to no friends, nothing to do on the weekends, nothing to talk about in school, not fitting in, etc.? Probably not many.
Simple messages to be “above the influence” are pretty ineffective. As far as I know, maybe they will convince someone to avoid marijuana, but seriously, they are not going to drastically change human thought patterns. This is because the use of drugs socially is just a symptom to the underlying problem. The real addiction is culture. Kids are constantly immersed in culture. They are constantly being influenced by friends, family, religion, media, and tradition. Those sources influence a person’s identity, actions, and definition of goodness. I never see any commercials that encourages people to stand against any of society’s other influences, but we’re supposed to be “above the influence” of drugs alone? A campaign to reduce drug use without addressing the underlying problem of social pressure is about as effective as a campaign to reduce suicide that doesn’t address the underlying problem of depression.
Either someone can follow his own values or he can’t. From birth, children are led to conform to culture, tradition, family, and friends. Why should anyone expect them to suddenly become strong-willed when it comes to drugs? For this commercial to work, teenagers need to be “above the influence” all of the time, not only when they’re offered a joint. They need to know that they are individuals with individual values and what their friends want them to do isn’t necessarily good to them. Only then will they have the strength of mind to do what is right instead of following social influences, whether they come as religion, culture, pot, or leeches.