First, check this trailer for the upcoming movie 21 and Over.
A few things here. First off, notice how “cute” they are by editing it so that you don’t hear the word “fuck”, or variations thereof, four times? Isn’t that clever! Clearly it’s designed to get around the MPAA’s restrictions on such language, but since our brains add the word in anyhow, it only proves how pointless such restrictions are.
Second, why oh why would this guy’s “best friends” keep calling him “Jeff Chang”? I don’t know about you, but none of my friends call me by my first and last name. By my count, they do it nine times in this 2 minute and 41 second trailer. Why?
But lastly, and onto the relevant point here: this movie trailer, and probably the film itself, does an excellent job of illustrating the real problem with our “21 and over” drinking policy and with showing America’s problem with alcohol in general.
Having the drinking age set at 21 encourages exactly the sort of behavior shown in this trailer. It encourages people to, on their 21st birthday, go out and get completely blitzed. Admittedly, almost any deadline set encourages this, and I’m sure other countries have their problems when they set the drinking age at, say, 16, which many do. But at least when it’s set at 16, the child is presumably still living with their parents, and they can help the kid in question learn to drink responsibly. If they have to wait until 21, the kid is probably no longer living at home, and is likely in college, far beyond the control of their parents and in an environment where heavy drinking is heavily encouraged (even by the underage, as 46% of college students have fake IDs).
Of course the other problem with the 21 age limit is that it’s completely silly. Almost no one actually waits until they are 21 before the first time they have a drink. I was 25 when I had my first taste of alcohol (vodka from Oregon and store-brand OJ from Safeway, in case you are curious), but I’m very, very much the exception.
There’s also the strange fact that at 16 you’re considered to be mature enough to drive a ton of metal down a freeway at 65 MPH, but you aren’t considered mature enough to have a beer with a friend. It gets even stranger when, at the age of 18, you’re welcome to go out and fight, kill and maybe die for your country, in addition to paying taxes, vote, own a gun, living alone, signing contracts, being tried as an adult, etc, etc, but you still have to wait 3 more years before you’re allowed alcohol.
The 21 and over drinking limit does nothing to inhibit young people from gaining access to alcohol. All it does is encourage them to drink with their friends or at parties, and it creates an aura of mystique and “forbidden fruit” around drinking. It also encourages people to binge as soon as they turn 21. This is not healthy.
We really need to change our relationship with alcohol in this country; something which was broken long before Prohibition and only got worse after. I’d favor lowering the drinking age to 18 for “hard” alcohol and 16 for beer and wine, bringing us into line with much of Europe, especially Germany, a country with which we have much in common. Failing that, I’d at least favor lowering it to 18, because why should drinking be the only thing you aren’t legally mature enough to do at 18, 19 or 20?
I’d also like to see us, as a culture, start to frown heavily on the idea of drinking to get drunk and on binge drinking. I’d especially like to see us frown on the idea of getting totally shitfaced on your 21st birthday. This sort of change will take time and effort, but it isn’t impossible. When I was born, drinking and driving wasn’t considered that big of a deal, but now it’s a major crime. If we can change our views, collectively, on that, we can change it on binge drinking and on the mystique of alcohol. I think at the very least we owe it to ourselves to try.