Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Love Affair: Media, Ben Cousins and Ice

A Love Affair: Media, Ben Cousins and Ice

Currently Ben Cousins and his drug use are again in the media spotlight. But really, is this of any surprise? Realistically, it was just a matter of time… Again. But on a wider scale what message can be extrapolated from Ben Cousins and media representations of his drug use? When we have characters like Ben Cousins getting around, what hope does the average youth have?

The Ice Age
In response to a rise in ‘ice’ debate in May 2007, the Victorian Government Department of Human Services produced the ‘Ice: It’s a dirty drug’ campaign, targeting those aged between 15-25 years who consume the drug methamphetamine, or commonly termed ‘ice’. The minister for mental health (Ms Lisa Neville) labelled the campaign ‘youth specific media’, which exhibits youth acting out violently, picking at their skin creating scabs, and also experiencing psychotic episodes.
The Victorian Government campaign gave evidence of side effects, showing a non-glorified view of drugs, yet failed to target reasoning behind youth’s drug consumption. The campaign did not speak to youth in their language, that they can understand. The campaign was subsequently a failure, as the key targets were missed entirely.


The Real Face Of Ice: Ben Cousins

 Ben Cousins’ drug use initially made headlines when he was arrested in Perth due to suspected possession charges. Images of him shirtless, sporting a new tattoo, low-rise jeans, and over sized sunglasses were broadcasted throughout news media. This powerful image of Cousins was reused by the Herald Sun five months later as an exhibit of celebrity drug problems. The Herald Sun plastered shots of Cousins being paraded around by police, showing off his newly inscribed ‘Such Is Life’ tattoo; his tattoo alone attracts the attention of youth.
As a response to the barrage of media attention, youth, through their own forum, created a discussion board and praise of the football star. The online social network Facebook sports two ‘groups’ entitled ‘I Wanna Party With Ben Cousins’ and Let Ben Cousins Play In Melbourne So We Can Party With Him’. Through the media’s demonisation of Ben Cousins he became a ‘hero’ to today’s youth as an icon of rebellion.
The dichotomy is however, that the news media demonise the very section of society that they should be coaxing to listen to their warnings against drug use. The media accomplish this through their use of narrative. In Cousins’ case, the picture speaks much more than the verbal content can. However, the verbal content of news media speaks to a totally different generation than does the image of Cousins.  Drug consumption is inadvertently promoted by news media, as such a significant portion of programming is dedicated to drug representations. In promoting Ben Cousins as the leader of the ‘ice’ drug subculture (attractive, famous, wealthy and gaining massive publicity), which part of this is supposed to deter youth? The manner in which the media demonise drug use is merely bait for rebellious youth. With one hand the media demonises drugs, in news media, whose audience is older and therefore the dominating force in society. On the other hand, film and television media such as Scarface, The Soprano’s and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Half Baked and How High, exhibit drugs as ‘the party’ and the ‘good times’ in language that speaks directly to youth. Film discourse speaks to young viewers in their language, whereas the deterrence in news media speaks to a different generation. This generation gap is replicated in the Victorian Government’s ‘Ice: It’s a dirty drug’ campaign. 

In contrasting images of the Victorian Government’s campaign, and the depiction of Ben Cousins, it appears that the news media’s representations of Cousins speaks more to youth about ‘ice’ and its’ effects than the acted images in the ‘ice’ campaign could ever tell. 
And after all is said and done, when will we start asking the real questions?
What is really going on with you when you need to consume drugs every day?
What lead to your drug problem?
How can we help you to be happy without drugs?

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