December 8, 2021 - 10:56am

Chris Farrimond, the splendidly titled Director of Threat Leadership at the National Crime Agency, stepped on a mine while discussing increased cocaine consumption by the middle class. Farrimond told The Times that:

“It’s become more glamorised and probably the depictions that you see in the media — I’m talking about particularly films — glamorise it, at least to some degree, so perhaps from that point of view, there’s a little bit of influencing going on.”
- Chris Farrimond, The Times

You can tell his heart isn’t really in it; ‘perhaps, at least to some degree, a little bit’. Farrimond is right to be hesitant. The influence of glamour and celebrity can carry you only so far. You have to have a product that people like, as any advertiser could tell you. People ingest substances, whether it’s Twinings Tea or heroin, because they enjoy ingesting them. They make a risk assessment based not on television but on the real world — in the gruesome modern phrase — because of their ‘lived experience’. Not their Eastenders experience. 

I suspect that, as usual, the reverse is actually the case and that increased media depictions of drug use are mirroring the increased acceptability of drug use in certain sections of society — the sections overwhelmingly more likely to be working in TV and film. 

The media industry has become extremely isolated from the real world — to such an extent that Lorraine Kelly, the undisputed queen of banal, middle-of-the-road daytime TV, recently had to vehemently deny live on air that sex is unchangeable.

The increased prevalence of TV and film drama where drug use is merely a facet of the characters’ lifestyles, and not something that has immediate, deleterious consequences for them, is a reflection of that class’s experience. In its own way it’s as incomplete a picture as the silly — and I suspect counterproductive — Reefer Madness-style anti-drugs storylines in soaps and children’s shows.

How much impact does drama actually have in a free society? I suspect both abstinence and abandon could be hammered across the media and not much would change. Most people view TV and films as a diversion, not as an ethical guide, and sensibly so. 

I think the situation is more of a loop, and much more complex than either heaven or hell. A healthy message of everything in moderation can never be sent, for obvious reasons. It is obvious to any normal older child that the prohibition of illegal drugs is arbitrary and illogical, while alcohol and tobacco legally trash their consumers’ lives and enrich their manufacturers. 

Instead of fretting about society being influenced by television and films, it would be a much better use of everyone’s time and attention to consider how little society is reflected in the dislocated, socially disconnected ‘content’ produced by media elites.

Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.