Tim Lott: Junk food is cheap and tastes good. Getting drunk can be fun. So there

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The Independent Online

The publication of the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy, coming hard on the heels of its pontifications on the imposition of a "fat tax" on unhealthy food, begs, in my mind, a question. What would the perfect citizen look like to Tony Blair?

The publication of the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy, coming hard on the heels of its pontifications on the imposition of a "fat tax" on unhealthy food, begs, in my mind, a question. What would the perfect citizen look like to Tony Blair?

I can only guess, but let me take a punt. They would not, under any circumstances, smoke even the occasional cigarette. They would drink (to be teetotal is to be a prude), but never get drunk. They would not ever take illegal drugs. They would eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. And they would never darken the doors of a fast food outlet.

Personally, I fail on every one of these counts. And that's fine with me. I have no desire to be the perfect citizen, because that would be like being Tony Blair. And something in me wants to put a finger up to government. Why? Because they're the kind of people who the teacher used to like at school. They are sanctimonious and sensible and dull and well behaved and about as much fun as a wet weekend in Sedgefield.

It's an atavistic sentiment, but then we are a very atavistic people. Most Brits don't want to be that tidy, that clean, that rational, that in control. In short, they misbehave not only because they like misbehaving, but because of the very fact that it qualifies as misbehaviour.

Advertisers understand this truth far better than politicians do - that people are fundamentally ritualistic and fantasise, not about being good, but about rebellion. Pot Noodles, having had huge success with their "slag of all snacks", have now launched Seedy Sanchez. Their message is deeply attractive to the Brits: Everyone Hates Us We Don't Care. The naughty but nice spans the range of unhealthy products. "Have you got a WKD side?" "Once you pop, you just can't stop."

There are other, more rational, reasons why people do stuff that is bad for them. Junk food is cheap and it tastes good. Cigarettes are enjoyable, as is getting drunk, and stoned. But the Government essentially denies most of these obvious truths, which is another reason why people are disinclined to listen to their pious exhortations.

New Labour is basically disseminating the philosophy of Middle England - that there is something vaguely unrespectable about enjoying yourself too much, about losing control. That it is not merely bad for you. It is wrong. And nothing turns people off a message more effectively than priggishness.

Let me be clear. I hate drunken yobs - and yobesses. I find the English tolerance of bad food depressing, and heavy smokers are stupid and stink. But to change things takes so much more than wagging a figure and posting a warning.

I'd find some really "bad" celebs (it's illuminating to the argument that in hip-hop argot "bad" transcribes as "good") - Tracey Emin, 50 Cent, Keith Richards, John Lydon - and get an ice-cool film-maker to construct some beautiful, powerful images that subtly, subtly suggest that being a drunken idiot or a fat, burger-munching slob is not really a recipe for a happy life.

You can only fight a symbolic action - which self-destruction is - with a symbol. In a battle between the image and the words on a package, the image always wins, even if the words are "This will kill you." And the Government's favourite words - "You are bad. Stop being bad" - are straws to the wind in the face of our darker, deeper desires to lose ourselves and, as Jack Black memorably puts it in School of Rock, "stick it to the man".

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