When life is just a box of chocaholics

16th October 1998 at 01:00
We in FE are supposed to be wise old heads, and as such we are expected occasionally to deliver some sort of moral counselling, formal (in tutorial, say) or informal (a discreet, after-lesson confab, perhaps) to our young charges. After all, says conventional wisdom, it's a dangerous world out there, with all manner of unprecedented temptations waiting round every corner.

But Hooked, a six-part history of addictions, shows that the sun rises on few genuinely new lures. The first programme, on smoking, set the cautionary flavour for the series. FE teachers know only too well that some students learn little at college other than cigarette skills - impressively cool (nonchalant ignition, languid exhalation and so on) - but scarcely necessary and, in time, life-threatening.

Over old advertisements, film clips and newsreel extracts, the programme told of cigarette-centred courtship rituals, of imitating film star style and, of course, of consequent illness. While some talked with relief of having kicked the weed, another chillingly recalled his doctor's verdict: 12 months to live. Thirty-five operations later, he is still with us - just.

No one dies from the next two addictions in the series, gambling and chocolate, even if the first can seriously damage relationships and the second waistlines. Unlike alcohol, the subject of the fourth programme, they carry little social cachet. But you can pay a terrible price for excessive sociability.

Some awe-inspiring facts double as warnings. Around the turn of the century, the pubpopulation ratio was 1:300. Then as now, boozing betokened manliness - one elderly gent tells of impressing his mates by sinking 14 pints in one session, a feat managed only by regularly sticking his fingers down his throat. Women tippled in private, until they were welcomed by pubs and bars in the late 1930s.

The programme's implication that this ushered in an age of widespread women's bibulousness is supported by first-hand accounts of the miseries of constant drunkenness: "I'd pick a fight with anybody," says one reformed case, adding that an addictive personality had led inevitably to her condition. It's an opinion that psychologists might question, just as sociologists would want to think hard about a final hint that a high incidence of female alcoholism is just another price to be paid for women's liberation.

Boozing is a stage that many students are initiated into at college, go through and come out of. They have done so for decades. Serious drug abuse is relatively new and far more serious. The survey of the rise of addiction in programme 5, Drugs, contains some fittingly off-putting needle shots as well as interesting views on the comparative merits of cannabis and alcohol. This is the one to put time aside for.

Unlike the final programme, Sex, which tells of men whose declared addiction could only be satisfied by prostitutes. More than anything an excuse for salacious and self-satisfied male reminiscence, it is conceptually flabby and thematically limp. I made my excuses and switched off.

Hooked: Channel 4, October 1 to November 5; October 1: Smoking; October 8: Gambling; October 15: Chocolate; October 22: Alcohol. All 8.30 to 9pm. October 29: Drugs; November 5: Sex, both 9 to 9.30pm

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