December 3, 2012

“Flight” and the alcoholic driver

There has been much, uh, brouhaha, from beverage makers over the prominent use of their brand name vodka, wine and beer in the new film Flight, in which Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic airline pilot.

Anheuser-Busch, the brewery behind Budweiser, has been particularly vocal in asking Paramount to remove or obscure its brand from a scene in which Washington’s ace pilot Whit Whitaker drives his car with a can of Budweiser in his hand.

"We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving," Rob McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser, wrote in a statement to The Associated Press.

The complaints from beverage makers have focused discussion on whether movies and TV shows have the legal right to use brand name products in their movies without companies’ permission. The answer is: they do. As we all know, companies usually lobby and pay hefty fees to have their products show up in movies and TV.  Heineken reportedly signed a $45 million partnership to have its beer featured in the new James Bond pic, Skyfall, according to NPR. In the case of Flight, many beverage companies didn’t know their products would be featured, and it’s not likely they would have sought notice in a film about the destructive side of alcohol use.

The discussion about product placement has been interesting, but what struck me in that scene with Washington’s character cruising around with the beer in his hand is that the movie captures a dangerous behavior that many recovering alcoholics will all quietly cop to: drinking and driving. 

There was also another scene in the film that some alcoholics will find painfully familiar.  That’s when Washington’s character hurriedly gets into his car after a liquor store stop. And, there in the parking lot, he unscrews the top of a large, discount-sized bottle of vodka and takes several large gulps. He can’t even wait to get home. He’s got to get his buzz on before he hits the road.

There’s an organization called Drunks Against DrunkDriving. It describes itself "as a community of recovering alcoholics and addicts" and advocates for alcoholics and addicts to get into treatment and it seeks to prevent drunk driving "one drunk at a time."

"Most of our members have driven while under the influence of alcohol or drugs," the organization's website says. "Some of us are convicted drunk drivers. Our message is focused on those drunk drivers that are alcoholics. Our message to alcoholics is simple and singular ... If you don’t drink, you can’t drive drunk!”

"I really have no idea how many times I drove drunk," writes one anonymous member. "When my drinking was at its height, I think I drove drunk a few times every week. And I didn't seem to care. Even after I was convicted of my first drunk driving, I did not want to stop drinking. I thought I was just 'unlucky' that I got caught."

According to one study, a group defined as "heavy drinkers" – men who drank more than two drinks and day and women who consumed more than one – were responsible for half of drunk driving cases; the other half involved non-regular drinkers who were on a binge.

Alcohol, as we all know, affects reasoning ability, and alcoholics are known for engaging in risky and illegal behavior that they would never consider doing while sober. They are deeply ashamed of many of the things they do while under the influence -- the many people they hurt -- and driving while drinking is one of them.

So, Budweiser, Stolichnaya, Absolut and Smirnoff are not happy about Flight. Alcoholics or people who live with alcoholics likewise may find parts difficult to watch, but for different reasons. And that's because the movie got some things painfully right, including the drinking and driving scenes. 

1 comment:

J at said...

The group that defines heavy drinking as 1 drink for women and 2 for men is talking about health risks, not impaired ability. It only takes a woman 1 drink a day to increase her risk of certain diseases. I wonder how many drinks before it is unsafe for her to drive, or be over the legal limit? I suspect these are different definitions.

I can't blame the companies for not wanting their product associated with these scenes, but at the same time, it's not like anyone watching would blame Budweiser for the guy driving around with a 6 pack. I really liked the movies, and yeah, those scenes were chilling.