The logo of Mothers Against Drunk Driving bears the words activism, victim services and education. Based on the content of one of the organization’s currently running commercials, that list should include scaremongering.
The commercial, which is part of MADD’s “Under 21” campaign, aims to curb underage drinking. It begins by showing a father sharing whiskey with his son, and then fades to a black background displaying the sentence, “Alcohol before 21 can diminish a child’s potential.”
The claim is patently untrue, of course. The legal drinking age is 18 or lower in an overwhelming majority of the world, and the historical uses of alcohol are well documented. Would MADD have people believe that the majority of the world is full of people with diminished potential? That the great cities of the world were designed and built upon a foundation of diminished potential?
Even the United States allowed drinking before 21. In the 1970s, the drinking ages in 29 states were 18, 19 or 20. And the people of that generation are mothers now.
The Prohibition movement wasn’t born of necessity; it was born of luxury. Alcohol has been an integral part of civilization, and provided a sanitizing panacea during times when potable water was scarce. People have been drinking prior to age 21 for millennia, and humanity’s come far enough to broadcast MADD’s messages through thin air and into your home – not too shabby for underachievers.
Underage drinking doesn’t diminish a child’s potential, but spreading falsehoods certainly diminishes an organization’s potential. By spreading misinformation, MADD is certainly engaging in activism, but it isn’t doing much service to victims of drunk driving accidents or educating the public. The group’s causes – to stop drunk driving, support the victims of drunk-driving accidents and prevent underage drinking – are noble, but such hyperbolic statements only serve to undermine its credibility and legitimacy. If MADD wants to be taken seriously and make headway in its mission, it needs to truthfully address the issues raised by drunk driving and underage alcohol abuse.
Activism and education can go hand in hand, but they need to be tempered by responsibility. But lying to people to scare them into submission – that’s something worth getting mad about.