On the surface, and as far as a tourist is reasonably concerned, Australia is a lovely little island. Sydney has a sense of humour, Canberra is built for bicycling, Melbourne has real computers, and the areas in between are dotted with free range cowsi amidst rolling pastoralism stretching from yawning blue sea to broad beige horizon. It’s a perfectly wonderful place to holiday, but Good God how terrible it must be to live here.
First, we have a fragile economy built entirely on natural resources.ii Second, we have a federal government that can’t budget and is now hiring shysters like the OECD to pump their repugnantly transparent “more taxes help the economy” scam. Third, we have bezzle up to and beyond your eyeballs. Fourth, we have the subject of today’s rant: the various forms of regulatory capture that, while hardly exclusive to Australia, are oh so pronounced here that it’s impossible not to point and laugh.
So let’s say you’re in Australia and you’re looking for some smokes. Maybe it’s a celebratory cigar, maybe it’s your daily pack of darts, maybe it doesn’t even slightly matter because you just want to light one up. So you walk over to the convenience store and behind the cashier you find a wall of grey paneling covering what was not-so-long-ago a browsable selection of coloured boxes with recognisable labels. On one small section of the wall is a price list for the products presumably concealed therebehind. If you’re familiar with every product listed and the list never has and never will change, that’s one thing, but what if you want to try a new brand or a new offering and aren’t sure what you’ll be getting, as “Kool Light 24-pack” simply isn’t enough information to go on, so you ask the cashier to show you what the box looks like so you can make a more informed decision as to whether you’d like to try it or not. You wouldn’t buy a car called the Z549 sight unseen would you?iii So she lifts the grey louvered paneling to reveal not the coloured boxes you once knew, each describing a flavour and associated experience, but government-mandated marketing messages so large, so pronounced, so eye-fuckingly obnoxious that all you’re left with is a sea of SMOKING CAUSES LUNG CANCER.
That’s the front of it, with just a petite “Café Crème: Blue” and a right-aligned “10” to indicate that you’ve bought anything other that a poster in a high school bathroom.
And then there’s the back:
Only the modest barcode, location of production, and mailing address of the importing company tarnish an otherwise complete triumph of regulation over even basic product identification. And you thought that buying off a drug dealer was a guessing game because the black market is so unregulated and shit. Funny, looks like going too far the other way leaves us with a bit of a guessing game too.
This approach undoubtedly saves the tobacco company on marketing costs, allowing them to save money and, potentially at least, reinvest it in R&D, maybe to find the next cool new flavour of cigarette or something. Except it must, though I’ve yet to independently confirm this, be illegal for tobacco companies to test such things here. Any more than ethics boards would allow a company to test which razor blade cuts your wrists most effectively, it couldn’t possibly allow test subjects to report on which “cancer sticks” is their preferred blend? And besides, “cool new flavours” would just be popular with children, which isn’t nearly as safe as confining them to lives of crouching over iPhones in the back seats on 7-seat SUVs driving at 25 kph between their suburban home and the nearest grocery store 7 km away.
So the government just ends up saving Big Tobacco some money, just as it has by preventing smoking ads in magazines, TV, sport and theatre events, thus increasing profits. If this isn’t regulatory capture, weird and circuitous though it seems, I don’t know what is.iv
Now imagine if fast food were like this. In fact, if anyone can reasonably and logically explain to me why poison like McDonald’s and KFC isn’t subject to the same laws as poison like tobacco, I’d love to hear it. I’m all ears. Really. How in the living fuck is it okay to socialise the costs of fat people being fat and not smokers smoking? Why do I have to look at retards sitting on the street corner eating taquito-flavoured hot dogs from 7-11 while I’m being told to put out my cigar while sitting out in an open-air patio sipping a glass of Pinot Gris? Why don’t Burger King french fry containers read: EATING LMO SHIT CAUSES CANCER. What kind of moral simpletons are running this farce?v
Quite possibly the same moral simpletons that are running Australia’s movie theatres. I went to an over-priced (AUS$ 20!) movie the other day, choosing a 90-minute picture so that I could return to the sights, sounds, and smells of the city as soon as possible, and I was absolutely, unequivocally, motherfucking outraged at the advertising preceding the feature presentation. It wasn’t so long agovi that a movie had, at most, 10 minutes of trailers before the show got going. And that was it. If you were more than 10 minutes late you were going to miss the opening scene of the film.
Then, of course, the Internet was born and people stopped paying to go to the theatre. They bought large TVs and their own popcorn poppers and started streaming the latest (pirated) movies right to their living rooms.
This certainly hasn’t sat well with the film industry, if the continued Pirate Bay and Mega shenanigans are anything to go by, so the industry has responded by raping the remaining movie-goers six ways to Sunday and using any means necessary to ensure that government regulators turns a blind eye.vii
So, insidiously, one or two advertisements were introduced before the trailers, forcing the now-captive audience to endure a full bore, if short-lived, assault on their senses before they were even allowed to see the entertainment they paid for. Then, advertisements were slowly introduced to play in the background when the lights were on and people were seating themselves. And now, the line has been completely crossed. Now it’s fucking on.
Before a 90-minute movie I saw at Event Cinemas on George Street in Sydney, I sat through no less than 29 minutes of complete fucking bullshit. I’m talking just three measly movie trailers, each 120-150 seconds, and no less than FORTY FUCKING ADS!!1 This included a throw-your-popcorn-at-the-screen-and-start-pistol-whipping-theatre-employees THIRTY-FIVE ads over NINETEEN minutes before even showing the first trailer. I’m talking ads for local coffee shops, local rock climbing walls, and of course the requisite soda pop ads one after the other after the other. And then even more ads after the trailers and before the feature flick! Ads that used the characters from the trailers we just fucking saw to sell us more shit we didn’t fucking need! “OMGWTFBBQ” doesn’t even begin to describe how insane movie theatre advertising in Australia is. Godfuckingdammit.
Though using 80% of your cigarette carton packaging on a uselessviii design only villainises the left hand while letting the right run amok, subjecting people to broad daylight rape and torture is something else altogether.
Based on the recent events at the Lindt café, I’m not the only one who expected a bit more from this country.
Maybe starting a blog should be part of Australia’s parole program.
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- What else do you call cows not in a feedlot?↩
- I’m not saying Canada is even remotely different in this regard, I’m just saying it’s fucking retarded. When the “domestic” car companies move their factories offshore, things aren’t going well. But hey, what did you expect unionised labour to do? Create jobs?↩
- Come to think of it, this text-based approach works perfectly well when ordering wine at a restaurant, despite it being such a markedly different experience from browsing the bottles at the liquor store. Knowing only the varietal, vintage, name of the winery, and country of origin cuts to the intellectual core of the matter in a way that’s obfuscated by seeing a cute penguin cartooned on a label. Really, if cigarette retailers are confined to text, could learn a thing or two from restaurant wine lists.↩
- Well, other than everything the banking sector does. But y’know, that’s why there’s Bitcoin.↩
- I totally get that fast food is a form of welfare. I do. I understand why the big dumb state, despite the abhorrent costs to society, continues to support such objectionable misrepresentations of “food” while it socialises the cost of everyone being a fat fucking whale. But seriously, wouldn’t giving people smokes and vodka be better? It’d have the same effect of placating the daft electorate. While it wouldn’t necessarily lower the health care system burden, it probably wouldn’t increase it either, and, if you’re looking for placates that scale, smokes and vodka require a hell of a lot less land and fresh water than chickens, cows, and corn. Just sayin’.↩
- I’m noticing a theme here… Am I growing so old and crotchety so soon?↩
- There was a case in Canada a few years back where a woman sued the theatre company in an effort to have the actual movie start time published, not just the start time for the rapefest. She lost.↩
- Anecdotally, far more Australians smoke than Canadians, certainly amongst the impressionable 18-35 urban demographic. Anti-smoking hotlines and ads aren’t enough to make smoking less cool. Smoking is pretty fucking cool no matter what anyone says.↩