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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Harry Potter and the Anti Tobacco Circle Jerk

Much has been made in the blogosphere of the government's carrying on where it's predecessors left off in the egregiously illiberal legislation department, particularly in the last couple of days with regard to the push towards banning tobacco displays and other point of sale material, making this still legal product effectively illegal to sell openly, and even trying to overtake Australia, parts of which have already implemented display bans, in the race to be the first country to insist on plain packaging. I haven't got a lot to add to what folks such as Dick PuddlecoteLongrider and Snowdon at VGIF have said on this except to note that every illegal recreational drug is sold in plain packaging, sometimes very low rent packaging at that, and not only is there no use of branding but unless things like "that mindblowingly strong shit that Gav gets" counts there are in fact not even any brands. I'd also point out that this applies even to the drug known in Australia as "chop chop", which is nothing more or less than illegal, unregulated and untaxed tobacco being sold much more cheaply than the regulated variety.

The lack of branding or displays hasn't affected the chop chop business and I can't see that it will do anything much to the legal tobacco industry except to remove one more visible difference between it and chop chop, leaving only price - on which the legal industry will always struggle to compete due both to taxes and inevitable regulatory costs of operating legitimate businesses - to distinguish them in the eyes of tobacco consumers. Will they all think "bugger it, we might as well just smoke chop chop"? No, but it's naive to think that none of them will. It's also naive to think that nobody will take up smoking. You might claim that the presence of legal tobacco could be a lead in to the illegal variety, but that argument fails as soon as you consider other illegal drugs. Cocaine, marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, crystal meth etc all have no problems either with maintaining a customer base or attracting new users, and none of them have a legal, regulated, taxed alternative. Yes I know morphine is used all the time in the medical profession, and I've been given it a couple of times myself, but you can't just wander in to the local chemist and ask for some if you fancy getting high on it. With tobacco (and alcohol - we'll be having this same discussion about that in the not too distant future) you do have a choice between legal and illegal versions of the product. With other recreational drugs you don't, yet nothing about that or the inevitable consequence that there are no displays or branding, prevents them from getting new customers. Some people just want to get off their dials. Others like the gentle effect of a quiet smoke. It's not understood by tobaccophobes that smokers really don't give a stuff what's on the packet as long as what's in it has the desired effect, and so Australia is likely to end up in a situation where these logos may be legally displayed on the products to which they relate.

And these ones may not.

This of course will not be much of an issue in the UK where most of the products of the first three have already been banned, which is why nobody ever, evah, gets shot.

And so, having got here rather circuitously, I come to Harry Potter. No, I haven't finally gone off my rocker and this is still on the same topic. The thing is that I've been thinking about the mentality of the kind of person who sees someone doing something they like but which the observer disapproves of so strongly that not only do they not want to do it themselves, which would be fine, but they don't want anybody to be able to do it at all. Of course Douglas Adams' Vogons immediately sprang to mind.
They are one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy - not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without an order, signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.
The natural forces of Vogsphere worked overtime to make up for [the blunder of the evolution of Vogons]. They brought forth scintillating jeweled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, smashing them with large iron mallets; aspiring trees which the Vogons cut down to use the firewood for cooking the crabs; and elegant gazellelike creatures with dewey eyes which the Vogons would catch and sit on (they were useless for transport because their backs snapped under the weight, but the Vogons sat on them anyway).

The planet whirled away for unhappy millennia until the Vogons discovered the principles of interstellar travel. Within a few short Vog years every Vogon had migrated to the Megabrantis cluster, the political hub of the galaxy. They now form the powerful backbone of the Galactic Civil Service.
Close, and certainly there are people with rather Vogon-like minds employed by councils and so on everywhere. They don't have job titles like Senior Shouting Officer but they do have jobs such as Tobacco Enforcement Officer. But somehow the Vogons, unpleasant as they are, didn't seem quite nasty and spiteful enough. A Vogon might get a kick from petty authority and enforcing rules that make people's lives just a little less fun but I think in the absence of a rule that needs enforcing Vogonish people would simply wander off and piss on someone else's chips.

No, the type of person we're talking about here is far worse than a Vogon because their particular delight is not just enforcing rules but creating them. And while I was surfing the web with that idea clicking around the back of my brain I came across one of those list type humour articles that litter parts of the net. It's titled Ten Harry Potter Characters Scarier Than Voldemort, and there I found a description of exactly the kind of person I'd been thinking of (my bold).
Fear the innocuous-looking older woman with too many morals and too much time on her hands. Unlike everyone else on this list, Dolores Umbridge feels like a real person. She’s the mean-spirited grandmother writing letters about the school advocating birth control. She’s the infuriating bank teller who makes you go to the end of the line because you forgot to sign your checks. She’s a bitch, simple as that, and in the Ministry of Magic, she has real power. Weaponizing her nicey-nice high-pitched rebukes, Dolores Umbridge is on an unstoppable mission to snuff out boys being boys, even if it curbs every last ounce of originality and forward progress. Don’t kid yourself, people like Umbridge are dangerous, and the worst part is they don’t even know it.
Oh, yes. Dangerous indeed. And does she remind you of anyone? Not someone in particular but a type of person? The type of person whose life mission is to disapprove, regulate, forbid in that approximate order before starting again with disapproval. The type of person who, if I may mix my analogies, is not themselves a Vogon but would unhesitatingly use the services of Vogons to enforce their rules.*

Yep, there are Umbridges about. They work in ASH, Alcohol Concern and other fake charities, and they use Vogons in parliament and government ministries Given Rowling's known support for the party of overweening, patronising, regulation happy, nannying paternalist wankers - no, not the ones in government now, I mean the other party of regulation happy nannying paternalist wankers - I wonder if she realised when she wrote that particular character.

* It was clear even from when I saw the first movie that the Hogwarts school caretaker is absolutely a Vogon.
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