Taking Pop Culture Alcoholics One at a Time
By Alyssa Rosenberg
Due both to the news that The Thin Man is headed for a remake, the failed remake of Arthur, and the fact that Netflix Instant is letting me make up for lost time and a childhood mostly without a television by giving me access to all of Cheers, I’ve been thinking a lot about alcohol and popular culture. Obviously, both Arthur and the Thin Man movies were built around fairly constant levels of alcohol consumption and a fairly unrepentant attitude towards that, which poses a real challenge to remaking them given how much attitudes about alcohol use and abuse have shifted since the originals were made. By contrast, Sam’s alcoholism is a constant if mostly unobtrusive undercurrent in the early seasons of Cheers.
I’m hard-pressed to think of a contemporary pop culture phenomenon that presents addiction in such a matter-of-fact way, as part of someone’s larger life, rather than the defining feature in it. We’ve got a lot of movies about the process of recovery, which makes sense, given the way we’ve made a cultural fetish of rehabilitation. And we have a lot of culture about the tragedy of addiction, whether it’s Nic Cage drinking himself to death in Vegas (life lesson: if that’s the only movie you have available to you at a slumber party, go with the board games), or the baroqueness of addiction, like in Bad Santa. But we don’t have a lot of shows or movies about the normalcy of addiction—I’d be curious as to how the Anonymous bit of A.A. plays into that—and the maintenance work of recovery, which is what most people who don’t fly off to lux treatment centers need to do. It’s an extraordinarily individual response to a condition with considerable societal costs. The universe, or rather, Funny or Die, appears to have answered my plea in the form of a short movie, Successful Alcoholics:
The final scene in particular is a great explication of the challenges of staying sober—or for that matter, walking away from the highs of manic depression in favor of a blander equilibrium. And it’s further proof that Lizzy Caplan is a marvelous actress. I’d love to see a feature-length version of this, with her starring in it.