For years we were told ecstasy would ruin our young people. But now those youths are parents, managers, maybe even politicians, and they turned out fine . . . didn’t they, writes SHANE HEGARTY
LURKING ON YouTube is a Prime Time special on the drug ecstasy that was apparently made in 1993 but looks like it was made many fashion eras ago. It is a museum piece – if the museum is a wall painted with black and sweat and populated by hugging, topless, shape-throwing gurners.
Any 18-year-old looking at it would surely find it utterly hilarious, something from the years BC (Before Cool). Yet, it represents the recent youth of a generation that doesn’t like the idea that they are out of it yet. But they are.
The ravers of the early 1990s are the parents, managers, editors, largely responsible adults who will spend the next decade or two at the coalface of a recession. They are, possibly, the politicians, although it’s still hard to imagine that any of our politicians were ever young. And they form, presumably, a large chunk of the one in 20 Irish who say they have taken ecstasy at some point in their lifetimes.
Naughty, naughty, very naughty: Young people at a rave in the UK in the 1990's. The use of ecstasy in the dance music scene was widespread, but both movements have gone out of fashion. Photograph: Sal Idriss/Redferns
Why bring this up now? Because there has been widespread coverage of a UK study into the societal and health impact of a range of drugs. Led by a former government adviser, who was sacked last year after challenging the refusal to reclassify banned drugs, the report was published in the Lancet. It looked at nine ways in which drugs could damage the individual and seven in which they harmed others and gave them scores out of 100. Its headline finding, and the thing even the casual reader or viewer will have picked up on, was that alcohol (72) was considered more harmful than heroin (55) or crack (54).
Drawing less attention were the drugs near the bottom of the rankings, where ecstasy earned a mere nine out of 100. (Magic mushrooms – the focus of relatively recent moral outrage and legal bludgeoning – is ranked least harmful with five points.)
There was a time when ecstasy would have been the headline act. Fifteen years ago, a claim that it caused relatively little personal or societal trouble, and that its legal standing should reflect that, would have been big news. Now, it’s hardly noticed. That moral panic is as over as The Shamen. (Ask your parents, kids.)
Contrast that with the tone of Prime Time ’s documentary which, aside from the propensity to flash psychedelic images behind a very unpsychedelic drugs expert, was a fair reflection of the argument at the time. There were predictions of deaths, psychiatric illness and long-term health damage of MDMA, ecstasy in its purest form. And it would be wrong to say it did not lead to casualties. Deaths have been associated with it, although exact figures are elusive. But the UK report hit on something that society seems to have quietly accepted anyway – compared to many other drugs, it is far less harmful. And a generation took part in a social experiment in which ecstasy was a key ingredient – and survived to reminisce fondly about it in the way hippys did about the 1960s.
The drug is not gone by any means, but its use is down for a host of reasons – among them fashion. The dance scene is not dead either, but it too is no longer what it was – despite a recent report claiming raves are back. Instead, both have slipped gradually into the bubbling cultural pot, and the dance scene – the last truly ground-breaking youth movement – is an amusing clip on YouTube and something for 30- and 40-somethings to daydream about during a dull management meeting.
Soon, they will be using it as a weapon in their attempts to convince their adult offspring that they once existed at the culture’s cutting edge.
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