Barely Legal

I saw a late-teenager (probably around 17 or 18, I reckon) get asked for proof of age when buying a 12 rated DVD last week. The kid was indignant and angry, but ultimately caved and showed some ID.

Whilst travelling the States in 2002, I saw a 55 year-old woman get refused alcohol in a San Francisco comedy club because she didn’t have ID with her.

On a similar tack, I got asked for ID buying a bottle of wine a couple of years ago. 33 years old I was at the time (as I indignantly told the woman behind the counter; “I’m the same age as JESUS!”) and it was the first time I’d been asked my age buying alcohol since I was 17.

All of these examples are utterly fucking stupid, and I worry that they’re indicative of a growing culture where using your judgement is seen as a dangerous and unneccessary risk. If you seriously aren’t comfortable enough with your judgement that a grey-haired, not-particularly-well-preserved woman can be served alcohol, I’m really not comfortable with you doing ANY job whatsoever. It comes down to the old argument that by operating like a machine and insisting on ID for everyone, you are potentially stopping a single 17 year old getting served. And that’s got to be a good thing, right?

Bollocks. Here’s my two pennies; cash ’em in for the currency of your choice. Drumroll..

An age restriction system works better when it leaks. When it is flawed. When 17 year-olds occasionally get served beer in pubs and get into 18 movies. Because if you’re a 17 year old in an environment that you’re not meant to be in, there’s at least a chance that you’ll shut up and keep a low profile. That you’ll hang back and see how things are done. If you know that if a particular bartender notices you you’ll get thrown out, you’ll avoid drawing too much attention to yourself. You’ll blend. You might even take it relatively easy on the booze intake. Your introduction to the adult world is gradual and subdued, since you know you don’t really belong there yet.

If, on the other hand, every age restriction works 100%, by the time a kid hits his 18th birthday he’s got a massive sense of entitlement backed up by absolutely no experience whatsoever of the environment that he’s entering. He walks in, flashes his newly minted ID, never learns any sort of bar etiquette, gets shitfaced and falls over or starts a fight. He knows that he won’t be ejected until he’s done something actively bad, and never learns the ropes because he doesn’t need to.

Movies work the same way. I fondly remember my first underage 15 at the cinema (Good Morning Vietnam) and my first underage 18 at the cinema (Misery). I sat in the darkness, terrified that the usher would suddenly click and think ‘Hey, that kid looked a bit young’, hunt me down in the darkness and throw me out. So I sat through the movies in silence, and.. Guess what? The habit stuck. I went from being a kid who yabbered in movies to being an adult who knew to shut the fuck up as soon as the certificate hit the screen. If I’d been robbed of that experience, if the first time I’d sat in an age-restricted movie I’d have been brimming with a sense of my entitlement to be there, maybe that process of growth would never have happened or been severely delayed.

Every time a supermarket increases the age at which you ‘might’ be ID’d, for the good of us all, it breaks my heart a bit. The woman who ID’d me for the wine was essentially arguing that maybe, just maybe, I might possibly be 25 and just have aged horribly badly. Her sign told her that if customers looked under 25 they must show ID to prove they were 18. Therefore a 33 year old has to prove that they’re not 17. Or a 55 year old has to spend her comedy night without a glass of wine. Madness. Not only that, but by boosting the ages of ‘forbidden fruit’ to 21 (as most States in the US have) they are introducing another element into the mix in the shape of cars. In the States, a kid might have been driving for 5 years by the time they get served in a bar. By that time they’re reliant on cars and unfamiliar with their alcohol limits; another recipe for disaster, especially in a country like the US where it’s hard enough to be a pedestrian in the first place.

I vote for a return to people using their judgement, and if the odd kid gets through a few months underage it might actually end up improving things in the long run.

Basically I just want teenagers to shut up in cinemas, and I’m willing to try anything.

My name’s Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear.

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