The unfounded stereotype: a correlation between writing and alcoholism

Saw “Seven Psychopaths” in the cinema today with sister Frannie, after indulging in a disgustingly awesome Maccas lunch. Awesomely fun film, gruesome gore, mad and memorable characters, and uber meta story line. Enjoyed it very much. My one little issue – and it’s not really a true issue at all, I suppose, as it was funny in the movie – was the insinuation that all writers are drunkards.

Snorted at that during the film, and returned the grin my sister gave me. I myself have only tried writing tipsy once – only notes that I didn’t want to forget after a fun karaoke evening – and never attempted it entirely drunk, sure it was a bad idea. My tipsy notes were difficult enough to interpret the next day, if I recall correctly.

Despite it being well-known, I’m quite sure this stereotype is unfounded. Even if there are a few prime example of writers who indulge a little too much in their alcohol – a quick Google search brings Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Truman Capote to mind – there are far too many writers in the world to have performed any good, solid studies on the relationship between writing and alcoholism. At least, there have been no such studies that I know of. And I suppose I don’t frequent all the psychology journals as much as I did as a student.

How would that even work? What sort of scale would the researchers use? A simple relationship between number of words written in a day and the amount of alcohol drunk using a randomised sample of subjects? Would they compare writers with non-writers? Would they compare the number of words written by a representative group of writers with the amount they drink, and see if amount written correlates with amount drunk? Instead of number of words, would they compare quality of the writing – as judged by a team of blind (to the study, not literally … just making sure there’s no confusion there) editors – to amount drunk? Or perhaps they’d compare the success of published authors to the alcohol they consume.

But using only published authors isn’t a representative sample of writers, that wouldn’t make for a good study. And how would drunkenness be measured? Only by amount drunk in a day – or a week, a month? Or would it be measured by drunken behaviour, as opposed to the actual amount of alcohol consumed? Perhaps a measure of mental functioning after a certain number of drinks would be prudent. But that might mess with the writing environment, making it less realistic, and less likely to produce realistic results. Perhaps the right number of drinks to induce suitable drunkenness for each individual writer observed in the study could be found, and the writers report if they reach that level as they write. Or in their daily life. Would the study only measure the amount they drink while they’re writing, or just in general? And how can we trust the writers to report correctly, if they’re drunk?

Planning studies is hard. So many factors to consider. Probably part of why I had no truly firm thoughts of pursuing a career in psychological research. Tis very interesting, though, I imagine. Researching, investigating, trying to prove or disprove stereotypes. I imagine some crusading psychology researcher has tackled the “all blondes are dumb” myth, and probably the “Asians are bad drivers” myth, too.

Not that I think this research would have any impact on people’s beliefs in relation to these stereotypes. Only a certain demographic regularly peruse psychology journals, one I am no longer counted among. And though often annoying and sometimes downright infuriated if they’re overused or considered by ignorants to be gospel, stereotypes like dumb blondes – one I’ve had significant experience with – aren’t really all that terrible, so long as they generally remain in fun and the “victim” knows it. I’d take all the stupid, ridiculous little unfounded stereotypes in the world, if it meant truly hurtful, just as unfounded ones would be forgotten.

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