We live in a society dominated by healthism. Yet this modern puritanism suffers from a paradox: the more unrealistic the health guidelines, the more we gain tacit permission to ignore them. The sight of Leicester Square on a Friday night shows the Chief Medical Officer’s advice to be somewhat parochial. Programmes like Drunk Britain provide a release from these double standards; pricking the balloon of healthism, while reassuring us that our personal excess is not too excessive.
What did this spectrum look like in the past? Part of the titillation of old films is the drooping cigarette and ever-present cocktail. Period series like Mad Men neatly play on this frisson, teasing us with nostalgia for a life lived through the sybaritic filter of alcohol. Yet one question remains unanswered: if they drank too much by our standards, then what was too much by their standards?