Ross Stebbing: How Trainspotting’s tragedy became a marketing ploy

Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner, as 'Sick Boy', Renton and Spud, visit Scotland's great outdoors
Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner, as 'Sick Boy', Renton and Spud, visit Scotland's great outdoors
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Ross Stebbing is appalled by Edinburgh’s exploitation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting for publicity purposes after seeing a drug addict foam at the mouth in a Haymarket clinic as a tram with the #Tramspotting logo drives slowly by.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f***ing big television. And use it to watch a sub-par sequel that serves no purpose other than to soothe a middle-aged generation of Brit-poppers who long for the glory days.

Back in 1993, when Trainspotting was relevant and first published, the book shed light on the underbelly of a drug-ridden capital. A destructive Leith pumped full of heroin users, degradation and economic helplessness. Glamorised, probably, but it arguably helped to bring an important topic to the surface. An issue unlikely to be discussed by bougie Edinburgh residents.

Last year, Trainspotting 2 (or T2 for trendy abbreviation) was released on DVD, Blu-ray, available for purchase across all major retailers, online outlets, apps. Perfect home-entertainment for a Saturday night, head-nodding to Born Slippy at 5am in a state of craft-gin hedonism, or at least that is until you wake up at 3pm and realise you’re barely surviving on minimum wage, trapped under a DUP-backed government, and still need to pay off your River Island store card debt.

Now, the book celebrates its 25th anniversary, and with it comes Tim Bell’s critical analysis and geographical account of Leith, Choose Life Choose Leith: Trainspotting on Location, published this month by Luath Press.

The tour, a chance to walk in the steps of Sickboy, has been described as “top” by the Sunday Times and a “vibrant event” by Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature.

READ MORE Interview: Irvine Welsh on his new novel, Trainspotting and Trump

But has the true sentiment of Trainspotting just become a caricature of itself – the original message stripped to the core, lost and replaced by the fame of just being nothing more than a really famous Scottish movie? And is there an irony in the fact that T2 was probably watched in the cinema by thousands after a cheeky Nando’s and just before an evening of cheeky pints at Wetherspoons?

Pop culture really does eat itself. Even the promotional trail for T2 was probably the perfect example of this – see the original cast attempting to recreate the film’s iconic poster on The Graham Norton Show in front of a sea of people called Linda and Dave – raw hands from clapping as if the return of 1996 depended on it.

But is anyone going to mention the elephant in the room? As in, the real meaning of the book-slash-film.

And does the Chicago-based Irvine Welsh, creator of the deliberately-crafted-to-be-one-the-people narrative, really care? Probably not. After all, the franchise is a quote-unquote cash cow.

But perhaps the best thing to be cooked up from the Trainspotting-in-a-millennial-world saga is the fact that brands and organisations can reduce the film/book down to nothing more than a calendar hook. An opportunity to trend jack.

So step forward Edinburgh’s very own, and ongoing, #Tramspotting campaign.

An eye-catching artwork stunt, which sees the £400-million-over-budget trams adorned in vinyl messaging encouraging city-goers to ‘Choose Tram’ as the overpriced transport of choice to galivant across Edinburgh.

READ MORE: Ex-minister claims Edinburgh trams ‘value for money’

As Lea Harrison, of Edinburgh Trams, explained when the campaign was launched: “With our trams featuring in the new Trainspotting film, we thought we’d tie in with the excitement around its imminent release by using the ‘Tramspotting’ hashtag. It’d be great to see pictures on social media from customers who have spotted the special tram out on the system!”

Great, Lea. But not as great as opiates surging through your veins. Let’s get that trending on social.

My burning question though is, did no-one involved really think about the harsh reality of what this means? Effectively bandwagoning on a film all about the tragedy and harsh realities of heroin abuse, shooting-up and, inevitably, overdosing and death.

According to new figures, Edinburgh has the most drug-addicted benefits claimants in the UK. Which makes you think, has Edinburgh’s heroin problem ever really been addressed?

And does it really matter? After all we have hashtags, trams, tourists, average new restaurants, artisan South African coffee shops and walking tour books to divert our attention from eyes rolling in the back of sockets and poor attempts to audition to be extras for the Walking Dead.

Where is the donation, profit or increase in help off the back of the campaign for organisations trying to stabilise this heroin crisis? Surely there must be a hint of corporate social responsibility to make it look like a semi-worthwhile marketing strategy?

Or is that not really a concern? Because I couldn’t help but feel total confusion recently when I was sat near a clinic for the homeless and disadvantaged in Haymarket, watching an addict foam at the mouth as a tram came five-mile-per-houring down the street, decked out in none other than its very own heroin-chic #Tramspotting logo.

Maybe the cost of that makeover could’ve helped to part-fund this man’s clear need for rehabilitation, no?

But that’s just one point. There’s also a basic human rights element to this. Isn’t there something totally and morally unjust about jumping on what is effectively one of the city’s worst epidemics to promote its transportation services?