Marines and sailors aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune sat through their fair share of safety briefs full of slideshows and leaders who struggle to interest a crowd of service members through statistics and bulleted sentence fragments.
However, some Marines were able to learn the hazards of drinking and driving in an unusual way. Bryan McDaniel, a magician and hypnotist, held a stage-hypnosis show to demonstrate how drunk driving can influence a life at the Base Theater recently.
“I started doing these before I retired from the Marines in 1998 when I was directed to do safety presentations,” said McDaniel, who is a certified hypnotherapist and a member of several organizations for magicians. “I sat through enough presentations that were ‘death by PowerPoint.’ I was a hypnotist and a magician at the time so I asked the (commanding officer) if I could do something a little different.”
The show certainly is a departure from the usual fare of gruff speeches and hours of presentations. McDaniel enjoyed an easy relationship with the audience and volunteers he picked from the crowd. He joked and smoothly danced with Marines across the stage.
“People don’t really remember their safety presentations,” said McDaniel. “You sit through them, and then you go home and forget about it. With this one they go home or back to work, and they talk about it. They say things like, ‘Remember when you went up on stage and sang ‘I’m a little teapot?’”
Marines are receptive to McDaniel’s message. His shows are typically packed, and he often has people return to subsequent performances. While his volunteers may sometimes act like kindergartners or the Village People while under hypnosis, the end result is a sobering look at the realities of drunk driving.
In the beginning of the show the magician asked the Marines how many of them planned on drinking; many raised their hands. When he asked how many planned to drive after, not a single Marine raised a hand.
“Nobody ever plans on those things,” said McDaniel. “Nobody ever calls their mother and tells her, ‘I’m going to get wasted with some buddies and drive down the street. You’ll probably never see me again.’ Nobody plans it, but those kinds of things happen.”
While giving the Marines suggestions on avoiding temptation when they are the designated driver, McDaniel made a bottle of beer disappear. He discussed how most Marines heard of the math to determine blood-alcohol content, yet many can’t properly complete the equation in their heads and especially can’t do it while drunk.
“Marines can’t do math to start with,” said McDaniel, making the crowd laugh. “But after a few drinks, we think we’re the Stephen Hawking of blood-alcohol content.”
McDaniel said he feels young Marines are particularly vulnerable to drinking while driving.
“The target age groups, 18 to 23 year olds, think they are invincible. Once they start drinking they’re not capable of making good decisions. They probably think they’re even more invincible than before they started drinking.”
Young drunk drivers account for more vehicle collisions than older people, according to the 2000 Journal of Studies on Alcohol. According to the National Institute of Health, alcohol is involved in 37 percent of all traffic deaths among persons aged 16 to 20.
“More people will probably retain this knowledge because they had a fun time learning it,” said Lance Cpl. Eric Sweeney, a volunteer at the performance.
As a reward for volunteering, McDaniel gave the Marines on the stage a final, hypnotic suggestion. He told them to take a shot of a substance that, while incredibly intoxicating, would not make them sick. The Marines drank from the invisible glasses. When asked to stand and help the Marine next to them, they fell over each other, leading the crowds to laughs. He then asked who could drive.
While nobody said they would in the beginning of the presentation, now many raised their hands, eager to get behind the wheel of a car.
A group of four where chosen, and a corporal drove them. He increased his speed as his companions distracted him and then it happened. They crashed. Three of the Marines died.
The corporal woke to find his friends dead. When asked why, the Marine found himself unable to speak for a moment.
“I didn’t mean to do this,” he said.
“You were the senior Marine in the vehicle,” said McDaniel. “You were supposed to look out for them.”
The Marine struggled to find words. The theater was quiet and McDaniel took the Marine out of hypnosis.
While the Marines enjoyed witnessing their peers act silly under hypnosis, they walked away with an understanding of the heartbreak and the consequences associated with drunk driving.