and Jaymes: Gentleness is Effects of (Small) Beer – the Influence
of Alco-Pops on Free Will and Cultural Immobilization
By Walker Miller-Busch
Even more startling than the availability of alcohol in our society
is the ease of our preferred delivery systems. Much ink has already
been spilt on the subject of “alco-pops” and the like, of
the recent rise (and sudden collapse) of alcoholic energy drinks, of
Jell-O shots and beer bongs and caramel-apple-tinis. Besides the obvious
attempt to capture the youth market, these sorts of drinks trend toward
an easy indolence in the alcohol-consuming population, a tendency toward
an alarming atavism that portends little good.
At one point, the saving grace of most alcoholic beverages was that
they were acquired tastes. Only more sophisticated, adult palates, the
better-trained and perhaps more jaundiced, could tolerate hard liquors,
and so they appealed little to the very young. A light beer might go
down well for an older teen, but we still find few of them pounding
porter. Likewise, a single-malt scotch is simply going to burn the esophageal
lining of a youth raised on soda and super-sweet and frothy lattes.
There was no need to worry about the state of the advanced drinker's
soul; the corruption was already done. The advanced drinker, indeed,
frequently had to take pains to acquire his tastes—there was something
of working at it, of trying to get past the perhaps more off-putting
aspects and to refine from the experience the overtones and undertones
of a complex flavor. There was also something of leisure: the advanced
drinker took time to savor the flavor because, well, he'd earned
Not so with the newer alcoholic products. From spiked lemonades to
wine-coolers to inebriation-inducing liquid candies like Pucker, the
flavors are simplified in order to ease the transition into the agreed-upon
stupor. In other words, these are drinks for those who would “prefer
not to” cultivate a sophisticated palate. These are drinks for
a generation that has come to expect, nay feel entitled to, instant
“So what?” you may be asking yourself, “It's what
the market demands, and that's good enough for me.” This is as
may be; old fogeys like your humble servant may decry the end of The
Way Things Used to Be, but there is no need, one may argue, to get in
the way of progress.
This writer is willing to accept the free-market argument, but with
this caveat: the rise of alco-pops and their cousins has broad and far-reaching
ramifications for society at large. When we lose our own desire to work
for our leisure, we lose the desire to work. As dies hard liquor, so
back, for instance, to the original Bartles and Jaymes marketing campaign.
The commercials depicted a couple of older southern gentlemen, the unnamed
announcer and the silent “Ed” who was always up to something
absurd in the background. These two were clean and of a comfortable
class, to be sure; they were not dirty or stupid or unapproachably bumpkiny.
But they had no obvious means of support, either, other than plumping
their hooch: Bartles and Jaymes “premium wine cooler,” even
though, when the marketing campaign began, most of America had never
heard of a wine cooler (other than a literal cooler for wine); much
less did they require a differentiation between Bartles and Jaymes and
a clearly inferior or generic product. At the same time that a history
is thereby implied, no attempt is made to tap into some ancient tradition
of grape cultivation and careful techniques of aging. There is no decades-long
fermentation process that requires the dutiful commitment of generations
and that ultimately culminates in the glorious, rarefied essence that
dangles its legs along the length of the glass. Premium or no, Bartles
and Jaymes appears to have been whipped up in the kitchen right prior
to the arrival of our callers, clean and tidy though that kitchen may
Fun times? Yes, but also a giving up.
The Bartles and Jaymes pitchmen (it's never clear which one is Bartles
and which one Jaymes, or even if these are supposed to be Bartles
and Jaymes), while vaguely comic, also imply, at a meta-analytical level,
a campaign that has, itself, surrendered to any attempt to represent
its product in a genuine way or in a manner that asks anything of its
intended audience. Ed is prone to goofy and often fantastical attempts
to promote the drink, but goes about them with a half-assed sort of
stunned fatigue. The speaking representative is almost always seated,
generally laconic, and, while he ends every pitch with “Thank
you for your support,” goes about it with about as much enthusiasm
as a basset hound goes about preparing your taxes. The message is that
you should buy Bartles and Jaymes because it supports these
two characters, not because they have worked hard to make a great product
or that it is one about which you or anyone else should really be passionate.
It might seem counter-intuitive that such a series of advertisements
should appeal to the young, but it turned them on, even to the degree
that teens of the time would drawl “and thank you for your support”
as a kind of tagline. Young people could identify with the downplayed
Bartles and Jaymes ads as simpatico with their too-hip-to-care artificial
sangfroid. Bartles and Jaymes were “whatever” legitimized
by corporate America and repackaged in a form their parents found scoff-worthy
or at least easy to ignore. Thus the nearness of the campaign to the
attitudes of the young expressed by further implication the nearness
of the product to one with which they were already familiar: Kool Aid.
The ease with which the pitchmen pitched mirrored the ease with which
the young could move from their childhood drinks to the “grown
up” world of “wine,” or at least wine coolers. They
could get as lit as their parents were without having to take on the
responsibility of learning to like the drink first.
That to which the marketers are appealing, then, is not merely a taste,
but a taste for laziness; it is not a drink so much as it is a do-nothing
lifestyle, the promise that you can have all of the benefits of adult
beverages but none of the work, all of the self-congratulatory esteem
of being a grown-up without ever having to actually grow up.
Over the two-plus decades since the Bartles and Jaymes commercials
have aired, the implications of having given up have informed many other
ad campaigns trying to replicate their success and thereby capture a
valuable market. And along with it has grown an entire generation who
have been trained by these ads, inculcated into a culture of having
given up. Not only won't they have to work to create in themselves an
appreciation for what they consume, they do not even have to think about
what they consume. One-click shopping reached our gullets long before
it invaded our virtual spaces.
From here it is a small step or two to complete immobility. If you
need not work at leisure, why do anything for yourself? Is not the mere
fact of your existence and your implied willingness to spend enough
for you to be “valued”? What is next on the list of that
which you would prefer not to do?
We are already seeing this in schools, of course. Colleges and universities
have begun to think of themselves as providing an “educational
product,” and so those we used to consider students are now “consumers”
who expect a grade (and often a good one) just for having paid their
tuition and fees. The next step, naturally, is on the job. People will
soon expect a paycheck just for showing up; the value of work, after
all, is having a job, in much the same way that the value of a wine
cooler is having supported Bartles and Jaymes. Actually doing
something is simply out of the question.
Better still, the job should come to you, or at least the site should
be officially moved to you, because once you have shown your support
by having the job, why should you actually have to travel to get to
it? We don't want to be contributing members of society; that's bitter.
We want the play that is Kool-Aid packaged with the punch of forgetting.
Cultural immobility, then, isn't merely some type of pathology; it's
the teleology we're bottled and sold.