If you ever wonder why America seems so utterly insane – obsessed by health but devoted to junk, concerned about the environment but constantly trashing it, devoted to ideals but happy to sell out – all you have to do is head to the store.
There you will find the American psyche writ large.
Or actually, not so large. It’s written on the side of the drinks in the refrigerator case.
Because there is such a glut of fancy new beverages on the market, each one is determined to prove that it is the real deal – the one to choose if you really want to lead a life that is meaningful and good – and worthy of you shelling out $1.49 for 16 ounces.
“Iceland Spring is close to the Arctic Circle,” reads one of the zillions of brands of bottled of water, “pure and refreshing like no other.”
That’s just lovely. Except that now, some Icelandic entrepreneur has schlepped water-bottling equipment up to this spring and is busy siphoning it off. How pure is that area becoming, thank you very much? And yet we’re supposed to congratulate ourselves on buying such ecologically conscious water.
A couple of shelf inches over is a bottle of Gatorade AM. This drink, says the bottle, “helps put back the … energy you lose during a full night’s sleep.”
Paging Mr. Orwell! Paging Mr. Orwell! Isn’t a “full night’s sleep” exactly how we get our energy back? Isn’t that the whole point of sleep? What’s Gatorade got to do with it?
Then there’s the ever-so-earnest bottle of something called “Venus Water for Women” (because, as you know, men and women have needed such very different water since the beginning of time). This seemingly feminist drink says it is devoted to “redefining ‘beauty’ stereotypes.”
A noble goal. So why is there a skinny young woman on the label? A naked skinny young woman! So much for a new ideal of beauty.
It’s not that these companies are any worse than the rest. It’s that they are exactly like the rest, making ridiculous claims and hoping our brains are too dehydrated to think. Fuze, a New Age drink just bought by Coca-Cola, earnestly lists all of its vitamins and minerals, pointing out things such as, “Vitamin E Õ aids in neurological and reproductive development.”
If that’s how you choose your after-school drink, more power to you: “Hmm, I’m thirsty. Which drink is the most neurologically developmental?” Just please note that elsewhere on the label, Fuze adds, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”
In other words: They’re just babbling.
We get so used to this kind of babbling, it doesn’t even faze us. So when a drink with the incredibly weird name “Stacker 2’s ‘Grape’ Protein Water” goes on and on about the history of grapes – “used and abused in wine, jellies and juices” – we’re not supposed to care that this drink actually CONTAINS NO GRAPE JUICE! Zip! Not a drop! They could go on and on about orange juice or liquid plutonium, and it would make just as little difference: They ain’t in there!
Really, pretty much every American obsession and delusion can be discovered in the beverage refrigerator case. And whaddaya know?
There’s also some overpriced sugar water.
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Sun and Advertising Age.
©2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.