Monday, February 22, 2010

Alcohol from the Outside

I am a non-drinker and a completely uneducated observer of alcohol culture. I've grown up in Utah my whole life, with family that doesn't drink and friends that don't drink. But I've recently become semi-acquainted with this culture, at least enough that I have some observations about it that I would like to throw out there, and be corrected by those who know better.

I have three categories, because they're the only ones I really know. I realize there are others, but my observations of their consumption have been rare to non-existent. So I here I discuss Tequila, Beer, and Wine.

Tequila - My undestanding of Tequila is that it is consumed in shots, is sort of a south-of-the-border drink (ie: mostly from Mexico?), and is usually ideal for situations when the people want to become uninhibited, and quickly.

Beer - I realize the sphere of beer is probably too large to be summed up under just the heading 'beer' but I wouldn't know how to narrow it down beyond the types I've seen on clever TV commercials (ie: light, frost-brewed, Coors, Budweiser, etc.). My impression of beer is that it has a bad reputation for being the lay-person's drink, or only for middle-aged men with large stomachs watching football. But I think it can be much more sophisticated than that, titles like 'pale ale' do not say unsophisticated slob to me. I've come to think of beer as an extremely general term used to describe alcoholic drinks not made from grapes and somehow involving wheat or this mysterious thing called 'hops' which I cannot seem to understand. My impression of beer now is that it is ideal for people at bars because they can drink several without feeling too intoxicated, they're not to expensive, and because beer is the most social drink, and what more social place is there than a bar? I also think beer is a good choice for a casual lunch at a sit-down restaurant, where you might order a cheeseburger but a waiter would serve it and it would come with some sort of gourmet fries or the option of getting a salad. 

Wine - Again, I realize there are so many kinds of wine that an attempt to describe it and its use cases is probably silly, but I have just enough gaps in my knowledge to feel like I can pull this off. Wine is for those who appreciate food, and in some cases aesthetics. It is also a social-aloofness drink, where beer is the "I'm here to party with y'all" drink, wine is the "I'm here to enjoy conversations with people I deem worthy" drink. There is red wine, white wine, bottled wine, boxed wine, and the interesting thing is that each type has some sort of social stigma attached to it, or at least expectations of how it should be used. So I think wine is as much about image or status (demonstrating sophistication by pairing the right wine with the right food, or defying social norms by drinking boxed wine instead of bottled) as it is about enjoyment.

So there's what I think/know about alcohol? Am I way off? Am I close? Anybody who has an opinion, educated or not, I'd love to hear what you think.

PS - I'd like to give a small shout-out to my friends at work who have provided me with most of my education on this subject, both purposefully and inadvertently :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brand Conversion

So I'm watching the Olympics the other night and this Nissan commercial comes on. I typically find car commercials occasionally entertaining but completely uncompelling. But as the next commercials continued I found myself thinking more and more about the Nissan tagline "Shift the way you move through the world." The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I was impressed. I didn't want to go buy a car, and I felt no particular interest in their cars, but I loved that tagline.

And then a Coke commercial came on. It was not extremely clever, and had no tagline, but I was compelled by it. Nothing sounded better to me in that moment than an ice-cold bottle of Coke. All I wanted to do was hold that bottle, remove the cap and hear that refreshing pop/hiss sound, tilt my head back and pour some down my throat.

The contrast of these two commercials got me thinking about brand images and what I call brand conversion, and it reminded me something from a class I'm taking. So we're making our way through St. Augustine's 'Confessions', and we continue to see him switching idealogies, from Manichiesm to Skepticism to Platonism etc. His continuous conversions however, are clearly not complete, or at least not lasting. He moves through all of these systems of belief in a matter of a few years. So I kept wondering, what is it that finally makes Christianity stick for him?  Well, I think Christianity was his Coke, whereas the Philosophical idealogies were his Nissan.

I had an intellectual connection with Nissan as a result of their commercial. The problem was, it had no motivating power. I had an emotional connection with Coke.  Emotional conversions motivate and compel people to act in a way intellectual conversions never do. In Augustine's case, his emotional conversion to Christianity motivated him to finally give up his all-consuming sexual escapades.

Now there may be something more to the Coke vs. Nissan problem, it is entirely possible that the difference in the purchasing process between a car and a drink has something to do with the intellectual vs. emotional marketing.

But here's what I know: Coke's got me. I count myself among the devout.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day: Part II

In the last post I explained why I have always detested Valentine's Day, but here's why and how I've re-thought my position:

A few weeks ago I heard someone suggest that rather than having one day a year to celebrate love, we should have one day a year to celebrate hate, or at least to liberate ourselves from the oppression of that ugly emotion. I laughed at first, but upon further thought I decided that the idea of making hate the one-day exception, and love the rule was not such a bad idea after all. Unfortunately, I am not so optimistic as to believe that is possible. I do not think love is the default in the settings of human emotions.

I think we need a day focused on love and I am determined to take advantage of the opportunity this holiday provides. After the attitude of benevolence which so pervades the Christmas season, wears off and we all settle in to wait out the doldrums of winter, we need Valentine's Day to shake us out of our selfish hibernation.

I am going to to credit my Philosophy class with opening my eyes to the possiblities here. In my St. Augustine class we've been talking about how love is one of the greatest goods, however, when directed toward the wrong things/people it loses its value. We've discussed the various types of love, unfortunately Augustine had a little problem with focusing his love, a lustful type of love, on women, multiple women, hence his famous line 'give me chastity, but not yet'. (If he looks confused, it's because he clearly was.)

His 'love' was slightly misguided and I see Valentine's Day as perpetuating a similar problem. Valentine's Day focuses too narrowly on one kind of love. So what have I decided to do? I'm expanding my Valentine's Day horizons. From this point forward, the day of love is no longer just a holiday about receiving flowers or chocolates from anything male that speaks, but about love in all it's forms. I'm evolving my Valentine's-Day-love-thoughts from the narrowness of the Supremes to the broader ideals of the Beatles.

I am going to take this Valentine's Day as a positive opportunity to express how I feel to people who matter to me and to show love to people who need it. I will not be making a blanket statement of love to anyone who reads this post, but I look forward to this Valentine's Day as an opportunty for growth and an opportunity to avoid the bitterness associated with the day also known as Singles' Awareness Day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentine's Day: Part I

It's February, and besides all the excitement associated with President's Day, Valentine's Day is just around the corner. I have very strong feelings about this holiday, and in the past they have been nothing but negative. However, in a riveting two-part post I will explain first what my past issues with February 14th have been, and then why I've come around to a more positive point of view.

This crazy holiday is such an easy target for criticism: the extreme over-commercialization, the insipid little candy hearts which completely mock the ideals of love, and the stress this holiday puts on casual relationships! Need I go on? I have long held that this holiday must be stopped! In the name of love!

For me this holiday is especially painful due to my issues with the word 'love'. I could very likely count on one hand the number of people I have said the 'L' word to, and I don't mean just romantically, I mean at all. Most attempts to verbalize the words to other humans result in a sudden hot flash, accompanied by a restricted airway-type feeling. This makes things difficult around Valentine's Day when it is IMPOSSIBLE to escape the 'L' word. However I like to think that this physiological abnormality is not so much a result of my being emotionally stunted, but rather a safety mechanism of sorts which helps me understand and preserve the real meaning of the word 'love'.

I've always thought of valentines day as representing the worst of and even mocking love. It debases love, and turns it into a commercial commodity. Something that is to be bought with roses and chocolates, or expressed to people we may not even like with little candy hearts.

Is this what love is? No. But this seems to be what Valentine's Day is about. It takes the most complicated emotions and attempts to contain all the complexity in one icky little symbol, the heart. Not only that but the perpetuators of Valentine's Day attempt to sell this symbol in every possible form: chocolate hearts, gummy hearts, heart balloons, stuffed hearts, heart-shaped cards, lace hearts, cases of soda in the shape of hearts, heart shaped flowers, and more!

I realize that some of you who enjoy Valentine's Day will write my opinions off as those of a bitter single person, and I may be both bitter and single. However, no matter what my Facebook relationship status may say, I doubt that a day full of chocolate and giant, pink, heart pillows will ever be a day I can enjoy.

Coming soon: How I've Decided to Cope with, and Even Make the Most of February 14th