Oh, c'mon now. Is the American public so stupid as to fall for this crap? Don't answer that, I'm trying to hang on to my last shred of patriotism here. But please, aren't we over that "I'm defined by my consumer choices" garbage? Do some of us really still think membership in the "elite" is defined by eating arugula (in which case the elite is heavily concentrated in Midwestern farm states . . . ) rather than, I don't know, the posession of unfair, unearned power and privilege to manipulate outcomes to one's own advantage at the expense of the non-elite?
Okay, now that I've made my obligatory disclaimer, I'm goint to dive into this morass myself, since like our national media I am cursed with an attention span too short to actually learn anything about a substansive issue. I am talking, of course, about the faux brouhaha about the President's choice of beer, and the respective beer choices of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department the other day at the "beer summit" to discuss race relations. Gates and Crowley, you might remember, had the misfortune of getting into a heated argument that resulted in Gates' being arrested at an opportune moment to be used by those forces opposed to national health care reform to change the subject. I won't comment on the arrest itself because I really don't give a shit. I am neither dumb enough to yell at a cop, nor naive enough to believe that a white suburban cop is going to treat a black guy the same as a white guy. I suspect that both men would annoy me immensely if I ever had a beer with them, actually.
No, what's interesting here is the beer. Not the fact that Crowley had a Blue Moon (American-Canadian, but Belgian Style), Gates changed his choice from Jamaican brewed Red Stripe to Sam Adams, and the President had a Bud Light. No, the interesting thing is that someone is taking this seriously enough that Steve Dahl is blogging - er, writing - about it in a prominant location in today's Tribune. First of all, there's the fact that the Trib has Dahl writing about what passes for "serious news" at all. I mean, you have to give Dahl props for Disco Demolition. That was awesome. But causing a really hilarious riot one time does not make one a real journalist. Beyond that, though, there's the content. The assumption that the choice of one's beer is meant to make a statement about oneself. That may be true, but what difference does it make where the beer was made? It seems obvious that there are three classes of beer, mass market domestic, import, and microbrew. They mark one, respectively, as working class or faux working class "regular guy," worldly/striving middle class, and beer snob/wanker. I count myself firmly in the latter category, most of my favorite beers are from microbreweries in Michigan. If I were invited to a National Beer Summit, I think I'd bring Bell's Lager of the Lakes. Sort of a classy, understated, self assured beer. Although I'd never turn up my nose at a Guiness. Mmm, Guiness. But I digress.
The important thing here isn't that Blue Moon is a Coors product half owned by a Canadian firm, it's that it's a Belgian-style microbrew and Crowley is trying to show he's a sophisticated guy from Cambridge and not a dumb thug (the two things are obviously not mutually exclusive in the real world, but bear with me, we're talking about the Mediaverse here, AKA the Dumbosphere). I'm pretty sure this is the case, because Blue Moon does not actually taste good. It's way too fizzy and sharply bitter, the kind of thing you don't really like but all the cool kids are drinking it and you drink it to be cool, not realizing that all the cool kids are doing the same thing.
The Red Stripe is from the Caribbean, symbolizing black power or someing I guess, although I've always associated it with punk rock shows, which is where I am when I drink the stuff. Or drank, I guess, since I never get out to punk rock shows anymore. For some reason. My toddler would probably love them, and even though he doesn't have hearing loss now, he pretends to whenever I say something he doesn't want to hear, like "Bath Time!" So the only reason not to take him to see the Bad Brains or whoever's uncool and antisocial these days is that it would be past his bed time. . . Red Stripe, in my opinion, tasted better than Bud Light but not enough better to justify the price difference. Sam Adams is ordinary but pretty good beer, the brand credited with starting the whole movement towards brewing beer that actually tastes good, right here in America! I'm not sure what Gates is saying here, it's either "I'm really a sophisticated Boston college professor, not a Black Power radical at all, just another case of mistaken identity!" or maybe it's "I would like a beer that actually tastes good." Nah.
As for the Bud Light, I am reminded of those happy superficial times a decade ago when people were saying they wanted to vote for the candidate for President they'd most like to have a beer with (never mind that by all acounts night that started by having a beer with George W Bush, back before he quit drinking, might well end with him punching you in the face). While that was an inane moment in our history, I remember it fondly if only because i did have a beer one time with Barack Obama, back when he was neither President nor US Senator, but a state senator representing my old district who had one foot in the upcoming Senate primary. He came to one of the great parties my wife's nonprofit organization used to throw before the economy got so depressing. He was funny and engaging, and didn't seem like a normal Bidenesque windbag politician at all. In fact, I changed my prospective vote from Chico, whom I didn't really like that much anyway but I knew someone on his campaign, to Obama as a result of having met him. Actually I told the cab driver on the way home I had just met the first Black President and then threw up on my beautiful handknit scarf, but that's another story. The point of this story, to the extent that there is still a point here somewhere, is that the guy was drinking Bud Light. Back then, trust me on this, the media was not covering what beer the state senator from Hyde Park was drinking. So my own suspicion is that he really likes the stuff, for some reason. The Bud Light motto could be "beer that doesn't let taste get in the way of getting your buzz on." Bland, bland, bland, bland, blah.
Unrepresented in the whole National Beer Debate kerfluffle is the fourth estate of beer, which we generally refer to as "the cheap stuff" or perhaps "piss." Milwaukee's Beast is perhaps the best known brand of the cheap stuff - Icehouse comes to mind as well. But the best loved brand of the cheapstuff here on the North Side is Old Style. Hell, the neighborhood dive bars don't even publicly display their names half the time, they just hang out a white sign with the Old Style logo on it, and "cerveza fría" or a bunch of consonants that allegedly say the same thing in Polish. (Sorry buddy, that doesn't translate as "free beer." Better luck next week). It's the perfect drink for a North Sider because a) it's not really from here, it's from Wisconsin, b) it has sort of a foul taste but we're proud of it anyway, and c) it can often be found sloshing around the bleachers at Wrigley field. So it's sort of like that clueless but friendly guy who lives in your condo building and engages you in bizarre conversation while you're trying to take out the trash. But Obama would never be seen drinking the stuff. It's one thing to be faced with the dilemma of looking like either an effete snob or a poseur wannabe regular guy. But a Cubs fan? Never.