That’s the question raised by an alarmist article printed in the New York Times on Wednesday about the secret dangers of mixing alcohol with caffeine, as the sugary, gaudy Four Loko drink does with pride. A jungle juice-like malt beverage sold in 23.5 ounce cans, Four Loko (and similar products like Joose and Sparks) has garnered a lot of notoriety in the past few weeks after a couple of (surely awesome) college parties featuring the drink ended in hospitalizations.
I don’t mean to belittle the near-deaths of a bunch of teenagers—to misquote Animal House, drunk and stupid is no way to die—but the article in the Times is so pearl-clutchingly overwrought it could have been written by that woman on The Simpsons who always screams, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”
Exhibit A: the Times brings up the case of Ramapo College in New Jersey, where alcoholic energy drinks have been banned after six students were rushed to the hospital with Four Loko-related symptoms. One student “admitted to drinking three cans of Four Loko and several shots of tequila in just over an hour.” He ended up with a blood alcohol level of .40. To which the rational among us can only reply, Of course he did. He drank the equivalent of 15 beers in 90 minutes.
The Times article does not include such a reply. It dances around the issue of personal responsibility with a fleetness that would be admirable were it not so hostile to common sense. Caffeine is not the issue here; drinking 72 ounces of 12% ABV liquor in a little over an hour is.
Peter Mercer, the president of Ramapo College, is quoted as saying “I do not see any socially redeeming purpose being served by these beverages.” I do, though it is probably not as lofty a “redeeming purpose” as Mercer would like. Drinking can be expensive. Four Loko is cheap. While Four Loko should by no means be the cornerstone of a drinker’s liquid diet, it can be used as an appetizer, if you will—a way to get a buzz on before nursing a $7 pint of craft beer for the rest of the night. In this context, Four Loko isn’t dangerous; it’s thrifty, which Boy Scouts taught me was a virtue.
But when it comes to alcohol, America doesn’t appreciate such realism. I am only 21 years old and can vividly recall the mixed message given to under-age Americans regarding drinking: don’t do it even though it’s awesome. Seriously, watch a football game and analyze the beer commercials. Bud, Miller, and Coors aren’t selling a product anymore; they’re selling an image. Taste and quality are only mentioned in the vaguest possible terms (I especially hate Bud Light’s “The difference is drinkability” campaign. You know what’s “drinkable?” Water. Make some real beer.), while hot chicks, cool bros, and talking animals are featured prominently. The implication is clear: drinking is fun!
They’re right, though. Drinking is fun, and it doesn’t bother me that major breweries are allowed to run their vapid ads during Monday Night Football. It bothers me that Bud and Miller advertisements are considered harmless American pastimes while Four Loko, a drink with almost no advertising presence, is facing investigation for being “explicitly designed to attract under-age drinkers” (quote from New York’s own senator Charles E. Schumer). It bothers me that students at Ramapo College can buy Red Bull and vodka separately and mix them themselves but are considered too “inexperienced” to buy a comparable pre-made concoction. It bothers me that the New York Times can print this line with a straight face: “Critics, though, say that the brightly colored cans Four Loko comes in look like iced tea, soda or energy drink containers, and that it is easy to mistake the product for nonalcoholic drinks.”
If we as a nation have reached a point where we need the FDA to protect us from alcohol packaged in the same colors as Pepsi, then we don’t deserve to keep the brain cells threatened by excess consumption of Four Loko. We’re clearly not using them.
Tags: alcohol, energy drinks, Four Loko, Joose, Ramapo College, Sparks, today