The Plague of Energy Drinks: A Labor Day Lament

I’m no TV watcher (except for “Mad Men”) but I cannot avoid the monitors at my gym, one of which this morning showed an ad for a new energy drink that comes in a tiny bottle you can slip into a jacket pocket.

Immediately my thoughts turned to the secret tipplers of yesteryear and all the movie and TV images of people who keep a half-pint of booze in their clothes and/or desk drawers.

Before shouting your shouts of mockery, I merely ask that you consider the parallel imagery, not the parallel chemistry. In all those movies and shows (and, of course, in real life) the booze was a secret friend, consolation in a hard world. Of course no one hides his/her use of the energy juice—we wear it on our sleeves, proclaiming to each and all: “I’m giving the world all I’ve got, and then some.” But back in the day, a good many topers didn’t bother to hide their reliance on joy juice, either. It was a bit of a comment on your own life, but it was also a bit of a comment on the depressing state of the world in general.

I’m thinking of this in part because I’ve been reading theological and other essays on the pointlessness and dishonesty of hiding from brokenness and pain. In my Christian tradition, the real theologia crucis is not about the cross as a magic stick that wipes away all the messiness and pain for us so that we triumph over adversity—even though much triumphalist evangelical Christianity advertises precisely this immunity from pain. Rather, the tradition invites us to live into the pain—and it does not pretend that the road will be easy.

I have to say, the essay that most reminded me of this was not a theological piece at all but rather a wise and funny lament in Harper’s over the rejection among contemporary U.S. psychotherapists of Sigmund Freund’s fundamental pessimism (Gary Greenberg, “The War on Unhappiness.”)

Back to the Red Bull vs. Red Label question. It’s Labor Day, and working men and women used to hit the bottle pretty hard. Preachers and social reformers thought that that was bad, very bad, and they did their best to instruct the laboring poor in sobriety and industry. Some of today’s working folks still turn to distilled spirits to lift their spirits (it never works), but many others turn to the energy bar (which does work—but only to a point).

Am I mistaken in thinking that this reliance, every bit as much as the old reliance, is symptomatic of the misery that is the modern workplace and of the social disfigurations wrought by same workplace?