I try not to worry too much. As this is America, such criticism is fair comment and can be shrugged off on the theory that there’s no accounting for taste. My only fear is that people who call me a knucklehead are often knuckleheads themselves, so on this narrow subject they may speak with authority.
But what does irk is repetitive expressions of disgust that have become cliched to the point of boredom.
That brings me to “the Kool-Aid.” If there is one hackneyed criticism that exceeds all the rest, it is that I have “drunk the Kool-Aid.” Any column that is remotely political brings the inevitable Kool-Aid comment.
As certain readers tell it, I am a veritable fountain of Kool-Aid; the stuff gushes out of my ears and mouth in its various fruity flavors, washing away any political sense I might have had. And it is not just me.
The Kool-Aid charge is routinely leveled against perceived knuckleheads all across America. In practice, the expression as used in the political sense — suggesting that those who have drunk deep of the Kool-Aid are oblivious to reason and have become partisan zombies — is applied to everybody who dares to disagree with someone.
People can’t stand it that other people just disagree with them; no, they must have drunk the Kool-Aid.
This metaphorical Kool-Aid comes in two flavors, the left and the right. If you happen not to have been so accused, you can just say something provocative to increase your chances.
Today, America, I say enough with the Kool-Aid expression already. It’s juvenile and silly. We have become a nation of parrots, squawking “Drunk the Kool-Aid! Drunk the Kool-Aid!” at every opportunity. This is not a political dialogue to be proud of.
If you are going to attack people, at least have the decency to drop all reference to picnic refreshment and think of something creative.
As it happens, the Kool-Aid metaphor has a disturbing connotation. Its derivation appears to owe something to the 1978 Jonestown massacre orchestrated by the cult leader Jim Jones, in which more than 900 people died in Guyana. The means of their mass suicide was a fruity drink made into a deadly cocktail containing cyanide.
The public assumed that Kool-Aid was the drink, but subsequent accounts say it was actually Flavor Aid. In any event, Kool-Aid got the blame, perhaps in part because it already had a liquid-adulterating place in the language, thanks to Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
Apparently the human need to blame everything on a drink is an ancient one. The Roman lyric poet Horace wrote: “You ask me why a soft numbness diffuses all my inmost senses with deep oblivion, as though with thirsty throat I’d drained the cup that brings the sleep of Lethe.”
This isn’t quite the same sense as a drink that turns reasonable people into political partisans, but the inmost senses are similarly deadened. Of course, they didn’t have Kool-Aid back in antiquity; they only had the River Lethe, one of the rivers in Hades.
There’s a River Lethe in Alaska, too (no kidding), and I am wondering whether Sarah Palin ever drunk of it on a moose-hunting adventures. That would explain a lot (kidding). Now don’t go saying I have drunk the Kool-Aid. I wrote this solely for the chance of getting Horace and Sarah Palin in the same article, undoubtedly a first in modern literature.
I confess that I have used the expression “drunk the Kool-Aid” myself, and I remember the exact moment when I swore it off. I was at a cocktail party just after Osama bin Laden had been consigned to Hades by the Navy SEALs, and I was speaking to a lady who didn’t believe it — this was a government plot, she said while accusing me of having drunk the Kool-Aid.
I hope I said something clever like, “Oh, it comes in the common sense flavor now.” However, being near speechless, I might have said, in the face of such insanity, “Lord, love a duck!”
All I know is that Kool-Aid is probably better with vodka. Don’t say I have drunk it, and I won’t say you have drunk it. Now, the name “Knucklehead” I don’t mind so much.
Reg Henry writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.