Weekly Kitsch: Budweiser Has A New Can

by TylerJ

They gathered not in anger but in celebration of their having found, as a generation, a gentler and more respectful way of being. A way, not incidentally, more in harmony with consuming – Franzen, Freedom

In honor of, well, something, Budweiser has released a limited edition patriotic can. The accompanying ad (posted up top) implores us to “celebrate [July 4th] with limited edition cans.” The implication is clear: if you’re grilling meats, watching fireworks, but drinking a non-flag-draped can of beer on the 4th of July, you’re not loving America as much you could be. But how much love is too much? And what’s the connection between drinking beer and loving one’s country? And, importantly, does it matter if that beer is no longer American made? I am not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with the flag waving, patriotic fervor that takes place on July 4th– it’s our country’s birthday–rather I’d like to suggest that paying for, and drinking out of, a flag-draped, Belgian-made beer can is a further example of the declining threshold of participation necessary to be considered a good citizen. 

Of course, 4th of July celebrations and beer go hand in hand–Nielsen reported last year that Fourth of July is the top beer drinking holiday, the majority of the beer sold is made by Anheuser-Busch. But in 2008, when Belgian-Brazilian beer giant InBev purchased a controlling stake in Anheuser-Busch, most experts expected a steep decline in sales. After all, how could the quintessential American beer company survive a transfer to non-American ownership?

As it turned out, “consumers drink beer, they don’t obsess over who owns what,” said beer historian Maureen Ogle, but “once the emotion was over, well, life goes on.” Beer drinkers drink Budweiser because that’s what they’ve always done. There’s no ethical component to it (who’s making this? where is it made? how is it made?), rather it’s entirely based on tradition–a tradition based on the relationship between consumer and product, not between consumer and company. And so, finally, we see that Budweiser has become nothing but a piece of Americana: a symbol, stripped of its referent, from America’s past. It’s ok that Budweiser is Belgian because my relationship to my beer is a personal one.

Today one’s relationship to America is a personal one, too. The threshold for good citizenship has been lowered to the point of fashion. It’s as easy as drinking a certain kind of beer, liking your favorite candidate on Facebook, or flying your flag a little higher than your neighbor. To participate in being an American no longer means to work collectively towards a better community. Moreover, there’s not even an imperative to purchase and consume American made goods. The goal is to consume anything that helps to create and reinforce one’s own particular identity. It’s unclear if our ability to distance ourselves from political and ethical questions regarding the things we consume is the result of willful ignorance or willful acceptance,  but why worry about all that?

Good times are waiting.