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Monster energy drink commits to its ethos in the most fanatic of ways. On the fringes of its website, behind a careful ornamentation of extreme sport scenery, we can locate one of the few health claims of the drink: “tear into a can of the meanest energy supplement on the planet.” Unless you are the Grinch and it’s Christmas time, few doctors would recommend to fuel up on meanness. Monster and other energy drinks seldom offer direct health claims; their appeal is more often than not purely representational and associative.
Complicated and heavily processed, energy drinks are the opposite of coffee. One drinks coffee to wake up, concentrate in the morning, but also while conversing with friends and family, making coffee a drink for the moment, centering and present. Its powers do not speed up life, they slow it down. Makes you stop, listen and be present. Coffee is nature itself; simple but powerful. Energy drinks signify the subjugation of nature by man. The ability to extract, modify and infuse the very essence of ‘energy’ into a carefully designed can. Whereas coffee, especially in bean form presents itself as ‘pure’, even its active ingredient is one; caffeine, in itself almost an onomatope of coffee.
The tin can, a miniature of barrels that contain chemicals, carefully conceals the nature of the liquid. Varying from light gold to electric blue and intense magenta, what is concealed here is their chemical nature. For coffee, its distinctive black color connotes intensity and strength of a deep nature, whereas energy drinks are shallow. They derive meaning from their mythos; living an adventurous life (Monster energy drinks advertises through images of extreme sports and is often a main sponsor at such events), challenging convention (Burn), mastering professional life (5 hour energy shot) and in the case of Red Bull we find a rare jewel, a pure simulation (“it gives you wings”), its connections with reality are humorously stripped away and quickly redressed with images of nerds turning into dudes and superheroes into superheroes. Red Bull is the elixir of virility itself.
Energy drinks are transformative. They are circumstance changing, having the power to turn a frown upside down. They can turn a lazy day into an active one; an unpleasant into an happy one and an inefficient into productive. Here, the 5 hour energy shot reigns supreme. It is not named after a powerful venom or unbeatable three headed snake, nor is it named after one of the elements; with the 5 hour energy shot you get what you see, you get what you hear. A precise release of energy for the young professional with a deadline. It is the ultimate stage of dominance, i.e. time management. Being able to put a precise amount of X into a medium and getting a precise amount oy Y (5 hours) out of it. This is not an alchemical transformation, this is a purely chemical transformation; no magic here, just science.
The most remarkable of these transformations is one common to most energy drinks, the turning of reality into magical reality. A can of Red Bull at work becomes the escape from the rigid desk of office life into the skies full of possibilities, freedom and connection. Energy drinks further dissociate the bourgeois worker, implying that the source of the workers woes are a lack of energy, a chemical disbalance that can be reversed. In this way the worker is charged up; fueled in the morning on the way to work from coloured liquids that come in tiny barrels.
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