Being a college student with a mild tendency for procrastination, I am perpetually in search of anything that will help me burn the midnight oil when research papers and final exams inevitably become a reality. An aversion to coffee and pills limits my options and, naturally, I hoped that Red Bull energy drink would end my search for the Holy Grail of “No-Doze” alternatives. I bought and drank two cans of the stuff, made sure to have ready a number of pending assignments, and waited for my infusion of energy and life. To be fair, I didn’t expect to explore Yale’s magnificent architecture and crusty suburbs from the treetops, but I certainly hoped for more than what I got — jittery hands and a colored tongue. I am happy to report, though, that I very quickly and energetically walked down the hall to the bathroom to wash the bitter aftertaste out of my mouth.
My botched Red Bull experience made me think (the next day, that is). What exactly was I looking for from the 8.4 fluid ounces of liquid that “would give me wings?”
Of course I wanted the intense energy and focused concentration promised by the awkwardly drawn cartoons in the commercials, but more than that, I wanted to prepare my body and mind. Sleep and a hearty meal do not suffice. Bottled stimulants are today’s performance enhancement candy, and lucky for us, a case of Red Bull can be bought for the low price of $41.99. It’s nearly 400% more expensive than a soft drink, but who can put a price on success? With 75 milligrams of caffeine (a Starbucks coffee has 80 milligrams), taurine (the purported energy-enhancing ingredient that is supported by absolutely no credible, scientific evidence) and a whole bunch of water and sugar, modern youths are arming themselves with Red Bull and similar products to maximize their performance potential.
Is there really anything wrong with this alternative scholarly and recreational doping? Sigmund Freud adored cocaine and recommended it to all of his patients for virtually any complaint. Ritalin, (a powerful stimulant itself), is prescribed to adolescents who seem to have trouble concentrating on mundane tasks and who, at times, are a bit hyperactive — who would have thought that almost all children seem to fit this mold? People love their drugs, and more and more, are beginning to love their Red Bull. It’s a shame that we as a society have lost faith in our abilities to perform without synthetic aids. But with so few hours in the day, and so many promising uppers available at the local convenient store, it is no wonder that college students, lawyers and club-goers alike are all enjoying the best that multi-syllabic supplements have to offer. Coffee, speed, a long walk in the rain — all things of the past. Today’s movers and shakers make sure to have ready a supply of taurine, guarana, glucuronolactones, maltodextrin, ginseng, B vitamins and horny goat weed. Oh yes, Raw Dawg Energy Drink has introduced this electrifying new additive that promises to do no more than shock and awe with its lewd and unusual name.
While very few individuals understand exactly how these exotic enhancers affect the human body, there are more than enough rumors regarding Red Bull and similar products to keep all interested parties guessing. Some say the drinks contain as much caffeine as 20 cups of coffee, others believe it is liquid Viagra, while still others report that taurine is in fact bull urine or semen, or both. Red Bull’s manufacturer claims that taurine is simply a flavor additive. So what about all those people who preach the virtues of ‘the Bull’? It’s not so much false advertising as wishful thinking; it becomes difficult to drink herbal tea and get more rest when the seeds of performance enhancement have been planted and cultivated. Red Bull gives you wings. Who can say no to that?
As it turns out, not many can. Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian entrepreneur who created Red Bull, has no reservations revealing his company’s marketing strategy.
“We need to get a new generation of 16-year-olds on board every year,” he said in the Economist. “When they grow, they’ll find that it is the most efficient geriatric product on the market.”
Mr. Mateschitz’s words eerily echo those that you would expect to hear from Big Tobacco, or perhaps a crack peddler. Maybe something was lost in the Austrian-English translation. But consumer responses are equally telling. In a Sports Illustrated article, Franz Lidz discussed Red Bull with twenty-year-old extreme sports athlete Matt Kringel.
“This stuff is addictive,” said Kringel. “What’s in it, nicotine?”
A competitive female skier, Kristen Ulmer, had a similar reaction.
“My personality was multiplied by a thousand. I was centered and excitable but not jittery. It was pretty cool. I felt like I was breaking the law,” said Ulmer.
We constantly need to work harder, fight longer, drive further — we need to give ourselves wings, and it has become too comforting to buy them in a can. We need to have faith in ourselves, and in our bodies, and remember that bull semen and horny goat weed are no more than “delicious” flavorings cleverly masked as performance enhancers. “Me inspira a bailar,” — It makes me dance — a 13-year-old New York resident said of his Red Bull in John Grant’s “The New Marketing Manifesto.” It wasn’t long ago that he was still crawling across the floor. How about a glass of milk instead?
Michael Katz is really really cool. We would put something better except we’re all doped up on horny goat weed.