On Mixed Drinks and Identity

shutterstock_107523386I’ve been out to eat a surprising amount lately, considering how much my wife and I regularly dine out. We’ve frequented trendy gastropubs and new restaurants in the area. At each, as the drink list gets set down with our menu, I’ve noted the Moscow Mules and Old-Fashioneds, the Manhattans and other highballs that are ubiquitous now, like it’s the 1940s.

It’s interesting, actually, that I mention the 1940s because that era featured a similar trend–in the way of music. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, what was termed “sweet” music filled the radio waves, so much so that people complained that each song on the radio sounded exactly like the one before. Of course, in the early 1940s we experienced World War II, and our entire culture responded by wanting romantic, soothing music for the remainder of the decade. Everyone wanted to think about their (in the parlance of the day) guy or gal, to think about love and closeness: it was like half a decade of comfort food. People didn’t want challenging, interesting music. They wanted something comfortable.

You could make the argument that the changes over the last decade in our society have been the largest since World War II, at least in ways that we see ourselves and know about the world around us (and I, for one, am making said argument). But rather than sweet music, we’ve become obsessed with vintage. Slow. Old-fashioned.

This is reflected in our love of highballs and “older” drinks to designs we love. In fact, even Major League Soccer recently redesigned their logo to a shield, adding some of that vintage look. The logos we love often have this vintage feel. People, more and more, are interested in organic (a return to the not-so-distant past) in their eating, or paleo (a bit more distant). You know someone who has grown a beard–probably lots of someones. People you come into contact with are interested in making their own–something. From beer to carpentry to the DIY craze to simple filters on Instagram, a confluence of events has made us desperate, thirsty if you will, to get in touch with what we perceive as simpler times.

Part of that is the recession. The other part is the continual connectivity and pace of life. We seek roots. It’s the same reason the ancestry craze continues to beat on, only our ancestors our set, but our hobbies and tastes are not. We can create our own vintage selves by applying a filter or building a chair–or drinking an Old-Fashioned.

This shift toward everything vintage will not last. It will become passe (perhaps it has), but in our increasingly changing world, people will continue to seek for ways to find peace, solace, rootedness. It may happen again in our music (or it may already be happening, if you listen to certain stations: every song does often sound the same).

But we cannot change identities by the drinks we choose or even the hobbies we take up. We need to speak more forcefully into culture, offering alternative ways to live. This is why religion will not die and may even find rebirth in the coming generations. Strict adherence to religious orders and communities offers a new identity in ways that filtering your photos cannot. This is partly why I belong to a religious community, and I read authors who have been published for hundred or thousands of years. It roots me and allows me pause about what’s new; it allows me to see my identity beyond these choices I make of clothes and hobbies, which are ultimately consumeristic choices.

May you find your identity in something far beyond consumeristic choices, and rather in the meaning and community you provide to others. May you find it deep within, rather than needing to broadcast it. And may that identity provide you the framework to make those choices–so you can smugly enjoy a Moscow Mule while knowing it does nothing to contribute to who you are, unlike those heathens at the bar (or someone who uses a typewriter photo in their blog header).

Because, on the other hand, much of culture will continue to try on new identities with the least effort and cognitive dissonance involved. Thank you, Instagram.


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