Mountain Don’t

As a friend pointed out upon seeing this ad for “Dewshine” (a new soft drink from Mountain Dew™) do we really need Mad Max meets Deliverance? Apparently Mountain Dew™ is now in on the heritage hipster style too, but in this incarnation we have moved from frontier lumberjack to Appalachian or Ozark mountain moonshine bootlegger. Nevertheless, the white male, early-twentieth-century nostalgi remains the same. As usual with heritage hipsterism — though it’s not usually this explicit — the appeal to historical romance is accompanied by the ever-present claim to the land:

“These mountains are our birthplace, these woods are our playground, the spirit of these renegades our inspiration. And now a new fire has been lit. A fire that will fuel a generation and celebrate a way of living. Introducing Mountain Dew Dewshine. A smooth clear Dew with an old school citrus kick. Dewshine: available legally for the first time.”

“Our birthplace.” Dudes, we’ve got the picture. Your heritage consumption is also an assertion of your right to the land. Generally you haven’t been quite so overt about it, though. Has someone been questioning your god-given right to the Ozarks? Or to the next non-white neighbourhood to be gentrified, perhaps?

Meanwhile, we have an awkward hybrid of mass production with artisanal craft, and past with present. This sequence of a shoddy factory-produced bottle being earnestly pulled out of a backwoods forge is so very, very sad. How can a claim to artisanal DIY, frontier labourer class aesthetics and know-how so overtlyfeature an item that was clearly mass-produced abroad? (And as an aside, the glass-blowing method shown is incorrect.) Mountain Dew is not just selling us soda; they’re offering the promise of masculinity and land rights. But like Dewshine, which is effectively an unleaded moonshine, they’re selling us a drastically discounted bill of goods. The problem is, the romance this video excites is a submerged (or not so submerged) white settler tribalism. Do we really want to go down this path? Because it’s not an identity that fits well with the ideals of a hybrid nation.

So here we are. The beyond-the-arm-of-the-law rebellion of white mountain men is reduced to the flogging of corporate soft drinks disguised as backcountry moonshine — Dewshine. But how beyond-the-system is this rebelliousness? The “rebel” settlers of the mountains, chasing the native people west across the Trail of Tears, were really just doing the colonial state’s bidding. And we already know that heritage hipsters (real and fictional) are — above anything else — entrepreneurs. And apparently the shadow twin of the commodities they produce is a nostalgic version of white settler history, whether it’s brave lumberjack or renegade mountain dwellers with anachronistic faux-oldey-timey hot rods. It’s always the same earnest, dogged intensity and humourlessness. And as another friend remarked, “drop the last 3 letters of ‘Dewshine’ and say it out loud.” There’s nothing rebel at all in this frontier simulacrum. My instant reaction to it is that it affirms a pretty conservative status quo but under a veneer of libertarian, romantic outlaw. Given that it’s mostly millennials buying this look, and given that their future has been stolen, one still wonders why they couldn’t do better than this rather reactionary pre-civil rights, outside-the-law fantasy. The key though is that this is a retrenched, whites-only daydream, and furthermore, its world is a sort of anti-Occupy. It’s not Joe Hill. It’s hiding in the backwoods and roaring around selling DIY moonshine to each other in a sort of fit of individualism.

What bothers me most is that if Mountain Dew is running this ad, it has clearly done plenty of market research and focus grouping and it knows this fantasy will sell. So what does this ad tell us about the target market for this deracinated moonshine? At least that there’s clearly a substantial market for this brand of masculinity, or Mountain Dew wouldn’t have spent kajillions on developing this product, brand and advertising.

If anyone thinks I’m giving Mountain Dew short shrift here, we can revisit the fact that in 2013 they had to pull an ad after widespread accusations of racism. The ad sort of has to be seen to be believed, but if you don’t have the stomach to watch it, at least just google “arguably the most racist commercial in history.”

After ten years this trope is showing few signs of abating. Dewshine is merely its umpteenth instance, but the worrying element is that the trope does seem to be morphing into something more aggressive. For a more examples and a detailed analysis of this trend, if we can use the word trend for something this persistent, read this earlier post.

If you think this analysis is far-fetched, look not only at Donald Trump’s unapologetic white-centric, white supremacist rhetoric, but its massive popularity across the U.S. Aesthetics are always a useful way of embedding ideology; the more unconscious it is, the more powerful its effect.

Mountain Don’t, anyone? (Sorry.)


Originally published at ounodesign.com on April 24, 2015.