Crazy for Loko


Casually, I stroll into the Circle K on Speedway Boulevard and Euclid Avenue. Catty-cornered from the Manzanita-Mohave Residence Hall, it is a familiar pit stop for Wildcats.



I've often braved that gasoline-doused pavement to pick up gas or cigarettes, but today my mission is a little different. Today I'm here for research material. Past the Arizona-theme tile are the freezers; without much searching I find what I'm looking for.

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Nestled in a refrigerated shelf shared by a variety of malt beverages, the tall 23.5-ounce cans of Four Loko stand out among their booze brethren. Between the size of the container and the colorful camo-pattern packaging, it is obvious that the cold aluminum contains something a little different.



I fish a can out of the freezer, and begin to investigate its verbose labeling.



The phrase ""Contains Alcohol"" circles the rim of the top of the can; white lettering on red and orange backgrounds makes the warning labels very easy to read.



Guarana, taurine, caffeine, 12.0 percent ALC/VOL. It's all there on the side: big, readable print. What little of the can isn't covered in alcohol warnings and ""We ID"" icons is overtaken by the obnoxiously large ""Four Loko"" logo.



I sigh. None of this is adding up. One more test.



Research material in hand, I approach the register and set the can on the counter. A quick glance from the cashier at my merchandise precipitates a typical identification check, and I walk out of the store, my first Four Loko in hand.



As I walk out the door, I find the ease of the experience nearly surreal. This meticulously labeled can is apparently everything that's tearing American college students apart.



Baffling.



 



 



 



The red brick, stained glass and chipped paint of Gentle Ben's occupies my focus while I zone out, waiting to begin the next stage of my investigation.



Minutes later, that next stage appears in the form of Ian Fitzpatrick, an English senior at the UA. I'd overheard him mention his strong enthusiasm for Four Loko in the past, and I'm looking for a fresh perspective.



He sits. We order drinks and exchange pleasantries. I hit record, and we get to business:



""Dude, so what did we have to talk about? Four Loko?""



""Yeah,"" I say. ""We're talking about Four Loko.""



He smirks. ""What about it? How much I love it? I do like Four Loko. I think it's fantastic. A great invention.""



""Do you drink Four Loko often?""



""I would say I drink Four Loko occasionally. They're not an everyday drink. There's certain gravity to the mixture that they put in that stuff. I think they're appropriate, maybe, you know, once or twice a month.""



""Do you feel like it's a different experience with a Four Loko than just drinking alcohol normally?""



""Yes. I do think that there's something unique about Four Loko because of its two-fold attack on the human body with the caffeine and the inebriation affects of alcohol.""



 



""I think that's one of the reasons a lot of people don't think Four Loko is a cool idea.""



""I think that Four Loko is like any other thing in the world: you should enjoy it responsibly and understand that there are certain risks with Four Loko just like with anything. Cigarettes or beer or regular alcohol. It should be used in moderation and responsibly.""



Fitzpatrick pauses briefly, smiles, and continues.



""But I think everyone should drink Four Loko.""



 



 



 



Fitzpatrick was well spoken and good humored. In his interview, he expressed his opinions with an eloquence befitting of a fourth-year English student, and his tone came off as thoughtful and sincere.



Fitzpatrick is also the embodiment of what we can understand to be Four Loko's primary demographic: a legal to drink, white, middle-class college student in his early 20s.



You would think that in the recent myriad of press releases, articles and interviews about the Four Loko ""situation,"" you would hear more stories like Fitzpatrick's. Unfortunately, it seems that for national and local news sources, evidence of college students with educated opinions and attitudes toward alcohol really spoils the mood.



In its place, we find sensationalized quotes from ""experts,"" adamant about convincing us that Four Loko is 100 percent pure evil per volume.



An Oct. 20 ABC News article, for example, quotes Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Curiously, the perspective he brings to the table has very little to do with his medical education:



""(Four Loko) is a quick way to get drunk,"" Goldberger said. ""It is popular among young folks. The marketing and packaging has so much to do with it.""



 



 



""How do you feel about the claims that Four Loko is being marketed toward underage drinking?""



Fitzpatrick furrows his brow. His laissez-faire treatment of the issue seems to dissipate as he becomes increasingly thoughtful about his answers. He's getting serious.



""I think what these people are talking about are clever marketing strategies. You could say the same thing about cigarettes. Joe Camel.""



""They have,"" I respond, ""for decades. That's exactly what they've been saying.""



""But how is a camel any more suggestive than a Playboy bunny or a Nike swoosh? What are these symbols? How do you associate camels with kids? How does that make any sense? Four Loko is just as cleverly packaged as it can be.""



""What about the health issue?""



He shoots me a glance, carefully chewing over his words.



""I admit that Four Loko carries with it a certain danger with it that other drinks do not, but there are four different warnings on Four Loko. Ironic, yes, but effective: it's really all over the can. ‘Don't drink if you're pregnant'; ‘don't drink if you're sensitive to caffeine'; ‘don't drink it all right now, drink half and see how you feel.'""



""You, apparently, noticed.""



""Exactly.""



""Do you think it's clear that the product is alcoholic?""



""Yeah. We're assuming if you're going to buy this beverage then you're 21. If by then you're not smart enough to drink a beverage and not go bananas, then maybe you shouldn't drink at all.""



 



 



 



It's especially frustrating to know that Four Loko has become one of many scapegoats for the touchy problem of underage drinking.



This becomes increasingly obvious as Four Loko articles continue to feature anonymous underclassmen, recounting in detail the horrible story of the time their friend got ""too Loko.""



The only thing reinforcing the notion that Four Loko is marketed specifically toward ""underage drinkers"" is reports like these. It's clearly easier to eschew reasonable dialogue with legal drinkers to parade a fear-mongering pastiche of passed out freshmen.



Who's providing these underclassmen with alcohol? What about their relationship with their family and peers motivates them to drink while underage? These questions are not exiting, or easy to answer, so they remain unasked.



More boring questions: Where's the call for personal responsibility in these underage students who abuse (among other beverages) Four Loko? Why did Ramapao College President Peter Mercer ban Four Loko's from his campus instead of promising to reinforce the school's focus on communicating standards for accountability and student conduct? Why aren't we as young adults being encouraged to do the research and come to these kinds of decisions for ourselves?



And why won't anyone just own up to the fact that alcohol is cool?



Drinking has become the definition of ""interesting, edgy and exciting."" A movie with enough explosions sells a kid on how cool drinking is long before a high school rallies against underage drug use translates as an excuse to skip AP Government.



But parents and the other ""real"" adults don't like to talk about that because it's scary. Might an honest evaluation of this country's attitude toward booze reveals some responsibility on all these ""experts"" and parents for our students' attitudes toward alcohol? Shelton forbid!



Don't bullshit yourself, concerned parents and educators. Taking some gaudy aluminum cans off of shelves will do nothing to stop Kelsey McTextfromlastnight from blacking out in the bathroom of the Taco Shop this weekend. It's all her.



 



 



 



With beers down and tabs paid, the interview moves toward a close. Fitzpatrick regales some Four Loko war stories with a wry grin. A developed self-awareness peaks through his shameless advocating of Four Loko's perceived benefits, making it difficult to believe that his attitude toward the beverage has been carelessly considered.



""Four Loko makes you better. Should that be their new slogan?""



I serve the question as a delicious rhetorical cocktail: one parts an attempt to transition to the end of the interview; two parts a joke to measure how resolved Fitzpatrick is about his opinion.



""Four Loko does make you better,"" he said. ""Four Loko will make you the best that you can be, every time you drink it … unless you drink in excess. I recall one time drinking two Four Loko's, and that is Eight Loko, and that it is not a good idea.""



""Too Loko?""



""Far too many Loko's.""



""So you would not advise drinking two Four Loko's?""



""No,"" he says, ""or shot-gunning a Four Loko. I saw someone do that once, and I can't imagine it ended well for them."" I laugh, having conjured the image quite vividly.



""All right. One more question. Have you ever felt any ill effects or uncomfortable from your Four Loko consumption?""



""No. Never.""



 



— Remy Albillar is a senior majoring in English and creative writing. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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