A few weeks ago I was hanging out at a gay bar, chatting away with someone, when I noticed the drink in his hand. A slim silver canister, it looked like yet another new brand of energy drink — and then, under the blinking staccato of the strobe light, I managed to catch the logo. Gay Fuel. No, seriously. Gay Fuel.
“What, does it make you gay?” was my first smart-assed query. “Can I drink it if I’m straight? Will my body reject it?”
In the last five years, spearheaded by the almighty marketing frenzy of Red Bull, energy drinks have become a veritable pop culture phenomenon. After Red Bull (which was created in 1987 in Austria) took the beverage industry by storm, the imitations sprang up in droves. Most are slight variations of Red Bull’s primary ingredients — taurine, caffeine and sugar. Some add guarana, ginseng or other herbal derivatives, and make all sorts of wild, unsubstantiated claims about improving everything from your sex life to your muscle tone.
But essentially, they’re all the same damn thing. With the market now flooded, distributors are struggling to stand out in the sea of syrupy buzz, turning to goofy marketing shticks.
You’ve probably heard of hip-hop star Nelly’s entry: Pimp Juice. Not to be one-upped, the brass-mouthed, virtually unintelligible Little John put out a beverage of his own, Crunk — named after the rapper’s catchphrase. Then there’s Energy 69 (cue the grade-school giggles), which boasts “Energy where it matters most.” The drink claims to have aphrodisiac qualities; mix it with a Viagra or two, and you’ll be up all night — literally.
There’s also Pit Bull, Bull Fighter (sensing a theme yet?), Rockstar (correct me if I’m wrong, but rock stars use something else to stay “alert” during a massive drinking binge, yes?), Monster, AMP (manufactured by Pepsi and marketed as a Mountain Dew derivative), Rhino, 180, Chaser Energy (brought to you by the hangover-cure folks) and the list goes on and on.
Given that energy drinks are extremely popular mixed with alcohol in the nightlife circuit, even Budweiser has thrown its tattered NASCAR hat into the ring, with the utterly revolting BE, a “beer” with ginseng and guarana. Imagine a Bud/Nyquil cocktail and you’ll get the picture.
So, let’s do some creative bartending. What would you get if you mixed Pimp Juice with Gay Fuel? A flaming gangsta? Puts a whole new meaning to “I’ll bust a cap in ya ass,” eh?
(Note to PC readers who are offended by that joke: Some of my best friends are pimps.)
How about Energy 69 and Pit Bull? Would you suddenly be compelled to hump every leg in the room? Crunk and Monster — the drink of choice for a truly frightening muppet? Bull Fighter and Rhino? Time to bust out the ketamine blowdarts! And if you mixed rivals Pimp Juice and Crunk, would the cup spontaneously explode?
Given the tremendous popularity of these drinks, one can only wonder what’s next on the horizon. I don’t think there’s anything un-kosher about the ingredients of energy drinks, but why should that prevent the creation of Jew Fuel? L’chaim! And since there’s already a Pimp Juice, why not Ho — the drink that keeps on giving and giving and giving?
While all this seems in good fun, some folks aren’t laughing. After Gay Fuel was introduced, a few members of the gay community were outraged. One Portland activist proclaimed the drink was designed to turn homosexuality “into a vehicle for capitalist appropriation and identity consolidation. … We are not interested in ‘brand loyalty’ to those ‘brave’ corporations who first bid to divest us of our money.”
I called the Triangle Foundation’s executive director, Jeffrey Montgomery, to get his take on the matter; he prefaced the conversation by admitting that his office was currently littered with empty energy drink cans. After a brief search, he managed to unearth a can of Gay Fuel from the pile; a notation on the can states that 5 percent of profits are donated to local AIDS charities.
“Any sort of identity group is going to be marketed to,” Montgomery says. “It’s just part of the cost of living in America.”
He also notes that Gay Fuel sponsors gay pride events across the country, including Motor City Pride, coming right up on Sunday, June 5, in Fashionable Ferndale.
“Obviously, that sponsorship helps people like us be able to produce events like this,” Montgomery says.
Right now, Gay Fuel is mostly only available in clubs and bars.
“What I’d really like to see is Gay Fuel in Walgreens, right next to Red Bull,” Montgomery says.
There you have it, folks. The fight for tolerance, one sugary-sweet taurine-laden sip at a time.
Sarah Klein is culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].