Headline in today’s paper:
The story: a cop arrested a black professor and has been accused of acting in a racist manner. Obama was critical, saying the cop had “acted stupidly”, and this has led to a cranking up of racial tension. Obama, recognising that this is turning into a bigger row and that his own comments have helped inflame the situation, now wants to defuse that tension. And how does he do that? He invites the cop in question, and the guy he arrested, for a beer at the White House.
Not a cup of tea. Not a coffee. Not a glass of wine. A BEER.
This seems kind of an obvious post for me to make, given that I’ve written books on the subject, but in an age where beer in headlines usually only means binge drinking, violence and alcoholism, this is a story that needs to be screamed from the rooftops till every hysteric in the media finally gets it.
Why would Obama invite both men for “a beer here in the White House” rather than simply invite them to get round a table and discuss it without stipulating what refreshments were on offer? We all know why. But I’ll spell it out anyway.
Because beer is the most sociable drink in the world.
Because in every single culture where beer is drunk, to invite someone to share a beer with you is not just politeness; it symbolises an offer of friendship. It’s a clear statement that when you meet, this will not be a formal negotiation or dressing down, but a more relaxed meeting of equals. By inviting them for a beer, rather than a meeting, Obama is saying that he will not be their president when they meet – he will be one of three guys who need to clear the air. He’s acknowledging that if they accept this particular invitation, these guys will be attending in a spirit of reconciliation. Because only the biggest dick in the world would accept a beer from someone and then behave in an antagonistic manner as they sit drinking together.
The social codes around beer are universal, and as old as civilisation itself. They remain largely unspoken, even though they are commonly understood. But for years we’ve allowed beer’s unique magic to be eroded on all sides – it’s been demonised by neo-prohibitionists and health freaks, commoditised by retailers and by global brewers who describe themselves ‘not as brewers, but as FMCG marketing companies that just happen to sell beer’*, moronised by a small minority of boors, scorned by snobs who think you have to drink wine to be admired in shallow, materialistic, brand-obsessed society, and made impenetrable by another minority of deluded snobs who believe the best way to revive beer is to steal wine’s most pretentious clothes and mannerisms.
Now the most powerful man in the world has reminded us what it’s really all about.
I hope the guys accept Obama’s invitation. I don’t give a damn whether he serves them Bud Light or Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Corona or Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. In one sentence, he’s said everything I tried to say in Three Sheets to the Wind, and said it with a gazillion times more impact.
So raise a glass to Barack Obama – president, heir to Mr Miyagi, and now Global Beer Drinker of the Year 2009.
ps – Our old friends at the BBC – more enthusiastic than most about linking beer to anything negative – have managed to report the story without even mentioning Obama’s offer of beer – thereby missing the entire point of his invitation.
*Here I’m paraphrasing comments made by the president of AB-Inbev UK last year – a guy I actually used to work with. I’d been meaning to invite him out to responsibly consume some FMCG units with me in a business-to-consumer interface location till I read this.