Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Trollied Tuesday II: what's in a name?

A couple of examples of the self-important foolishness to which this blog, and the Trollied Tuesday thing particularly, stand firmly in opposition.

The first is the suggestion that the Orcardian beer Skullsplitter be withdrawn from sale. The name was singled out in a study for the Portman Group.

It was highlighted in a report by management consultancy PIPC on the grounds its name could imply violence and also the impact the strength may have on the drinker.

Management consultants. Is there no field of life which they cannot make intolerable? Now if a well-known Belgian beer were to market itself as Wife Beater, PIPC might have a point. As it is, they can sod right off. You'll be fascinated to know that I have tried this beer– an entertaining taste, I thought, but it did not make me want to cleave anyone's skill in two – and I'd thought that the name was a warning of what would happen if you drank too many.

In reality, it's named after a Viking earl of Orkney – Thorfinn Hausakluif. There's a reason why there aren't many Viking chieftans with names like Ragnar the Responsible or Sigurd the Social Worker, but the ignorance aside, the logic of the Portman Group's recommendation is difficult to follow. There is a rather weaselly objection that is that if a name is "associated with" violence it should not be permitted: either they object on the grounds of taste (God knows what they'd make of the Dog's Bollocks beer) or they believe that the name might somehow inspire violence. To take this logic to an extreme, the beer should make drinkers want to rape and pillage along the east cost and maybe sack Newcastle on the way home. I don't think the sort of people who drink craft beers really do this very often, however.

The second suggestion comes from the government. It's part of a wider code of conduct for the drinks industry, including a ban on free drink being offered in bars, and contains the following suggestion:

It warns that drinks should not be promoted as a means of boosting one’s “social, sexual, physical, mental, financial or sporting performance”. The practice of selling cocktails called Sex on the Beach, or more sexually graphic names, will also be scrapped.

I don't particularly object to the main proposal. One could argue that getting a bunch of girls liquored up has a social benefit. I make no comment. However the banning of names that might associate alcohol with fun is plan silly. It so happens that I find drinks with names like Sex on the Beach to be garish, tasteless and vulgar and the type of person who drinks them to be of the same type. (Then again sex on the beach is a bit, well.. the sand is a problem) But it's really no business of government to be trying to stop any of this.

The idea that naming a drink is an absurd infantalising of people and suggests that no one can be trusted to make decisions about how they conduct themselves. I can see why the average drinker of Sex on the Beach might give you this idea, but using your prejudices as an excuse to interfere in people's lives is something always to be resisted.

As with Skullsplitter, there is a suggestion that, somehow, the name given to a drink dictates the way people will consume it and how they well act after drinking it. I've a nagging suspicion that there is a term from philosophy to describe this, but I'm damned if I can remember it. In any case, does anyone seriously think if the following gaudy, cloying concoctions were renamed along the lines I've suggested, that the people who enjoy them would turn into the sort of earnest puritan who ends up deciding policy.

  • Sex on the Beach - Diversity Awareness Seminar
  • Slippery Nipple - Empowering Women to Reject Objectification and Gender Stereotyping
  • Screaming Orgasm - Speech by the Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Minister for Women
  • Long, Slow, Comfortable Screw - Public Health Initiative
William is drinking: Famous Grouse. Doubtless if it changed his name he'd be finding fewer things to complain about.

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