Why Kool-aid is not a good metaphor

Posted on August 24, 2008. Filed under: randomness |

In today’s post, I’d like to raise my concerns about the use of “drinking the Kool-aid” as a metaphor for mass conformity — the latest example is a post on outcomes assessment by Clio Bluestocking .  Since Clio is too young to remember the photos of bloated corpses rotting in the Guyana sunshine, I just want to remind her that the members of the People’s Temple who drank the Kool-aid (some say it was Flavor-Aid) died.

Perhaps this metaphor is meant to convey the idea that assessment wonks are spiritually dead, souless beings sent here to mess up our idyllic academic lives.  In that case, why not just call them zombies?  They eat our brains, right? (metaphorically anyway)  Or, for fellow Star Trek geeks out there, how about this?

I’ve also seen the metaphor used  to describe blind political allegiance (e.g. on Bill O’Reilly’s show, reports of Obama’s young followers, etc.)  Rad Geek has criticized  this tactic as callous as it trivializes the mass deaths of the Jonestown cult members — I agree, but also just think it’s a bad metaphor — unless the Kool Aid is laced with LSD (a la the Merry Pranksters) instead of poison.

So, let’s come up with a more suitable metaphor, shall we?  Might a suggest a highly sweetened, artificially flavored alternative — Jello shots.  Mind-numbing, but not deadly if one consumes responsibly.

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5 Responses to “Why Kool-aid is not a good metaphor”

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Now I’m embarassed! I think the term has become short-hand for any reference to seeming cult-like behavior; but you are right, it is crude and I won’t be using it again. (Jello shots would have made that meeting much better, however.)

Thank you for estimating my age as about a decade younger than it is! I as about 11 when the whole Jim Jones thing happened, at around Thanksgiving, if I remember correctly. Years later, I had a professor with the same name, and it always gave me pause when people refered to him by his full name (instead of “Prof. Jones”).

OK–jello shots are a good substitute, and still suggest a kind of youthful naievete. (But, the Kool-Aid guy screaming, “Oh Yeahhh!” is such a great visual! Can I still use him in my posts, and call him the Jell-O Shot guy?)

Another metaphor: take the blue pill (from the Matrix).

[...] of Bill Clinton–so keep in mind that he most certainly didn’t drink the Kool-Aid toss back the Jello Shots during the primary.  (Wilentz was practically frothing at the mouth in his December 8, 1998 [...]

Don’t be embarrassed, Clio. Also, if you were 11 in 1978, you’re still several years younger than me!

Historiann — keep using the Kool-Aid guy’s “oh yeah”

Finally, I think the “blue pill” is the best metaphor — however, I must confess that I’m highly biased as hopemunrosmith is my “good” twin (I’m the evil one for criticizing Barry’s choice of running mate)


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    Heather Munro Prescott

    Heather Munro Prescott

    Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT.

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