Okay, roll the commercial: We see a group of nursery school teachers ending their day. They put galoshes on the kids, button the kids' coats, lead the kids out to waiting cars, and then one of the teachers turns to her colleagues and says, "Now, it's Miller Time." Then they all repair to the neighborhood bar where they hoist a few and are served by really handsome bartenders and waiters--the only men in the place.
Or maybe we should roll another commercial. This time you see stewardesses doing their chores on the plane and then buckling up as the plane comes in for a landing. Then with their suitcases in tow, they head for the bar, patting themselves on the back and laughing all the way. At the bar, they drink round after round while mimicking a passenger throwing up or mouthing the words, "Sorry, I'm out of change."
Of course, you do not see such commercials on television. All they are, though, are feminine versions of your average beer commercial in which men are usually shown at macho jobs (ranching, lumbering) and then seen splitting for the nearest tavern. There is a lot of camaraderie in those commercials, enough to make the Three Musketeers seem like a school board, but there are not all that many women.
The explanation for that can be found in that most sinister of all terms, market research. Women might drink beer, but they do not drink enough. In fact, 80 percent of the beer is consumed by 30 percent of the beer drinkers and two-thirds of that is consumed by men 18 to 34 years. And when do they drink that beer? They drink it between late afternoon and early evening--half of them some time between leaving work and going home, assuming after all that beer they can find their way home.
There is, I suppose, some sort of feminist critique to be made of these commercials--how they show a world without women, specifically without wives, and how the very absence of women is supposed to be tantamount to that most precious of all commodities, freedom. But the real reason I substituted women for men is to make another point.
If it were women who were quitting work and running--not walking--to the nearest bar, and if it were women who were swigging down seven or eight beers before heading home to hubby, baby and whatever else, we would all be appalled. We would be wondering what in the world was wrong with those women, how dreary their lives must be and thinking how, in the end, someone who caps a workday by drinking seven or eight beers either has a drinking problem or at the very least a beer belly.
But because these are men, no such thoughts occur. We are so used to linking beer or other alcoholic drinks with a good time and so accustomed to accepting beer as the lubricant for male camaraderie, that we don't question commercials based on these myths, although of course we know better. A person who drinks seven or eight beers in one or two hours is more than just thirsty. That person might be depressed, might be in a boring, dead-end job, might not have any reason to go home and might, in fact, have every reason not to want to go home--like there is no one there.
So in some entertaining way, these commercials are a lie. They are like cigarette ads that promise any number of things--romance, sex, excitement--but deliver nothing but cancer or heart disease or maybe, if you are lucky, just a cough in the morning. They create a world that is false--not to mention, as it says on the pack, "dangerous to your health."
The result when it comes to beer is an entire drinking mythology. It contributes both to the appalling rate of alcoholism among teen-agers and to what the Wall Street Journal reports is the new concern at colleges over alcohol abuse on campus. The kids are just trying to recreate what they have seen on television.
I love beer and from time to time I have enjoyed myself in bars. But life is different from a commercial. Call them 30-second lies or a shuck or anything you want, but what you don't see in the commercials is what happens to the customers they're aimed at. It's understandable. For many of them, "Miller Time" leads to the hardest time of all.