Sunday, June 8, 2014

Guys and Dolls. And Booze.

Washington State privatized the sale of alcohol two years ago. Other states are following suit. "Getting the state out of the liquor business" was a popular notion, partly because backers of deregulation (like Costco) promised more competition and hence, lower prices passed on to consumers. Ironically, the cost of spirits has gone up ten percent although, on the upside (I suppose) tax revenue has increased proportionately.  

I voted against closing the state liquor stores. I thought the old system was working just fine. The stores were impeccably clean and orderly, the clerks were helpful, and there was something about the ritualized formality of buying alcohol through the state that always reminded one that alcohol purchase and consumption was meant to be the privilege of serious, responsible adults. I was troubled at the possibility of making liquor even more available to drivers and minors. But I was in the minority -- even my partner voted against me -- so here we are...

And now you cannot go into any retail outfit without seeing booze: rows and rows and stacks of booze. My neighborhood Rite-Aid, a drugstore chain, has devoted more than a third of its floor space to wine, spirits, and snacks. We have our own brewery in town, and there is talk of licensing neighborhood distilleries soon.

My local convenience store has jumped on the bandwagon and is doing a brisk business selling "growlers"  -- but clearly the owner is greedy for even more custom.  As I was passing the store today, I was startled to see a young woman standing in the bushes on the corner, energetically waving a sign that read "Growlers Here!" She was wearing sunglasses, tiny denim shorts, and her long mane of glossy strawberry blonde hair streamed in the breeze.

Something didn't look quite right, though. For one thing, she looked too small to be legally advertising beer. At first glance, she appeared to be about twelve years old.  I pulled into the parking lot and quickly ascertained she wasn't a woman at all: she was a rather crude animatronic figure. I approached the shop owner, a Korean immigrant, while he was busy adjusting her base so she wouldn't topple over in the wind. I remarked that this new addition to his store was rather "weird."  

"Guys like it," he replied. 

"But she's not a real person," I persisted, feeling faintly ridiculous.

The shop keeper shrugged. "Don't matter. They stop."

Why did it bother me more that they were stopping for an animated doll than if they had been stopping for a real, live girl? Did the men who pulled over resent this cynical exploitation of their reptilian brains? Did they even recognize how they were being manipulated?

It was one thing to see this sort of ploy on billboards or in the pages of magazines; it was another to see it on the street of my quiet, family-friendly residential neighborhood.

A few years ago, neighborhoods like mine had outlawed "bikini baristas" at drive-through expresso stands. I was kind of relieved when they disappeared; I would have been humiliated to have found myself accidentally pulling into one for my morning latte.  For some reason, this mannequin seemed equally objectionable, and I wondered how long it would take for the Cavalry Temple families to set up a squall.

If the figure had been a cute animal -- say a dog or a tiger or a squirrel -- it wouldn't have bothered me so much. Is it possible I've become one of those rabid, hypersensitive, humorless feminists?


  1. As a squirrel, I appreciate the gesture towards us cute animals!

  2. I remember my brother telling me about the old state liquor stores when I was visiting him last year, and being quite bemused by the idea - it seemed almost Communist! One thing I couldn't get over during my time in the States was the way supermarkets sold alcohol (they're not allowed to here), though that wasn't quite as surreal as seeing ammunition for sale at Kmart in Texas!

    We get fed the same bullshit here about privatization and deregulation being good because they'll lead to competition and lower prices (it's a line that's invariably trotted out when whichever party's in power decides to flog off yet another publicly-owned asset - yeah, our pollies are a real visionary bunch!). Funnily enough, though, they never do.

    That animatronic girl certainly sounds tacky. Not sure if I've ever seen anything like that here, though I've certainly seen sex used in some pretty strange, even pathetic, ways to sell things.

  3. Liquor is available pretty much everywhere here from the gas stations to the grocery stores to standalone stores. It's so ubiquitous that I never gave it a second thought until one day, talking to an out-of-state friend, I found out that some places are really strict about alcohol. For all its easy availability, I didn't drink until I was 21, and I rarely drink now.

    The robotic thing sounds really weird. I'm a bit boggled by people liking it unless it's just because it's unusual and interesting.


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