Ralph Steadman’s Font Presents “Yellow Health Drink”

by evanmcmurry

This is an ad that’s been appearing everywhere, or at least below 14th St., which is the same thing in some editions:

Compare and contrast:

Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrretty similar. They even got the stray dots that would have been dripped from Steadman’s pen in his original inks. Oh, to be have been in the ad meeting when some hopped-up copywriter snapped his fingers and said, “I know! Steadman font!”

I’m well, well passed being outraged, surprised, or even particularly interested when a corporate ad campaign arrogates a piece of counterculture for the purposes of pushing a product. The last vestiges of innocence we had about that went out the door circa twenty years ago.

But come on. There are limits, even to capitalism’s grasp, the best example being when Levi’s wanted to use The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia” in a jeans commercial. It wasn’t so much the pairing of a wildly anti-capitalist band with one of capitalism’s banner products, as much as the fact that the song was about the ways bourgeoisie culture covers up its oppressive origins in the sweatshops of places just like Cambodia. To use an anti-authoritarian song to sell a product was one thing; to use a song about capitalist oppression in the making of products to sell that very product seemed so—is spiteful the word?—that Jello Biafra fought his bandmates in court to prevent the song’s sale (he lost).

I think we’re in the same boat with Vita Coco, whatever it is. Ralph Steadman is forever linked to Hunter S. Thompson, who would have crushed four VCs as a hangover cure before asking for something real to drink. But more to the point, Thompson, like the Dead Kennedys, had a specific critique beneath his general rebellious veneer, and like the band he focused on the ways consumer culture dissembles, how it constructs its civilized edifice to obscure what amounts to a glorified con. It’s not the salesmanship that Thompson would object to in Vita Coco’s case, as much as the company’s claims of actuarial beneficence from its product; the people who make fortunes bottling yellow water and selling it to rubes as “health drink” are the exact type Thompson called “swine.”

Sure enough, Vita Coco, if you look very, very, very, very, very closely at its website, is informing customers that it recently settled a class action suit over the falsity of just such claims. Thompson would have labelled these folks, if I’m quoting his chief codex correctly, “lying whores.”

Selling beer is one thing. I have a feeling Thompson would have found the whole microbrewery movement overly precious, for the same essential reason that they use an illusion, in this case of authenticity, to move product onto the unsuspecting masses, who would eagerly purchase specialty beer thinking they’re buying that authenticity when really they’re just paying extra for Bud Light Premium. (I actually like FD fine.)

But after his second Flying Dog, Thompson would be over whatever objections he may have had. I don’t think there’s enough agua de coco in the world, however, to make Ralph Steadman’s Aesthetic Presents Vita Coco go down.

(NB: For all I know, Steadman partnered with Vita Coco, but I wasn’t able to find any indication that he was involved.)