Mythologies: “Wine and Milk” Applied to Types of Liquor​

Roland Barthes, in the “Wine and Milk” chapter of Mythologies, claims that “Actually, like all resilient totems, wine supports a varied mythology which does not trouble about contradictions” (58). He goes on to talk about how wine “is above all a converting substance, capable of reversing situations and states, and of extracting from objects their opposites—for instance, making a weak man strong or a silent one talkative” (58). Barthes writes about the importance of wine to French culture:

“Wine is felt by the French nation to be a possession which is its very own” (58).

In America, there are many different connotations for the varying types of liquor. The advertisements used to promote these often reflect these cultural implications. For example, wine in America is often seen as classy and elegant. Wine (especially expensive wine) is for special occasions, and one’s taste in and knowledge of this drink is seen as an indicator of their sophistication. Therefore, wine advertisements are often stylish and refined.

Both of the above advertisements are also rather feminine: in one there is a woman holding the wine glass and in the other the wine is creating a heart shape.  The words in the ads tell us that wine is “sophisticated” and contributes to “romance.”

Harder types of liquor, on the other hand, are often seen as more masculine.  Take a look at this commercial for Jim Beam (apologies for the poor quality):

The edgy music and dark lighting contribute to a dangerous and mysterious atmosphere.  The wanted criminal turns down the drink because it is not Jim Beam, inferring to the audience that tough and dangerous men are the ones who drink this brand of bourbon.  This type of liquor has the cultural connotation of being specifically for rugged men, and so the advertisements (like the commercial above) are often as testosterone-fueled as possible.

Not all types of hard liquor are for clichéd “tough guys.”  Scotch is also seen as a sophisticated drink, sort of like a masculine version of wine.  Below is a commercial for Johnnie Walker Scotch:

Meant to be humorous, this commercial calls attention to the American idea that scotch is for “important” people.  It states that “Sooner or later, the people who run the planet all end up choosing one drink: Scotch.”  Although the content is supposed to be funny (like saying that Scotch is “poured from decanters that look like large perfume bottles made for men”), this commercial plays off the stereotype that this kind of liquor is meant for rich, important businessmen.

All these different types of alcohol have different cultural implications in America.  A drink can be masculine or feminine, elegant or rugged, et cetera.  This applies to all the different kinds of liquor, not only the ones that have been discussed here.  These societal myths that we attribute to different drinks show up most often in the advertisements used to promote them, and can also be seen in how we view the people who imbibe them.  The consumer of an alcoholic beverage is judged based on the type of drink that they prefer and the meanings associated with it, and these meanings are applied by our society.

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