Catalogue essay for Jeremy Eaton, Kings ARI, Melbourne, 2015
Beer evokes the golden sheen of colonial greed. In fact, the alcoholic beverage played a role in the imperial voyages that took place in the sixteenth-century as the Spanish conquerors travelled with barrels of beer fearing that water from the Americas was unfit for consumption. Although this may strike contemporary eyes as a questionable solution it was a common practice during the Middle Ages, where the pollution of water motivated many to ease their thirst with beer (it is also quite probable that drunkenness eased the way for sodomy during colonial ventures at sea). Once the Spaniards settled in the colonies they began to establish breweries as part of a broader process of cultural imposition. The consumption of beer in the Americas eventually grew into a multimillion-dollar industry in the form of beer brands such as the Mexican Corona.[i]
Observe a golden bottle of Cerveza Corona: it is a consumer product that stands at the nexus of post-colonial relations. Firstly, the brand’s name translates as ‘crown’, a prestige object worn by Kings in European culture. This symbol of monarchical authority clearly seeks to convey a sense of importance in the consumer’s imagination, however, one must not lose sight that this is a Mexican brand drawing on European iconography to convey a message of superiority. This act of mimicry is typical of post-colonial environments, where the colonised seeks to imitate the coloniser – a relation that establishes Europeanness as an ideal. Indeed, even though the crown can be decoded in a typical European framework by the Western market, it operates under a different order in the context of Latin America, where the crown represents a colonial power. Yet, Corona’s merchandising language ignores the latter and utilises the crown as a power symbol without acknowledging the brand’s position as a speaker: the colonised.
Thus, Cerveza Corona engages in a vacuous form of colonial mimesis. The manner in which it fails to recognise its position in history results in a discrepancy between the original European iconography and the Mexican copy, slipping into an uncomfortable state of aspiration. Like a blonde dye on coarse black hair or blue contact lenses on brown eyes, the ideal that it seeks to reach via its merchandising is never fully attained. It quickly becomes evident that even the liquid itself is brewed utilizing introduced techniques and one begins to read its visual language as a form of pretence. The brand suddenly appears superficial and unsavoury, like an NSYNC* tribute band from a border town made of cheap gel and thick accents. These are the kind people that should be in Corona’s commercials,as it is the beer that best captures the sense of failure that comes with trying to be more Caucasian seeming.
This condition of mimicry is more broadly reflected in its mode of manufacture, given that it is a mass-produced object that belongs to a streamline of ‘identical’ products. The ideal of a pack of beer is that every Corona has the same flavour, look and feel as the one that came before it. Yet, there is a glitch between every twin – a tear in the label, a chip in a bottle or a slight variation in flavour – that disrupts this search for sameness (whether the consumer realises it or not). The golden sheen of beer synthesises the condition of Cerveza Corona as an imitation, as it provokes the illusion of gold without ever reaching its value. Unlike gold, beer is cheap and disposable, caught in a continuous cicle of reproduction. In fact, its mode of making and consumption links it closer to the base rather than the precious.
Once Corona enters the body it begins to stimulate continuous releases of piss. It proceeds by degrading the consumer’s motor skills and sense of perception. Its acts of mimicry endure as it begins to emulate happiness and fulfilment. More importantly, one could say that it continues to imitate the coloniser as it invades the body and overtakes its consciousness, making its presence known in the form of drunkenness (whether violent or melancholic). Nevertheless it remains an illusion, as the possession of beer is short lived and quickly exits the body in streams of urine and discharges of vomit. Although it fails to completely take over the body, beer succeeds in leaving an enduring trace of its presence by instigating the perturbation of a beer belly and provoking internal casualties. Like the legacies of colonialism, the length of its disruptive stay and the vulnerability of its host help to dictate the degree of damage undergone by the affected areas. Indeed, if beer is the coloniser and the liver is its territory, cirrhosis is the unrest that characterises post-colonial states.
[i] Eline Poelmans and Johan Swinnen, The Economics of Beer (UK: Oxford University Press, 2011), 35-69.