White Boys and Booze

Dr. Raul Caetano, an expert on ethnicity and alcoholism, says alcohol ads in public venues are bad for everybody, including Anglos.
Mark Graham

The columnists and editorial writers at The Dallas Morning News were falling all over themselves last week, competing to find carefully coded ways of saying that putting the name "Jose Cuervo Tequila" on a plaque inside the new Latino Cultural Center would cause Mexicans to get drunk.

Then at the end of a week of controversy when it was announced that a new benefactor for the center had been found at the last moment, a dairy, and that the center would be named for milk, not tequila, there was joy in Newsville.

So let me ask you something: Did not one person at the Morning News notice the irony posed by Richard Alm's story, inside the paper on the business pages that same week, announcing that the new Peace Symbol Arena downtown, officially called "American Airlines Center," had just signed its third major beer-maker as an official sponsor? In return for an undisclosed sum, Anheuser-Busch Inc. will have the right to put its name on huge signs inside the arena, visible from every level of the building, and in the ice itself.

So are we not at all concerned that seeing the hockey players skate back and forth, back and forth across a can of Budweiser may make white people get drunk, too?

With this latest deal, Busch joins Coors Brewing Co. and Miller Brewing Co. as alcohol sponsors of the arena. Belo Corp., owner of the Morning News, is one of the four main nonbooze advertisers within the Peace Symbol Arena (the owners of the arena have a logo that looks like that V-thing you do with your fingers, so, as an ex-hippie, I prefer to think of it as the Peace Symbol Arena).

Alm's story went to some lengths to establish that Belo feels very compatible with the beer-pushers at Peace Symbol Arena. He quoted Skip Cass, a senior vice president of Belo, as saying, "When you look at the people who attend sporting and non-sporting events at the AAC, they are the same people who read our newspaper, watch our television stations and use our Web sites."

Yeah. Guess who they are specifically. I looked up the prime target demographics for professional sporting events: males 18-34. A thin minority slice of this pie is African-American, and in the last year or so advertisers have been discovering a growing Hispanic element in the fan base.

But for the most part, you know who we're talking about here, right? Who pays $100 to see a hockey game? We're talking about your prime fraternity-trained alcohol-drinking white boy.

I spent some time last week looking up some of the scientific research on who drinks and why. A good deal of effort has been expended by social scientists on identifying the groups most likely to develop booze problems. One of the most vulnerable is that prime Peace Symbol Arena/Belo Corp. target demographic we're talking about. But guess what the social scientists call it?

In a recent article called "Negotiating Masculinities in American Drinking Subcultures" in The Journal of Men's Studies, Lois A. West describes this particular element of our society as the "male homosocial alcohol subculture."

All guys. Big sports fans. They love to leave the babes at home and go out with the boys. Lots of macho drinking. We're talking about your garden-variety white fraternity types. Homosocials.

And, before going any further with this, let me clear the air on one issue: I personally believe very strongly in the right of people to be homosocial. I don't even think it's a moral issue. I think most of these guys you see together at hockey games and basketball games drinking beer and grunting like gorillas probably were born that way. They have no choice.

I can't say that I really enjoy being around homosocials. I admit they have a way of putting me on edge, especially when they take off their shirts, paint themselves purple and attach foam phallic totems to their heads. My problem, I'm sure, is that I was a young adult way back in the 1960s, and because of anti-war protests and hootenannies and stuff like that, I was just used to a more heterosocial atmosphere. Even though I do not object to the homosocials today, I wonder sometimes why they have to act the darned part so much.

And then, you know, if you dare to say anything to them, they "have their rights." The security guards won't do anything about the big bad white male homosocials, because, after all, they're "Belo's prime demographic." I don't believe they should be discriminated against, but I do object to their having special privileges. I'd like to see what would happen to your average Mexican-American construction worker if he tried to walk through downtown painted purple with a foam penis on his head.  

All right, I've had my little rant, and I am totally ashamed of myself for it, but at the same time I feel a lot better.

As it happens, one of the nation's most respected authorities on alcoholism among ethnic minorities is right here in Dallas. Dr. Raul Caetano is a professor and assistant dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health. He is director of a branch of the Houston Health Science Center located within UT Southwestern in Dallas. I came across him as the author of an academic paper, "Alcohol Consumption Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities" published three years ago in the journal Alcohol Health & Research World.

The main point of that paper was that different cultural and ethnic groups have their own distinctive ways of consuming booze, which can have particular health effects. One of the things I found most interesting in his paper was a summary of factors other researchers have found over the years that may contribute to heavy drinking among immigrant minorities.

At the top of the list was "acculturative stress...most typically felt by immigrants who are faced with the turmoil of leaving their homeland and adapting to a new society."

That's easy to see, when you think about it. Immigration to this country has always been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the immigrant finds opportunity in an affluent and free society. On the other hand, he is cut off from all the certainty and comforting familiarity of his native place.

There are things that can help. It helps to find a new American neighborhood that sort of looks and feels like home, maybe a corner of North Oak Cliff with some funky tire stores that look a little like Guanajuato (if the people in Kessler Park will leave them alone and stop trying to make them put brick planters full of pansies out front).

Church helps, for the church-going person. But think what a comfort it also might be to walk into a grand official building, a Latino Cultural Center near downtown Dallas, and see one's native culture celebrated there.

To the immigrant coming up to the walk, just as to the fourth-generation Latino, a place like that would say, "You are taken seriously in this place. This is your place. You are a part of what is official and permanent here."

Guinness United Distillers & Vintners North America Inc., the makers of Jose Cuervo tequila, was trying to provide the money needed to give Latinos a center of their own. The company had offered to give $1 million--the amount needed to get construction going on the Latino Cultural Center--in exchange for having a part of the center named after Jose Cuervo tequila. (It was OK, remember, to rename the Starplex amphitheater in Fair Park for Smirnoff vodka.)

But the Anglos on the Dallas City Council went berserk, as if this were the craziest, dumbest, most boorish idea ever to come before them.

I should say that Dr. Caetano, when I found him, turned out not to be favorably disposed at all toward naming the Latino center for Jose Cuervo. But his objection is to alcohol advertising in all public places.

"The issue for people in public health is not one that affects Latinos only," he said. "Public health professionals have for many, many years come out against the pervasive advertising and pervasive use of moneys from beverage companies to supply groups like the arena or other public places."

So, for the sake of argument and not because I personally believe this, let us stipulate that naming the Latino Cultural Center for a brand of booze might have had a deleterious effect on the morality of Latino people. How much real chance is there that having beer logos plastered all over the Peace Symbol Arena might actually contribute to alcoholism among Anglo-Americans?

In her article about "male homosocial alcohol subculture," the main instances West looked at were fraternity houses and the Navy. In fraternity houses, the researcher asked young men what particular kind of activity was most compatible with their male-bonding drinking sessions. And they said?

Sports. Of course. Fuball. Basketball. Hockey.

So there you have it. The fatal glass of beer. The perfect formula for alcoholism. Big, huge beer logos all over the Peace Symbol Arena, thousands of young white morons with money in their pockets and an atmosphere that says, "Just do it."

And have we heard one single word of concern about any of that from our illustrious city council or the boys over at Belo? No. And I'll tell you why. You didn't hear it here, OK? This is off the record. But according to what I hear, a whole bunch of those guys over at Belo are known homosocials.  

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