Lens of Approval

At one point or another, our political, moral and cultural leaders have all become concerned with the beer goggle effect.

Former President George Bush referred to it in his inimitable fashion as "the vision thing." The once great and now dead Jerry Garcia spoke of those with "two good eyes" who "still can't see." Jesus warned us to remove the log from our eyes before judging others. Even the Old Testament related the story of the barhopping guys from Sodom and Gomorrah who tumbled into bed with beautiful women but woke up with pillars of salt.

When alcohol blurs our discernment of attractiveness and propriety--the process known colloquially as beer goggles--disturbing effects occur. Men and women lured astray by the wistful lenses of alcohol have been known, at least in legend, to dismember themselves the following morning, like a coyote escaping a trap. "I have been unable to shake off the effects of one incident from my college days with someone now known as 'Hagella,'" recalls Dallas drinking man Mike Cantrell, speaking to the issue of lingering shame.

Yet the blurred vision and the willingness to approach someone we might, on other occasions, avoid like a Hare Krishna with SARS, complement our desire to mingle with others. "There's a line in Ecclesiastes which says we're born to suffer and die," says Matthew, bartender at Dralion and poet laureate of Dallas nightlife, confirming the immemorial importance of this week's Burning Question. "That's an individual's plight, so you enjoy the wine and food you earned that day."

In other words, while warning us of the ultimate effects, the Bible urges us to party on.

If, however, we accept the time for war and peace and other Tolstoy novels, the time to party and the time to chew through your rotator cuff to get away scot-free, we still wander the watering holes with no reasonable guide to the beer goggle effect. For instance, just how many drinks does it take until we end up in bed with Madeleine Albright or her female equivalent?

According to some, the number of drinks a person consumes shapes the goggles and plants them on the nose. Mark Slaughter, bartender at The Oceanaire, generally sees patrons loosen up after two and a half martinis or three and a half glasses of wine. "It depends on how fast they drink more than anything," adds Jesus Medina of Beau Nash, "but it's usually four or five drinks." Clearly, Beau Nash attracts a hardier crowd than the business travelers populating Slaughter's bar.

"It does change your perception of a guy," says Andrea, hanging out at Sense, letting the alcohol do the talking.

Quantity is only part of the process, however. Kristy McKinney sat next to the Burning Question crew at Nikita, downing champagne at our behest in an effort to measure the arrival and effect of the fuzzy lenses. "If I see a guy who's a four, it doesn't matter how much I drink, he's still a four." We attempted the same experiment on Lower Greenville with Ashley and Elizabeth, feeding them drinks at Whisky Bar and Suede. After initially rating a guy across the bar as a 6.5, Ashley revised her decision after three drinks: "He's going backwards; that's not right." Clearly other forces affect our decision-making as much as alcohol.

Age, desperation, purpose and location all play a part. Cristina Saman, drinking off-color water--well, technically it was white zinfandel--at The Londoner, points out, "The moment you step in your car, your inhibitions change." Others praise the value of darkness. "Lighting is everybody's friend," says Adam Salazar, bartender at Nikita.

And it's not that alcohol actually improves someone's appearance, anyway. Instead, it erodes, over the course of an evening, our willingness to adhere to social guidelines and appropriate behavior. "Reality depends on the situation," slurbs Sharon, downing shots at a Dallas bar. (A slurb, remember, is Burning Question crew slang for a quote taken from a drunk. Everything we write could be considered one long slurb.) Anyway, to continue Sharon's thoughts: "I probably wouldn't tell you you were gorgeous unless I'd been drinking. Alcohol doesn't change the way they look; it eliminates fear."

Poet laureate Matthew enjoys the spectacle of others' beer goggle-enhanced hookups as a guilty pleasure, as others might settle in for an evening of sitcoms. "The first stage is 'hello,'" relates Ian Green of The Londoner, "then they get closer." Next, the newfound couple asks for their tabs, separately but simultaneously. "And I think, 'You're not going home to shag that.'

"I never say it, but I think it."

The conclusion? The term "beer goggles" misses the point. People do not, generally, become more attractive when viewed through the prism of alcohol. Instead, we shed inhibitions and patterns of behavior that otherwise keep us in check.

So yea, we say unto you: It is not a question of vision, but rationalization--as in, how many drinks does it take before we begin to think, "You know, he/she/it wouldn't be that bad."

Or as this guy named Brian once told us, "It's not that they get better-looking; I just get stupid."


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