I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If I Were Jazz, I'd Sue

That's right. If I were Jazz, the vital art form that had its beginnings in the African-American experience and continues to be one of the most exciting art forms in this country or anywhere else, I would sue. I would, in fact, sue Jazz, an incredibly horrid diet soft drink produced by those taste wizards at Pepsico.

When I think of Jazz, the music, I usually recall a club/restaurant I went to with my wife while living in Montreal. the band was Cuban, the wine (from the "Dep" next door) was Chilean. It rocked so much I remember it quite clearly today. Not so for Jazz.

I think that it is supposed to be a sort of boutique beverage, the microbrew of the diet soda set. Flavors have names like "Strawberries and Cream" which, of course, tastes neither like strawberries nor like cream. The cream part, actually, would be rather frightening if it was authentic as most folks don't consume their dairy with bubbles and such. I first encountered Jazz not at a club, but at the Natick Mall when I was accosted with a free sample. The roving Pepsiperson informed me that it was "a new taste concept" that they were "trying out". She asked my opinion, too, but didn't take notes.

It seemed a fitting location for something so pedestrian as Jazz to be making its debut. I love the mall. I really do. I like the people all running around and the bustle of it all. I may even be there this Friday! However, it is a den of giddy consumerism where corporations try their hardest to package what is at its core derivative and standard--clothes, toys, and baseball caps, all fairly similar regardless of what store cubby you might be in--as edgy, experimental, and unique.

That this particular diet soda exists doesn't suprise me, nor am I surprised by its aluminum taste profile. What bothers me is that something so great (Jazz) can be used to market something so pedestrian (Jazz). I realize it is meant to infuse a sense of the exotic into the suburban landscape but, really. If I want to feel (and look) hip and relevant, even open-minded and progressive in thought and culture, do I really want to spend quality time with something that says "I like fads"? I don't think so. The only way to deepen one's awareness and depth of connection to humanity is to actually try not to conform to societal and corporate expectations.

Products like this get at one of the biggest problems we face today. Namely that we are loosing our sense of originality and cultural diversity. "Look, we've mixed some chemicals to gether that taste not enirely unlike berries mixed with milk, how jazzy!" We are forgetting how to be original and actually different--in ways both large and small--from our neighbors. I believe that churches have a role to play in stopping this dangerous drift. Pastors, too. We need to help people see that there is more to this world than what we are told we need. We can behave in different ways. Many of us naturally fear sticking out too much, but it is OK to be a "character" sometimes, even when we have not been endorsed by NIKE....

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1931, "The word Jazz in its progress toward respectability has first meant sex, then dancing, then music. It is associated with a state of nervous stimulation, not unlike that of big cities behind the lines of war." Well now it means diet soda. Such progress.

Anyway, I will stick to the real thing. Fight the man. Hear Jazz.