Every once in a while, you may hear someone say, “he drank the Kool-Aid.” Whey they say it, it doesn’t sound as innocent as what the Kool-Aid man dispenses after he crashes through a wall. They say it sarcastically, critically, and with some portent. It isn’t because they question the artificial flavors and colors, and all that added sugar. What does this expression mean, and how did Kool-Aid become associated it with it?
The expression “to drink the Kool-Aid” or any variation of it, including he drank the Kool-Aid, refers to a person having completely bought into a certain belief or philosophy, without question. It is a way of describing zealotry, or someone who has joined a cult or is part of a cult-like following.
When someone tells you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, they mean to not get taken in by anything, an idea, a fashion, or a person, to the extent that you dedicate your very existence to it. It means, especially, to avoid any groups who seem fanatical in their beliefs.
The expression has nothing to do with Kool-Aid specifically, but this is what most people probably think. Given today’s attack on artificial flavors, colors, and sugar, Kool-Aid may easily be a stand-in. Kool-Aid, is, after all, nothing but artificial flavors, colors, and loads of sugar (with some vitamin C added in modern times). Since the healthiness of Kool-Aid is questionable, and it took the nation by storm and became the best-selling powdered drink mix of all time, people could easily think that “drinking the Kool-Aid” refers to Kool-Aid as a symbol of big-food or anything that may not have our best interests at heart. Therefore, if you drink the Kool-Aid, you are being a gullible sheep who consumes whatever “they” throw at you.
If this were true, it would be quite a labored metaphor, but not as tasteless and base as the true expression. To “drink the Kool-Aid,” instead, refers to the tragic Jonestown Massacre,” which took place in Guyana in 1978.
913 men, women, and children, members of the People’s Temple consumed drinks poisoned with cyanide. They were ordered to do this by cult-leader Rev. Jim Jones, a charismatic but paranoid megalomaniac. Although at first these deaths were called a mass suicide they became known as mass murder-suicide or massacre. Not all the cult-members willingly drank the poisoned drinks. Some, including children, were forcibly injected. After ordering his willing flock to their deaths, Jones shot himself in the head.
Flavor Aid, Not Kool-Aid
The media announced that the drink used in the killings was Kool-Aid. Afterwards, sells of Kool-Aid crashed. However, the actual drink-mix used was apparently grape flavored Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was and still is a household name, and its Flavor Aid competitor was often referred to as Kool-Aid. It is quite possible that both Flavor Aid and Kool-Aid were used in the killings since stocks of both drink powders were found at the compound.
To learn more about the history of the Jonestown Massacre, see Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People, by Tim Reiterman.
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