Who doesn't remember that party-loving pitcher? He breaks through the walls, with a mission to quench thirst and pitch a sugary powder that can be added to water to make it more exciting. A powder that, as we grew, could be used as a temporary hair dye when one is too broke for Manic Panic. A powder that was not actually used in the horrific Jonestown massacre (it was grape Flavor-Aid Jim Jones laced with cyanide to poison his followers). But, people will probably always remember it as "the Kool-Aid".
Kool-Aid has been around since the 1920s. Originally called Fruit Smack(!), it was first sold as a liquid. The Kool-Aid Guy, created in 1975, has changed looks quite a bit: from no legs, to no pants, to pants, and back to no pants again; from hand-drawn to CGI; from simple mascot to cool comic book fella to unearthly specter.
He’s toasted with Benjamin Franklin.
He’s blasted into space to thwart those dastardly thirsties.
He even has his own photo app. ( For some reason, there are plenty of holiday-themed presets, but none featuring the iconic “burst through the wall” shots.) Here I am in the Severe Snacks Robot Sauce t-shirt, looking a more than little freaked out as the Kool-Aid Guy steals my advertising thunder.
The Guy exists solely to sell Kool-Aid. But, peoples’ reactions to this boundary-bursting, always evolving, 0% juice container extends far beyond their love of the fruit-flavored powder. There's something archetypal about him. A brief internet search reveals lots and lots of Kool-Aid guy art out there, using his simple, but somehow mythic, chaotic-savior role to funny effect.
The whole Kool-Aid Guy concept is pretty goofy, of course. People rescued by the guy are usually only slightly parched; the property damage he inflicts is wholely unnecessary. I don't remember a single Kool-Aid ad in which the saved parties were suffering the husk-like skin and sunken eyes of severe dehydration. The Guy takes it all a little too far; but, hey: the people saved by him are just so grateful!
The Guy breaks the rules (and the architecture) in order to quench that most basic animal need for water, and sweetens the deal by satiating that basic human love of sugar. He pours his life essence out to replenish the children, the founding fathers, the needy, and the deserving, like a cartoon Christ for the modern age. An anthropomorphic pitcher who offers communion with one of the only higher powers besides Nature left worth fearing: Capitalism.
I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure you would die if lost in the desert with nothing but a couple packets of Kool-Aid. Or a truckload of Kool-Aid packets. Or every Kool-Aid packet ever sent down the production line. Kool-Aid in itself quenches nothing. Even if Jim Jones is nowhere to be found, think twice before you "drink the Kool-Aid." Like Capitalism or any other cult, the Guy offers empty promises of grace.
If you think my theories might be a bit of a stretch, you’re probably right. But, the Kraft Foods corporation tapped into something essential when their advertising board sat down to draft up a mascot. We need to drink and we want to be saved. Wouldn’t it be nice if something could truly fill those yearnings, property damage be damned?