Thursday, February 12, 2009

April 23rd, 1985

The era in which we now live began on April 23rd, 1985. On that morning, word of a momentous event spread through the halls and classes of my high school like a virus: New Coke was here.

It was a Tuesday - how could it not be? And April - of course. And it had to be 1985. The day, month and year bespeak a radical mundanity. April 23rd, 1985 is a date that wanted to be forgotten even as it loomed. It's a date we all might have skipped by accident. Tuesday. Nothing day. Neither Monday nor Wednesday, neither fish nor fowl. The day of low blood sugar. A day not to be lived so much as endured. April. The month of cold, gray rain; of ambiguous, uncertain spring. The doldrums in every pupil's odyssey to recess. 1985. A year in which it might well be said that nothing whatsoever happened. April 23rd, 1985 was the sort of date that was in danger of falling off the calendar. And such dates, of course, are ideal for mass exposure and response to a seismic event, be it glorious or cataclysmic.

The news itself hung in the air like a vaporous mist - it seemed we began to talk about it before we'd even heard. "Hey, New Coke." "Did you try New Coke?" "I heard Mark had some already." "Some what, New Coke?" "New Coke." The marketing really was brilliant, if it wasn't completely disastrous. New! Coke! What melodious and sunny syllables to set upon the lips of a nation.

There was another aspect of our reaction to the event, and this is why I know it was the moment in our history that became now: we didn't really care. Even as we chirped the brand message, there was a wryness in our voices, sly smiles on our faces. For this virus had a second, unintended component: irony. Perhaps it was a product of the phrase itself: New Coke. Or perhaps it just happened to be hanging in the air that morning too, also waiting for this non-day when there'd be a break in our defenses. In any case, we now knew two things: New Coke was here, and New Coke was here. These two truths were antagonistic but not incompatible; they were the manifestation of a nascent reality. Yes, we bought it; yes, we drank it. But not the way we did before. Not automatically, but knowingly. Not with alacrity, but nonchalantly. Coca-Cola thought they were the mama bird and we would be her babies, letting her belch into our eager gullets. In the past, we'd given every indication we would play that role. But not on April 23rd, 1985.