Letter of Recommendation: Spuds MacKenzie

How much money I spent on that vintage sweatshirt, or when I returned to the store a year later to buy another, isn’t important. What mattered to me, then and now, was the feeling of insouciance that it dislodged. Spuds, much like those Vineyard Vines-wearing boys who competed against me in drinking games, emanated a lightness of being that I neither fully understood nor was able to embody, but at times seemed so close I could feel it. If the beer itself tastes like coming home from my Women in World Politics seminar and contemplating apartheid while I wash my hair, then Spuds MacKenzie feels like later that night, unencumbered and unbothered, at the apex of my semiannual foray into a hallway game of flip cup.

I enjoyed college, but it took me a few years to realize that I wasn’t having that much fun. I graduated from a majority-black high school, then found myself on a campus that prided itself on its lacrosse and sailing teams and steak-and-lobster dinners. Whiteness never appealed to me, but the confident, entitled recklessness it could provide did: I wanted to borrow some of the blitheness that my classmates enjoyed, pour it into a Solo cup and head out into the night, too. Spuds is an extension of my lifelong fascination — envy, even — with the unalloyed levity and audacity found in a certain type of white, straight masculinity: early Beastie Boys, Ferris Bueller, 2011-2013 Justin Bieber. But to revere those figures is too dicey, an endorsement of something I don’t even like; Spuds, on the other hand, inspires guiltless admiration, in part because he transcended the human form. It’s not hard to imagine a man version of Spuds, with the drinking and the girls and the parties, eventually veering into troubling territory, spawning disappointment, outrage and a sea of web reactions. But you can’t cancel a dog.

Spuds’s charm is in his absurdity — it’s fun to participate in a fantasy where the weather is always warm, the parties are always fun and a panting dog is the handsomest man in the room. (In 1987, People revealed that the actor who played Spuds was actually a female dog, resulting in a national mini-outcry.) The whole thing is ridiculous — but not dissimilar to the way that spending $43 on a tattered sweatshirt is ridiculous, or chugging fermented malted barley to impede your ability to throw a Ping-Pong ball into a cup is ridiculous, or whiteness itself is ridiculous. But those are things, I suppose, that all unlock a dose of freedom more intoxicating than any light beer. And, if given the chance, who wouldn’t choose to chug that down? Life’s a party, if you’re lucky.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-spuds-mackenzie.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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