Caffeiny Optimism at the Cola Museum

September 26, 1994|By ANDREI CODRESCU

ATLANTA — Atlanta. -- I went to the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta and saw the past and the future amid a mass of squealing, squeaky kids.

First of all, just as they tell you in the lobby, Coca Cola is not just a drink. It's America. It started out as a cocaine-laced energy booster that depicted, in its first ads, deliriously energetic housewives leaping over themselves to get to the soda fountain for a fix. Later, they took out the cocaine but left in enough caffeine and sugar to cause future generations of youth to leap over great obstacles at a bound.

Since 1886, Coca Cola ads have depicted an American history that is both real and idealized. The real parts are quite vivid: they include the remains of the Victorian age, the Great Depression, World War II, the early space age, rock'n'roll, urban-guerrilla chic.

Surrounding this history like fanciful dantelle is a caffeine- fueled optimism, reflected in the art-nouveauish bodies of the Twenties, fascist-deco of the Thirties, stylish body-fitting uniforms during the War, space-booster futurism, and so on. The America that Coca Cola has given us is overly -- perhaps insanely -- optimistic and, above all, energetic. Americans, Coca Cola tells us, are sexier, faster, stronger, tougher and just plain better.

These are the very same values that communist ideologues tried to indoctrinate in youth, but failed. Which goes to show you: Words without cocaine or caffeine are like eggs without salt, bumping without grinding, drinking without swallowing.

The Coca Cola Museum jumps from Norman Rockwell nostalgia to space-age futurism without missing a beat. In the process it takes in the world. A display of soda fountains from around the world spritzes exotic colas, like Lichee Nut Cola, into outstretched paper cups. The kids go bananas here, knocking back foreign-language colas like they were dew drops. The floor is sticky and the kids are full of caffeine. Things look good.

B6 Andrei Codrescu is editor of ''Exquisite Corpse.''

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