Sorted for textured alcoholic fruit gel-carb

'Alcopop' drinks should not make us fret about teenage boozing, but about marketing taking over the good night out

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You may have noticed there are some vile alcoholic drinks about. They look and taste disgusting and are consumed by strangely dressed types. Such beverages are sold primarily by the notion that they get you out of your head. They are named things like Headcracker, Sneck Lifter, Owd Growler, Original Sheepdip and GBH. Do they encourage alcoholism? Quite possibly, but as men drink them no one seems to mind. Do they make getting smashed seem cool and grown-up? Yes, if beards and beer bellies signify maturity.

No, what we like to get worked up about is another kind of alcohol altogether. The "alcopops", the soft options that disguise the hard drinking that young people, especially young women, get up to. It is all a cynical marketing campaign to turn the nation's youth into lushes. And here's another one. A tangerine hair gel disguised as something you want to knock back while you are dancing around your handbag. Or while you're desperately trying to pull those dancing around their handbags. Or you've given up all hope and want something for bladdered people rather than beautiful people. In other words - the words of the marketing reptiles - it should appeal to "the dance-floor element." A refreshing little "textured alcoholic fruit gel-carb" from Carlsberg-Tetley delicately called Thickhead. It's interesting in a Spacedust sort of way and is hyped as an essential feature of a fun night out. I think the essential feature of a fun night is being sick in bins at bus-stops, but I'm not in PR.

Actually no one could drink masses of this without gagging so the comparison with real ale holds up. Thickhead has done away with those dubious macho anxieties about the authenticity of booze. These new drinks are fizzy, fluorescent, infantile, saccharin-sweet and do a brilliant job of disguising the nasty taste of alcohol. While grown-ups may bore on about good wine,the sad truth is most of us would down a bottle of vinegar if it said Fleurie on the label and some hyperactive bint on TV said it reminded her of Chanel No 5. Indeed the much-maligned alcopops are unpretentious little numbers which just zap you with their artificiality. Just what you'd expect from such post-modern little potions.

They also come pre-packaged with a little post-modern moral panic about drinking and young people. Never mind the research which says that, as always, if teenagers want to get drunk, which they do, they spend their money on that which will get them drunk fastest - beer and cider. This new panic is imbued with the kind of memory lapses that one associates with progressive drinking. There have always been things like alcopops, but they were called shandy, lager-and-lime, cider-and-black.

It is not just lad culture in both its male and female incarnations that encourages excess. The gulf between new lad and old oaf was never as big and bold and bad as everybody liked to pretend. If it was, how come you could buy Oliver Reed T-shirts at the Great British Beer Festival?

The earnest worry about children being lured into "offies" to buy alcopops because honestly they just didn't realise that these drinks had alcohol in them is premised on denial - denial about the culture our kids grow up in, where every soft drink is sold as if it were a hallucinogen, in which imagery, graphic design, video have been under the influence of rave culture for a good few years now; denial about statistics that show that legal and illegal drugs are simply part of everyday experience for the majority of young people. This is not the same as saying that all young people take drugs and drink, but some of them do some of the time. Just like the rest of us. Some lives will be wrecked because of it and some will be enhanced because of it. Among 11-to-15-year-olds, 17 per cent, drink regularly and the majority do not have much disposable income. They are not the "repertoire drinkers" of club 18-30.

The logical conclusion of niche marketing is that new consumer groups have to be aggressively sought out. Drug dealers do it relatively openly; the drinks industry has taken to spiking lemonade in order to achieve its ends. Which is the more hypocritical?

What is most objectionable about these new products is that they no longer exist outside of the marketing loop. The line between product and packaging is blurred. The package, the trends, the inane definitions are conceived and a product invented to fit the bill. Portfolio products for portfolio times matching our taste for portfolio politics.

So don't worry your hungover heads about little girls drinking puke-flavoured Flavours for Ravers but ask yourself what happens when beliefs are replaced by "conceptual currents", when a good night out depends on a selection of chemicals "specifically styled to match the radically revised cultural concerns of pre-millennial youth culture". It's enough to make you yearn for the good old days when Jarvis's melancholy little refrain "Sorted for Es and whizz" sounded just like the real thing.

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