Our water bottle culture

A conspicuous but of course never remarked-on sign of the decline of our culture in recent years has been the practice of drinking publicly from water bottles. One side of this phenomenon was the habit, mainly of urban women, of carrying a water bottle in their hand and continually drinking from it as they walked along the sidewalk or crossed the street, as I’ve written about here and here. Another side of the phenomenon was the way in which even high-level public figures would drink from water bottles while appearing on televised panel discussions, while giving speeches, and so on. Behavior that once would have been seen as unacceptablly rude or low-class became normal overnight. No one resisted it. No one ever said to his host at an event, “Please bring me a glass, so that I don’t have to drink from a bottle as I sit at this panel discussion being broadcast on CSPAN.” It showed how, in liberal society, even intelligent people mindlessly adjust to every downward shift in the culture.

All of which is a set-up for something that occurred during Rick Perry’s announcement last weekend. As he began to speak, he reached for a water bottle and unscrewed the top, and I said to myself, “No, please, don’t drink from a water bottle while you’re announcing that you are a candidate for President of the United States.” But then he suddenly stopped, and spoke prayerfully about the 30 men killed in Afghanistan, all the while holding the open water bottle in one hand. “Their sacrifice was immeasurable, their dedication, profound,” he said with deep emotion. Then, after thanking God, he paused for a moment, and took a swig from the bottle.

Here are three stills from the video:

About to announce his presidentical candidacy, Perry opens the water bottle:


Then he prays, holding the bottle in his hand:


Then, prayer finally finished, he drinks:



An anti-Islamization activist from Canada writes:

I agree. I will ask for a glass next time I speak anywhere.

LA replies:

As always when I criticize some aspect of contemporary speech, dress, or behavior, there are people who think this is silly, trivial, and not worth discussing, and that I have shown a lack of balance by even bringing up the subject; one blog normally in agreement with me has already said that in this entry I am “off the wall” for stressing such a trivial point. In reality, these supposedly trivial things are part of our culture, part of what we are. At any moment, we are either moving toward the good, true, and beautiful, or moving away from them, in small ways as well as big. There is something in us that gravitates toward the better, and away from the worse. Thus the commenter from Canada may never have thought before about what it means to drink from a water bottle instead of a glass when participating in a panel discussion or giving a speech. Once it was pointed out he instantly saw the difference, and his natural desire for the better was awakened.

That is what a true culture war is about. But most conservatives today think the culture war is only about the hot button issues, not about the things, including the seemingly small and unimportant things, that make up the very texture of our culture and our social being.

Bill Carpenter writes:

We might regard perpetually touching and sucking on one’s water bottle as an infantile or neurotic tic. It signifies excessive public attention to the little world of one’s own health or body. A dignified person should avoid it just as he avoids touching his face.

Laura Wood writes:

I got the impression that Perry reached for his water bottle at that particular moment to help himself him make the transition (it was as if he was taking a deep breath) from upbeat, gun-ho Dale Carnegie to mournful and pious patriot. His moment of sorrow reeked with phoniness.

LA replies:

I agree. I felt I was watching him turn on the sorrow and the deep feelings as with a switch.

August 19

Kilroy M. writes:

I’ve been following the discussion concerning the culture of “bottled water” with some interest. The issue had been covered in past discussions. At first I thought it was a little quirky, and if a first time visitor at VFR were to stumble on that as his first experience of a “politically incorrect traditionalist right,” he might think that we’re a bit of an obsessive lot that reads into things a tad too deeply. But I think I understand what you’re saying: (a) the predominance of bottled water at functions shows a concern over hydration that is itself unnaturally obsessive given that the whole civilisation has embraced a suicidal ideology; and (b) drinking from a bottle, especially for an official of state, demonstrates the triumph of vulgarity among our elites.

However, I must confess that I have been a “bottle drinker” too, but for good reason. I live in Sydney, and therefore count myself lucky that I can drink tap water without gagging. Not so for many of the other Western capitals I have visited. My personal obsession is tea. I drink it all the time. But when I was in London I learned pretty quickly that the tap water tastes as though it had been filtered through rusted ball bearings and mud. I developed a habit of buying bottled water and cooking with that. Tap water was washing up water only. Paris was not much better. In some parts it was worse: I remember once making tea there, and watching as a layer of … something … start to curdle on the surface of tea. It was a fine translucent film of some unappealing substance. I even took a picture on my phone and mailed it as a curiosity to my friends back home (which I have since deleted unfortunately). Because of this, at functions and public events, I would avoid touching any water that I could not identify as coming form a bottle. This meant that I’d pass on any carafe or glass, but not if it was a bottle of Perrier.

I have never been to America, but if you haven’t experienced the horrid public amenities of Europe you won’t appreciate that what I’m describing above is by no means being “too sensitive.” Their tap water is poison. Drinking it is a health hazard. If the water in the U.S. is any way alike, I think I’d be a “bottle drinker” there too.

LA replies:

Your valid concern about contaminated tap water is besides the point. Water can be poured from a bottle into a glass before it is drunk. All that’s needed is that glasses be placed on the dais or table so that public speakers can drink the water from a glass.

Nik S. writes:

Regarding the water bottle conversation, I am not sure I agree with you. I would much rather drink from a clean, pristine, plastic bottle carrying water from the volcanoes of Fiji, than from a glass washed by who-knows-what, carried to me by some lackey for MSNBC who has taken care to be sure that the water still tastes like dish-soap. Then again, I guess that just proves your point about our cultural decline: we can’t even trust others to properly wash our dishes any more. [LA replies: Again, this is besides the point. Are you saying that you never drink a glass of water in a restaurant? Or that when you order bottled water or soda in a restaurant, you never pour it into a glass before drinking it?]

I also want to add that, as a singer and cantor who has “performed” in numerous services for churches and synagogues of numerous denominations, as well as numerous singing competitions both domestically and abroad it is STILL in poor taste to be caught dead on stage sipping anything, be it from a glass or a bottle. Yet still, glasses are infinitely more classy. The problem is, they don’t even furnish us with glasses anymore. It seem nowadays that you have to bring your own weapon to church, in this case, the weapon being a water bottle. Or I dunno, back then, people were content with a glass of water. Now, it’s, “I need my hot tea,” “I only drink lemon juice with red pepper,” “I only drink aquafina … ”

I don’t know, everything’s just all messed up, I agree with you. What to do….

Nik continues:

The bottom line is, Perry showed poor taste by downing a sip of that water bottle just after finishing his so-called “prayer.” Whatever sanctity remained by the end of his prayer was gulped down by his lips touching that nipple-esque piece of plastic.

James P. writes:

Nik S. writes:

I also want to add that, as a singer and cantor who has “performed” in numerous services for churches and synagogues of numerous denominations, as well as numerous singing competitions both domestically and abroad it is STILL in poor taste to be caught dead on stage sipping anything, be it from a glass or a bottle.

Some years ago I attended a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth in Pittsburgh, and before the fourth movement, the singers (all formally dressed) drank copiously from the plastic water bottles at their feet. Nothing, indeed, is sacred.

LA replies:

The Beethoven Ninth Symphony does represent an unusual problem in this regard. In performances of the symphony, the singers sit on stage in front of the orchestra through the first three movements, not singing, then they sing in the fourth movement. So when the time finally comes for them to sing, they have been sitting on stage for maybe 40 or 50 minutes. How are they to moisten their throats?

Well, how was this handled in the past, prior to the Water Bottle Age? Somehow they managed.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 18, 2011 11:52 AM | Send

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