Friday, September 7, 2007

Box Wine, B Films, and the Ambiguity of Exploitation

Everything they touch is stained.....with Pinot Noir?

Despite the protests of sommeliers and high end retailers in Gotham and beyond, well crafted wine now comes to us in a tidy little package we collectively call a box. Yes, a BOX. This is one of those occurrences that should remind us that nature and society both have a way of breaking what will not bend.For most, box wine still represents everything they've been told to snub in a wine. But before you write me off as a wine-o gone mad from the chronic presence of turpentine and other artist's solvents in my home ( which may be true but can't be proven anyway) - let me explain.

Box wine isn't the bottom-of-the-grocery-shelf cheap gut rot it once was. It has evolved from an eighties Boone's Farm joke to a libation that is not only drinkable, but enjoyable. This doesn't mean they're all palatable, and just like all wines, some of them are good and some of them suck. The point is that packaging wines in boxes is simply a modern trend of convenience, and no longer necessarily spells out quality, or lack there of...well, for the most part. I've been told that the buck stops at 3 litre containers. The 5 litre counterparts are still labeled "jug wine" quality, for reasons unknown. I guess someone in the packaging industry decided a 3 litre box was as large a container as American wine snobs could handle.

This is an interesting little quirk, since we all know that in France, (a model wine country to say the least) you can go to a VRAC station and fill up your container of choice ( be it a litre or a five gallon jug) with a large hose. Yep, a hose. The kind that delivers petrol from the tank to your vehicle. And we thought we were so smart, filling a little 3 litre plastic bag. To be fair, VRAC wine is meant as a daily table wine, and not as a fine vintage one might have at a wedding or anniversary. VRAC wine very economically proves that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. The French, and many other smart and tasteful peoples, choose wine as the daily beverage of choice with their meals. Americans, however, have historically considered wine a celebratory treat, or expensive accompaniment to a meal out. But time changes everything. We now include wine at the dinner table on a regular basis, too, and those glass bottles fill up the recycling bin pretty fast. But a sustainable box that takes up less space, saves energy, and keeps my wine fresh for days and that's what I call progress!

(Writer's Aside: My intentions aren't to lead you to believe I think all wine should come in boxes, because I don't. At a restaurant, I prefer a glass bottle. I don't want the sommelier at Per Se bringing cardboard to my table. I also don't mean to imply that there is a vast array of quality box wines ready for the drinking, because there aren't. Evolution takes time. You be patient. )

The fundamental principle in the packaging, selling, and buying of wine is that it is, quite simply, a business. And business is money, and money is power, etc etc. What I find interesting in the non -traditional packaging is that it corresponds to similar dynamics in the film industry's evolution of the B-movie. In fact, the process was the same. B Movies were once hour long flicks shot on an ultra low budget in a certain genre, and shown in cinemas before the A -Movie, or the real movie, began. Like box wine before the 2000's, it also was not considered quality craftsmanship. B films were notoriously categorized in the exploitation market, and if you exchange the word film for wine in the definition below, you'll get a solid explanation of pre-2000's box wine:

Exploitation film is a type of film that eschews the expense of "quality" productions in favor of making films on-the-cheap, attracting the public by exciting their more prurient interests. "Exploitation" is the show business term for promotion, and an exploitation film is one which relies heavily on the lurid advertising of its contents, rather than the intrinsic quality of the film.

The B film has gone through many changes since its emergence during Hollywood's Golden Age. Now that we're in the digital age of film making, independent, low budget features are abundant, and the term "B movie" is almost obsolete. The history of its rise and fall is fascinating, and much like jug wine and the evolution of box wine, the degree of craft vs "exploitation" is ambiguous. There were many post- Golden Age B films that were well crafted and had intrinsic value, while simultaneously pandering to the carnal nature of its audience in a low brow mode of lust-inciting imagery. Just as ambiguous is the manufacturing of the emergent socially acceptable box of 3 litre wine. Once comparable to jug wine, it was a poor taste, exploitation film of sorts; a lower middle class beverage for the masses that defied France's A.O.C. system. Now, however, it is on par with a B Movie of merit; well crafted and aesthetically viable, but packaged as second rate (or what we perceive as such ).

The commonality in bulk wine* and exploitation films is the morally ambiguous fusion of attraction and repulsion they illicit. (hmmmm.....does this mean my ex was really calling me the human incarnation of Reefer Madness in his insult?)
Temptation and moral integrity are at play. The ambiguity is also in the audience, or the consumer's perception: no matter the quality inside, the very fact that box wine comes in a very large container implies, on a subconscious level, carnal, dancing-in-the-woods, Arthur Miller- style activities. Blatantly, it means we can have more**. We can stay for the triple feature. We can be attracted and disgusted at the same time and revel in a grey area I like to call tipsy.

A perfect evening out, I think.

*I don't include liquor in my discussion of bulk alcohol, as it has been available in large quantities for some time, and isn't part of wine culture. It may be a part of B-Movie culture, and thus it has relevance, but this is my blog and I don't really care how liquor is packaged.

** Alternately, you could share the wine or save it for another day, (I told you, box wine stays fresh longer) but this would be a tasteful and boring decision that would serve only to undermine my previous statement.

Brought to you by THE WINE FILES


New York City said...

Hey, if anyone's a B movie, it's me.

Steven LaRose said...

A recent study showed that wine has a faster growing and more poetic audience then painting.

Good read, thanks.