Drinking the Kool-Aid, 2019

The expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” is now deeply embedded into American slang – often as throwaway and/or commonly-understood lines in sports, business, and popular culture – with upwards of a dozen references appearing on news feeds every day. Especially in political arena, the saying has become increasingly weaponized, as partisans on all sides use it to disparage the intellectual capacity and discernment of their opponents.

There have been several serious considerations of the phrase during the months in the wake of the fortieth anniversary of the Jonestown deaths in 2018.

• The phrase was listed as one of the “common business expressions that have become a little too common” in the article, “Thinking outside the box — and other annoying business clichés,”which appeared in the February 2, 2019 edition of The Watertown (SD) Opinion. “In business it means to be wary of peer pressure associated with what appear to be risky ideas…hopefully not as risky as the Jamestown [Jonestown] Kool-Aid.”

• Similarly, the phrase was listed among the 50 most overused business clichés in the July 26, 2019 edition of TechRepublic, but it was one of the few flagged for special attention: “Whatever you do, do not ask your colleagues to drink the Kool-Aid. This is a mostly forgotten reference to the tragic 1978 Jonestown suicides. If you want people to support your ideas, ask for that.”

• A May 17, 2019 column in The Sand Mountain Reporter by Chip Warren, the past president of the Ministerial Fellowship in Albertville, Alabama, describes a religious warning in the phrase.

We all say that we could never be so easily duped into following someone so blindly that we would do anything they asked of us.… [I]f we want to learn to spot counterfeit teachers who try to get us ‘to drink the Kool-Aid,’ then we need to be so familiar with the Word of God and sound doctrine that we can recognize them and their teachings as false and deceiving.

• Another commentary on the phrase itself appeared as a column World O’ Words: From an horrific event evolves a trivial phrase by Barry Coulter, May 8, 2019, Cranbrook Daily Townsman, British Columbia, Canada.

Other uses of note:

An art exhibition of a series on Product Recall by Maryam Jafri entitled I Drank the Kool-Aid But I Didn’t Inhalewas shown at the Institute of Contemporary art in Los Angeles from February 10 through June 23, 2019. As the article from the museum described the show, “The work, as is characteristic of Jafri’s practice, invites the audience to consider the hidden significance—and meanings—of archival materials.” The artist herself noted that the title wouldn’t work outside of the United States, since it “references Bill Clinton’s admission to (not fully) smoking marijuana when asked if he had ever broken an international law.” The first half of the title is “a U.S. colloquialism. Not everybody is going to get it. I think there’s a subtle layer. The work translates very well and it travels very well, but within a specific U.S. context, it is more an immediate knowledge.” She does not give the origin of that phrase, though.