Death & Branding

It was a particularly disturbing time last year when the phenomenon that is Buc-ees swept through the South, laying waste to junk food cravings and independent gas stations alike. All at once the summer road trip became a waiting game between Buc-ees; the spectacle of a massive gas station as a kind of rival Costco was novel to the millions of inexperienced. And I admit the novelty sucked me initially. Not only could I refuel my car, I could buy fresh barbecue and…like…Texican stuff.

As a pit stop it was fine, a full, if overcrowded, step up from Quiktrip or the usual haunts.

The camel-breaking straw for me, however, was when I discovered people wearing Buc-ees merchandise. In particular a student of mine arrived one day in complete formal regalia: a beaver hoodie, t-shirt, and backpack.

This was quickly and easily written off as the poor fashion choice of a middle schooler yet to grasp a definition of good taste, more concerned with impressing peers than expressing one’s self. Then more beavers began appearing on shirts among adults and children alike. The uniqueness of a gas station brand suddenly seemed like all out war on sensibility. People were actively choosing to market a gas station on their persons in the form of a cartoon Castoridae.

Not unlike NFTs, Buc-ee mutated into the symbol of undisguised wealth extraction; capitalism for capital’s sake. No honest cause nor the disguising pretense of one. Simple, bald-faced money grubbing. I felt (and feel) extremely vexed. People have the right to love what they love why love a gas station of all things?

I write this while I sup on a cold can of delicious Liquid Death mountain water.

It is a temptation to go and buy a Liquid Death sweatshirt as well. And why not? Their imagery is sound: hardcore punk style skulls and gore. Their mission, irrefutable: death to plastic. Why not toss them some money and get a cool bit of swag in the process?

Justifying the purchase of an overpriced can of water I can do in my sleep. Yet, how is this truly different from the beaver?

Certainly the environmental efforts of Liquid Death are commendable. I don’t have hard numbers but I imagine their carbon footprint to be infinitesimal compared to that of a company like Buc-ees. But Liquid Death is still a for-profit company with designs on my money and I want to give them my money.

Because this is the crux of the capitalist society in which we live: everything can be monetized.

If you want to feel or appear to be in favor of the environment, there’s a brand for it. That not having canned water at all would be best for the land, that the environment would prefer you didn’t create and waste cheap t shirts, is of little consequence. For better or worse (and it is for the worse) we identify with the brands we are being sold.

That I prefer cool looking skulls representing a company with a “punk rock mentality” and an eye for improving things is just another manufactured want in an infinite pool of manufactured wants.

I could be wrong. Perhaps convincing people to buy canned water is the straightest course towards teaching the populace to not buy disposable packaging at all. Maybe we need to buy our way to enlightenment. I don’t know.

And choosing Bucc-ee over another such brand is not, for most people, really about supporting a cyclopean gas corporation. It’s about that trip you took with your family where you made memories together and stopped at a ridiculous novelty gas station. Or it’s about the fact that you are from Texas and this brand is a Texas thing. Or whatever. Just like the fandoms I mentioned some time ago, they are about how we see ourselves. It’s just a shame that these facets of our identities have to be tied to wasteful capitalist systems. Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I want that damn sweatshirt.

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