Drinking the Kool-Aid
"Drinking the Kool-Aid" (also sometimes appearing as "'Don't Drink the Kool-Aid'") is an idiom commonly used in the United States that refers to any person or group who knowingly goes along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure. The phrase often carries a negative connotation when applied to an individual or group. It can also be used ironically or humorously to refer to accepting an idea or changing a preference due to popularity, peer pressure, or persuasion.
The phrase derives from the November 1978 Jonestown deaths, in which over 900 members of the Peoples Temple, who were followers of Jim Jones, died, many of whom committed suicide by drinking a mixture of a powdered soft-drink flavoring agent laced with cyanide and prescription drugs Valium, Phenergan, and chloral hydrate, while the rest of the members, including 89 infants and elderly, were killed by forced ingestion of the poison. The actual brand of soft-drink flavoring was a mixture of both Kool-Aid and a competing brand, Flavor Aid.
On November 18, 1978, Jones ordered that the members of Representative Leo Ryan's party be killed after several defectors chose to leave the party. Residents of the commune later committed mass suicide by drinking a flavored beverage laced with potassium cyanide.
Despite its reputation as a mass suicide, the events of November 18, 1978, were a murder-suicide. Those unable to comply, such as infants, and those unwilling to comply, received involuntary injections ahead of the main group. One survivor reported: "That man (Jones) was killing us. It was just senseless waste." Roughly 918 people died.
Descriptions of the event often refer to the beverage not as Kool-Aid but as Flavor Aid, a less-expensive product reportedly found at the site. Kraft Foods, the maker of Kool-Aid, has stated the same. Implied by this accounting of events is that the reference to the Kool-Aid brand owes exclusively to its being better-known among Americans. Others are less categorical. Both brands are known to have been among the commune's supplies: Film footage shot inside the compound prior to the events of November shows Jones opening a large chest in which boxes of both Flavor Aid and Kool-Aid are visible. Criminal investigators testifying at the Jonestown inquest spoke of finding packets of "cool aid" (sic), and eyewitnesses to the incident are also recorded as speaking of "cool aid" or "Cool Aid." It is unclear whether they intended to refer to the actual Kool-Aid–brand drink or were using the name in a generic sense that might refer to any powdered flavored beverage.
It is most likely that both were used in the mass murder-suicide. Jim Jones had previously had many rehearsals for the event in which the drink contained no poison, which led to cult members believing the drink was harmless on the day that it did contain poison.
Drinking Kool-Aid laced with LSD was a ritual in the Acid Tests, a series of parties held by the author Ken Kesey in the mid-1960s. Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test takes its title from these events.
- Higgins, Chris (8 November 2012). "Stop Saying 'Drink the Kool-Aid'". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
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Along the muddy path that served as a sidewalk for much of the commune, other reminders of the life and death that were Jonestown lie half buried in the fertile soil. A pair of woman's eyeglasses, a towel, a pair of shorts, packets of unopened Flavor-Aid lie scattered about waiting for the final cleanup that may one day return Jonestown to the tidy, if overcrowded, little community it once was.
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- Nelson, Stanley (2006). Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (DVD). Hollywood, California: PBS Home Video.
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- The phrase ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ is completely offensive. We should stop saying it immediately is a Washington Post PostEverything blog by James D. Richardson.