In a recent instance of life imitating art, I found myself in Harrison, New Jersey’s Red Bull stadium, sitting in on a Red Bull street team brand-education meeting* at the same time that I was reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
Unless you live in a Mennonite colony or the wilds of Montana, odds are you spend most of your days in a manner not dissimilar to reading White Noise, that is, attempting to make sense out of a disjointed and seemingly contradictory onslaught of semiotic chaos. Accordingly, on a normal day I might not have thought it noteworthy that nearly every object in the room I inhabited, including humans, was emblazoned with a pair of flying bulls. But this day was different. It was the day I was introduced to what I believe to be the branding coup of all eternity and definitive proof that nothing means anything anymore: Red Bull’s newest brand, Red Bull Total Zero. Total Zero. Think about it. Total Zero.
A word or phrase, when repeated ad infinitum, tends to lose meaning. “Total Zero,” when repeated, only grows stronger. At first it seems neither the nadir of meaning nor the zenith of meaninglessness, but rather a term which obviates everything we thought we ever knew. Gradually, it grows to encompass everything, everything and nothing, the totality of all that is and isn’t. It is a black hole that devours meaning and excretes semantic dark matter.
I believe a healthy amount of chaos serves to keep us on our toes. Sadly, the rest of Total Zero’s branding fails to deliver anything more nihilistic than the general idea of selling caffeinated sugar-water to would-be athletes, which is at this point, de rigueur. The Total Zero campaign, while suitably bold, fails to promise anything, metaphysically speaking, beyond its claim to “vitalize” its consumers.
For this reason, in addition to having tried a can myself (it was semi-pleasurable and I am still, to the best of my knowledge, in the same dimension), I fear Red Bull Total Zero is not the antichrist come in the form of acesulfame K. Rather, it is just the next in a long line of products that promises not to deliver what has formerly been its defining characteristic. Diet soda has, for years, been like the sound of one hand clapping. It was my hope that “Total Zero” could take one crucial, qualitative step farther — it would be the beautiful music of zero hands clapping.
Alas, it’s not. The only true essay you could write about a real Total Zero would have to written in webdings, emojis, and pornographic .gifs. It would be (∞π) in a length only measurable by in a unit defined in relation to itself. It would also set your computer on fire.
*Red Bull was kind enough to invite me to tour their brewing operations. There is video available of the results.