For centuries, we’ve had “To be, or not to be?” and “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” — two vexing, monumental riddles that not only address their subject matter but also question all of existence as well. Now, we can add another entry into the pantheon of great queries: “Is the Kool-Aid Man the pitcher, or the liquid?”
The question was made famous by a cartoonist named Danny Santoro, who goes by the handle @pizzastrike. “I don’t think I’m the first one to ever think of it and I can’t quite remember where I got the idea from, but it’s one of those things that’s so general that I’m sure others have thought of it too,” he says. Regardless of where it started, Santoro explains that the question went viral in early 2020 thanks to his artwork. Before long, the trend evolved into a debate between millions of people online. Some were “Team Liquid,” some were “Team Pitcher,” but countless more wanted to have it both ways, with arguments like, “Are you your blood or your skin?” or “Are you your body or your soul?”
Even Kool-Aid’s official Twitter account eventually chimed in, also trying to have it both ways:
But to make the argument that the Kool-Aid Man is both the jug and the liquid is to ignore the purpose of the quandary. Both the chicken and the egg can’t be first — you’ve got to pick one. Same goes for the Kool-Aid Man, the very point of the question is to make a choice. After all, the Kool-Aid Man is clearly two distinct entities: There’s the pitcher, and there’s the juice. There are even commercials where Kool-Aid spills out of the pitcher, which clearly shows that the two parts can be separated without injury to the Kool-Aid Man.
Now, the very fact that he can pour out the Kool-Aid from his head is a huge argument for Team Pitcher. After all, if he’s the liquid, then he’s pouring out his blood and/or soul to those wanting to drink Kool-Aid from his spout, which is flat out horrifying. One Twitter user put this perfectly:
However, Team Liquid always brings it back to the fact that Kool-Aid Man’s name says that he is Kool-Aid, and that without the liquid he cannot be the Kool-Aid Man.
In truth, there are lots of good arguments on both sides, but, broadly speaking, the quandaries around this tend to fall into two major categories: the biological, with the jug being the skin or an exoskeleton and the liquid being his blood; or the theological, with the jug being his body and the liquid his soul. Given that, it makes sense to ask an expert in each area, just to see what they have to say.
To get a scientific perspective, I turn to evolutionary biologist and Forbes science contributor JV Chamary, who says, “At first, it makes sense that he’s a liquid because he’s the Kool-Aid Man, so he’d be a man made out of Kool-Aid. But if you consider that he’s a man, it starts to get a bit gross. With the idea that the jug is his skin and the liquid is his flesh and blood, consider if you went to some sort of unethical taxidermist and you wanted to have the Kool-Aid Man stuffed. You wouldn’t point to just that jug and say that you’d like that stuffed. So, since it’s not the jug, that means that then the liquid would be the Kool-Aid Man. Sure, it’s a red, skinless form that’s vulnerable to infection and will die soon, but that liquid would be the Kool-Aid Man.”
But Chamary offers an argument for the pro-jug crowd as well, adding, “When the Kool-Aid Man is running, you get droplets that come out of him. This raises the question of, ‘What are those drops?’ Because if he’s the liquid, then he’s losing parts of his body, which is disturbing.” From both of his scenarios, Chamary says that he is more convinced by his argument toward the liquid, and that if he has to pick a side, he’s Team Liquid. Still, he says that his favorite explanation is that the liquid and the jar are symbiotes, with each requiring the other to survive.
On the theological side of this discussion, I offer Reverend Jonathan Toborowsky, the pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Annandale, New Jersey. He reasons, “The Kool-Aid man is both pitcher and liquid, just as we are both body and soul. What we do with one affects the other.” If he had to choose, though, he says that he’d go with the liquid — or the Kool-Aid Man’s soul.
To add another important stakeholder to the discussion, I enlist voice actor Brock Powell, who began providing the voice for the Kool-Aid Man in 2016. Surprisingly, he says that the Kool-Aid Man is neither the pitcher nor the liquid. “To Kool-Aid Man-splain, Kool-Aid is technically a powder. So is he sentient before he’s poured in? I don’t know,” says Powell. “If forced to choose, though, I’d say he’s the liquid. He’s a symbiote and he requires the jug to survive, but if that jug breaks, he can move on to a new host.”
So science, religion and the voice of the Kool-Aid Man are all on team liquid for varying reasons, but simply having stakeholders cast votes one way or another doesn’t make this definitive. That may work for deciding if pineapple is a valid pizza topping, but this question is bigger and can really only be answered by the Kool-Aid brand itself in an official capacity. It has to be declared, without wiggle room and with the answer being canon, and thus, settled for all time.
In preparation for this piece, I turned to my colleagues at MEL — who, in an internal poll, were 62 percent Team Pitcher and 38 percent Team Liquid — and with their assistance, we got the Kool-Aid debate going again in an effort to hit critical mass, thus forcing the Kool-Aid brand to respond. After a day of this, the Kool-Aid account finally responded, but only with an “Oh Yeah” to someone else’s philosophical pondering.
Still, I was undeterred, and tried to back Kool-Aid into a corner, playing their “Oh Yeah” game against them.
Unfortunately I didn’t count on them flat out ignoring what I thought was a fairly ingenious tweet, but they did, and the discussion soon died down. Once again, Kool-Aid escaped giving an official answer to this very important question.
But, do not fret my friends — we haven’t come all this way together for me to leave you hanging. Indeed, some questions in life cannot be answered — like, for example, what a roadrunner tastes like — but there is an official, indisputable answer to the jar or liquid debate, and it was provided by the same folks who are presently dodging the inquiry.
See, back in 2013, it seems that the Kool-Aid brand was a bit more open with the Kool-Aid Man’s true nature. In a 30-second commercial called “The Jug Life,” the Kool-Aid Man can be seen filling up his jug with water during a morning shower. He then exits the shower as a clear jug filled with water and goes to a closet to pick out which type of powder he’s going to pour in today. During all of this, the Kool-Aid Man narrates, saying, “I put my pants on one leg at a time, except, my pants are 22 different flavors. I’ve got grape pants, I’ve got watermelon pants — and I wear them in my head.”
The Kool-Aid Man describes the Kool-Aid as his pants — not his blood or his guts or his immortal soul. He states clearly, in a nationally-run TV commercial, that the Kool-Aid powder is nothing more than mere pants, and, no matter how much someone may love their pants, they are still themselves when they don’t have them on. Case closed — settled, forever. The Kool-Aid Man is merely a jug — a sentient jug whose morning routine is filling himself with water and then pouring some Kool-Aid powder into his head, so he can then crash through walls and provide sugary goodness to the neighborhood kids. He’s a jug, and nothing more.
“But, his name is ‘Kool-Aid Man,’ so how can he still be the Kool-Aid Man before he adds the Kool-Aid in?” I can still clearly hear from the Team Liquid die-hards. And, to that futile protest, I once again return to Shakespeare. To paraphrase “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” I say that the Kool-Aid Man, no matter what he puts in his jug (or what pants he wears that day), is still, and always will be, the Kool-Aid Man.
“Oh yeah,” sayeth the Bard.