Remember the old 1971 ad for Coca-Cola with the song “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”, proving that diverse peoples could be united by sharing a soft drink? Here it is:
That reminds me of the Google Doodle I wrote about the other day, promoting diversity but doing so in a way that irritated many of us. Sentiments about unity are easy to come by and easy to make, allowing you to flaunt your virtue (and indeed, such sentiments are virtuous and to be desired), but they overlook the very real problems of the difficult issues that divide us—things that often seem intractable. Further, simplistic solutions simply look dumb: you can’t unite the world by sharing Cokes or drawing cute Google Doodles. What does that accomplish?
But tell that to Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, both of whom got into trouble for creating a 2.5-minute video ad (below) that uses recent social unrest to sell Pepsi, suggesting that all such unrest can be quenched with a carbonated beverage. As Pepsi said on the video’s YouTube site:
A short film about the moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back. Capturing the spirit and actions of those people that jump in to every moment and featuring multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.
Starring Kendall Jenner and featuring music from Skip Marley.
Now, Kendall being a Kardashian, a family with more money than neurons, you’d pretty much expect something like this, though Pepsi bears most of the responsibility. And I suspect that the Kardashian philosophy is that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” since the fracas about the ad has simply has given the family more public notice. But Pepsi, embarrassed, has now withdrawn the ad (see below).
Watch for yourself. Kardashian, doing a modeling gig and then spying a crowd protesting some unspecified wrong (Pepsi, after all, can’t take sides), decides to become a social justice warrior, doffing her wig, wiping off her lipstick, and striding into the fray. There, judiciously offering a can of Pepsi to a thirsty cop, Jenner makes everything right—to the joyous approbation of all.
Note the hijab-wearing photographer and the Asian cellist, both also drinking Pepsi. Note as well the fist bump, with Kendall’s Pepsi-bearing fist knocking a black man’s. Full inclusiveness, true, but also cultural appropriation! Yet why is there a tub full of iced Pepsi in the middle of a demonstration?
Be sure to spot the upside-down peace symbol at 1:46.
Yes. the ad is dire and cringe-inducing, and it’s prompted backlash from many who saw it as a commercial appropriation of real political unrest such as that instantiated by the Black Lives Matter movement. For once, though, I find the protests far more defensible than the commercial itself, especially because they’re tinged with sarcastic humor. The one exception is the hectoring and humorless HuffPo piece by religion editor Car0l Kuruvilla (click on screenshot to go to article), whose virtue-signaling and hijabophilia I detest.
Out of all the things she could have written about the ad, she concentrates on the Muslim woman, with the ever-outraged Kuruvilla saying this:
Along with making light of protests against police shootings, the ad was also criticized for using images of a Muslim woman without amplifying the issues that have actually caused Muslim women to protest.
The ad failed to mention any of the issues that have troubled American Muslims over the past few months ― continuing religious-based discrimination and surveillance, President Donald Trump’s backdoor Muslim ban and his resounding silence about attacks on mosques, the bullying of Muslim kids, the rise in prominence of white supremacist groups, the fight for black lives. [JAC: Note to Kurivilla: it’s an ad, for crying out loud, not a piece of political analysis!]
But it used the image of a Muslim woman in a headscarf to sell soda to the masses.
Although Pepsi has removed the ad, this kind appropriation of a Muslim woman’s image is not new and not likely to go away soon.
What’s amusing here is that her article quotes with approval a statement from a Muslim woman:
In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Misha Euceph, a Muslim journalist who does not wear a headscarf, pointed out that the ad also represents Muslims women “through a single item of clothing.”
“I understand the desire to create a culture of inclusion, but the line between welcoming and tokenizing is very thin,” she wrote. “Today, the culture wars are being fought on the bodies of hijabis, as these women are the easiest Muslims to notice. They should be relieved of the burden of representing 1.7 billion diverse people.”
Yet, as I’ve documented repeatedly, HuffPo, which has posted article after article extolling hijabi fencers, ballerinas, news anchors, and so on, has made a living by equating Islam with women wearing hijabs.
But back to serious and humorous pushback. Perhaps the most powerful response on social media was the tweet by Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr,:
The Independent showed some other Twitter responses:
And remember the iconic picture on the left (below)?
After all this, the New York Times reports today (Thursday) that the ad has been withdrawn:
Pepsi on Wednesday pulled an ad after it was widely mocked and criticized for appearing to trivialize protests for social justice causes.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the company said. “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”
It said it was “removing the content and halting any further rollout.”
Who do they have as their advertisers? It seems to me that any rational person seeing the prospectus for the ad, or the video itself, would flag it immediately as soppy and stupid. The Times report continues:
. . .[Pepsi] initially described the spot as featuring “multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.” That description was also derided on social media.
The Purchase, New York, company had stood by the ad late Tuesday. By Wednesday, it was apologizing to Jenner for putting her “in this position.”
Critics say the image of Jenner handing the officer a Pepsi evoked a photo of Black Lives Matter protester Ieshia Evans approaching an officer at a demonstration in Baton Rouge last year. Others criticized the protesters’ signs for being comically innocuous, with messages like “Join the Conversation” and heart and peace signs. The website Gothamist expressed a common sentiment online in calling the ad “gloriously tone-deaf.”
I think Jenner is old enough to realize what position she was “put in,” but of course the Kardashians are gloriously tone-deaf about society and politics.
While Israel and Palestine battle it out, Assad drops chemical weapons on his own people, and North Korea fires yet another missile, the last thing we need is what one reader described as “mindless, relentless, hortatory pablum.”