If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, I assume most of you have heard about Kendall Jenner’s new Pepsi ad, the one in which she hops onto a generic, non-specific protest and all of her new protester friends, who are sporting big smiles and clearly having a really fun time, hold up soft blue signs that say vague things like “peace,” “love,” and “join the conversation.”
And I also assume that you have heard about the ending in which Jenner confidently walks up to the surprisingly calm and dormant police officers and hands one of them a Pepsi, which said officer proceeds to drink, prompting everyone in the protest to wildly celebrate because they just solved a systemic issue through the power of PepsiCo Inc!
Immediately after airing, people took to Twitter to mock Pepsi. Understandably, Pepsi pulled the ad by the end of yesterday and after issuing a half-baked justification, they backpedaled and gave the most robotic “apology” in recent memory. This, of course, is the dictionary definition of way too little, absolutely late, and while many people are befuddled that Pepsi could be so tone-deaf, this is really nothing new. Companies have been attempting cheap, reduced, unearned, cynical cash grabs to capitalize on oppression since advertising has existed.
Aside from the obvious issues with this commercial, including but not limited to: the clean and friendly sterilization of protests in general, the images appropriating Leshia Evans’ iconic stand against police during the Baton Rouge Black Lives Matter protests; and the perpetuation of the offensive notion that being “friendly” towards oppressors is the only true way to gain equal right — this commercial is indicative of a terrifying trend in Neo-Liberal commodification.
We are at a time when social issues are being discussed on a national level that has not been seen since the 60’s and 70’s, and it follows suit that companies are going to cash in on this. The problem with that is that it is reductive in a way that inherently implies that social change is a trend, a new hip thing that the kids are really into these days.
It is a shallow parody of human rights struggles that are ingrained in issues that have taken, and continue to take, lives. The idea that any sort of capitalistic multinational company should be the face of social justice is not just cringey or uninformed, it is backwards and cruel.
This ad is like a nightmare straight out of a dystopian future. It’s the “white guy in a detective dog costume raps about drugs being bad” of 2017. It is cultural genocide, a systemic belittling of the protests that have drawn attention to the very police brutality that is co-opted and mocked in this commercial. I am not the person to say what the revolution of social justice should be or look like, but let me be clear: The revolution will not be commodified and sold at your local gas station. And it certainly won’t be led by one of the largest multi-national food, snack, and beverage companies in the world.