Yesterday, as many dear Filthy Dreams readers must know, Pepsi released a dumpster fire in the form of a commercial, starring Kendall Jenner, which basically distilled everything about protest, the Black Lives Matter and even, the hope of intersectionality down into a milquetoast, feel-good cola shill. It was stunning in both its hilarity and its failure.
The barebones concept of the commercial is thus: Kendall, on a photo shoot, sees a flash mob…I mean, protest. Becoming mobilized by a friendly looking stranger, Kendall snatched her own wig, goes all natural, shoving her wig into the arms of her black assistant, who apparently, despite this all colors of the rainbow march, is still the help. Kendall cheers, claps and grins like a mental patient with the crowd until she reaches the wall of police who are strangely not in riot gear for these We Are The World gathering of queers (yes, I noted that genderqueer couple, Pepsi. Way to get on board), people of color, whiter than white people and Kendall. Rather than holding firm in the face of violent institutional power like the photograph of Ieshia Evans protesting the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, an iconic image which Pepsi poorly ripped off, Kendall thinks, “Gee…those officers look a little parched!” She marches up to them and…world peace! Kumbaya! She solved it! Praise her! The tagline is equally ridiculous: “Live Bolder, Live Louder, Live For Now!” Ok, Pepsi!
It goes without saying that this rattled some cages, namely, well, everyone with sense and an inkling of the dynamics of power as it distilled a protest about the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police into a meaningless romp. Was the second commercial going to be an ACT-UP march? Anyway, the Twitters were ablaze with responses–the best probably being Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. who tweeted:
So after all this outrage, Pepsi, doing what a certain unnamed art institution refuses to do, today came out with an apology and pulled the ad. Here is their statement:
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
Poor Kendall! But, while the apology was succinct, you can’t unring that bell, can you Pepsi. I mean, how many board meetings did these ad execs have without deciding this might be a really bad idea? Anyone who knows someone in the ad industry, or has watched more than an episode of Mad Men, knows that there are countless client meetings before the debut of an ad. And nobody said no? I mean, where was Peggy?!
But, on another level, though, the ad also seems to, inadvertently probably, speak a damning truth about the eventual overtaking of all forms of protest by capitalism. Like a bunch of termites, mega-corporations with their celebrity spokespeople will inevitably bastardize any and all radical movements for their benefit. And fast. Now, Pepsi certainly isn’t the first offender who has brought this to light on such a grand scale. I mean, can you say that cinematic dud Stonewall?
So what does this mean for the viability of protest’s radicality in the long run? Who knows. Pepsi may have hit on something crucial here about the complete inability of protest to avoid this kind of stunt. Or maybe, the PR nightmare that was the past 24-hours taught some copywriters a thing or two (probably not). But one thing’s true, the commercial illustrated the disarming ease in which protest can be coopted, particularly by the privileged, into an amorphous, issueless selfie opportunity.
However, I really did find the advertisement, and still do, an endlessly hysterical and rich viewing experience. Just how many missteps, bad ideas and goofs can one ad agency make in such a short video? A LOT apparently. So even though the story is basically over, in order to celebrate these failures–or successes depending on how you look at it, I broke down the Pepsi ad into a shot by shot rundown of my favorite moments:
0:01: I know when I play my cello. I do it on a helicopter pad. And…where is he? The hat says Bushwick, but the helicopter pad says…I’m not sure. This guy is intense. The next shots, which seem to have little to do with the rest of the harebrained narrative feature him all sweaty and electric. Is it this demonstration of prowess that convinces Kendall to become radicalized? Let’s find out.
0:08: I can’t think of a deeper protest sign than “Join the Conversation.” The only thing that’s missing is a hashtag.
0:10: I’m pretty sure that guy in the Ed Hardy knock-off is Joe Jonas. Hi, Mary!
0:23: Kendall’s post-racial paradise apparently doesn’t extend to everyone. Like, for example, Kendall’s hairdresser/assistant.
0:28: And WORK!
0:34: “Who the fuck is disrupting my shot?! Why will nobody give me the RESPECT I’m entitled to?!”
0:49: I know these ladies swig Pepsi products, but we, here at Filthy Dreams, know a mimosa drunk when we see one.
0:51: YEAAAH! WHOOOO!
0:56: You know who isn’t having any fun though? This Muslim photographer. She’s depicted here as an angry exotic other unlike those fun-loving white girls above. Why can’t she just chill…I mean, protest with everyone else? What’s your deal lady!
1:09: Look at all these white people. Also note the girl with the cult-length hair at the bottom. Does Charlie know you escaped?
1:13: I mean, why wouldn’t there be breakdancing at the Black Lives Matter-lite protest? People of color are supposed to constantly perform for that crowd of blond women over to the left. Hey, is that Dana Schutz over there?
1:27: Malcolm X?
1:28: Kendall’s clutching her purse.
1:34: It’s ok, Kendall. I’m non-threatening enough.
1:37: Some of you, faithful Filthy Dreams readers, may not know this, but this is the process of getting woke. It’s quite violent, actually, as you get sucked into a wind tunnel with your newfound natural hair color. And then pop! Your eyes open and you’re officially a card-carrying member of woke.
1:40: “Here, take this! I’ve got to fight for Black lives!”
1:44: And because Pepsi didn’t want to leave anyone out, especially any marginalized community currently getting national attention for their continued fight for equality, here’s a sweet genderqueer couple! We don’t need photos of the all-too-many black trans women murdered already this year in this protest. Peace signs are enough.
1:48: Our savior!
1:54: There are so many fist-bumps, fist-pumps, clapping and cheers through this protest. This is so much fun! Best protest ever! YOLO!
2:01: Uh oh…here she goes. Also, somewhere along the line, Kendall had a costume change. I don’t know what denim nightmare she’s wearing but I’m about ready to have a protest against that. I’m ready to “join the conversation.”
2:06:Notice how the police didn’t bother to move as she charged them with a deadly weapon, a Pepsi product. That’s because she’s just like a dove extending an olive branch or Jesus feeding the multitude. She’s our Mother Theresa! Hail Kendall full of grace!
2:17: Racism is OVER!
2:23: Does this guy not have the most punchable face you’ve ever seen? And what’s that look mean? Is he like I guess no chokeholds today, bros! Maybe tomorrow!
2:26: Oh, thank you, Kendall! What would we do without you!