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Pepsi’s latest incongruous advert has left nothing but a sour taste. For those of you who have, by some miracle, managed to miss an opportunity to view Pepsi’s pulled advert– it features a relatively simple storyline with a distasteful, ignorant message in attempts to re-frame the narrative of American political protests for fizzy pop sales. In the ad, Kendall Jenner crashes a protest, which is clearly meant to represent the Black Lives Matter movement, and offers a Police Officer a can of Pepsi. Following this, the protestors all applaud and burst into celebration and the previously stern-Police-Officer smiles. ‘Problem solved.’
The moment Jenner hands over the Pepsi is undoubtedly mirroring this image of Ieshia Evans standing up to Police in riot gear in a BLM protest nearly a year ago. This advert unashamedly steals from a Movement which actively fights racial discrimination, to capitalise on some false notion of ‘global unity’.
Unfortunately, the capitalist, Americanised, consumer-driven society is still obsessed with constructing and enforcing standards of white, cis-gendered heteronormativity. Of course, a beautiful, slim, white supermodel – not exactly the epitome of ‘oppressed’ – and a can of fizzy are the heroes of the day. Racism? Solved.
It comes as no surprise that the Pepsi ad was designed by an all-white team, just another example of the media telling only white versions of reality. The Pepsi advert surmises this by ‘accidentally’ making light of the movements which stand against disrespect, under-representation, institutionalised racism and, in some cases, utter dehumanisation of people based on their race and / or other aspects of their identity. Even Pepsi’s public “clearly we missed the mark” is but a shallow, tone-deaf apology for their insensitivity.
The ad was criticised because the implication that Jenner or Pepsi could so easily solve racially-motivated police brutality, even for a moment, is obnoxious, offensive and the exact naïve white-privileged-ignorance that defines today’s Western zeitgeist. The advertisement may have been pulled, but the message can’t be. Not only does the creation of this advert trivialise and mock the BLM movement (among others) to sell a fizzy drink, but it depicts protests for equality as a sort of #trendy Disney-Channel pastime, underplaying the need for them at all.
Similar to the notion that #feminist is a fashion statement – rather than a political one – Jenner’s complete lack of apology or comment on the matter is the total embodiment of white performative feminism. It can only be speculated that she is too upset, or more probably embarrassed, to speak out. Her naïvety to the fact that using her platform to even acknowledge that the advert is embarrassing, hurtful or completely offensive to millions may be a slightly more important use of time than worrying about her image, leaves her appearing a very fake ally to whatever it is she felt she was standing for with Pepsi in the first place. This just demonstrates the ‘privilege mentality’ where the belief in equality-for-all is just a personality accessory dressed up as a lifestyle choice, similar to eliminating refined sugar from your diet. Or fizzy drinks… ironic, right?
Jenner’s silence speaks volumes. At this rate, all the model stands for is a performative allyship; false feminism; hijacking of minority voices and a lack of understanding of the depth of issues this advert has emphasised. This supposed ignorance is exactly why it is necessary to speak out against oppression of any form, and encourage others to understand that just because something isn’t a problem for you, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem at all.
The fact that the Pepsi advert ever made it to a launch day, along with the fact that Kendall Jenner has remained silent since it was pulled, are almost too terrible to be true and leave but more confirmation of the need for poststructuralist, intersectional feminist action and discussion in America and around the world. Pepsi and Kendall are not the problems. They are symptoms of the larger issues so ingrained in the fabric of society. They are the privileged overstepping the mark; thinking they’re doing the right thing and getting it very wrong; being cruel when they want to be kind. This is learned ignorance. This is privilege.
The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the Women’s Marches, this year are examples of politically active people already standing united for change all over the world, minus fizzy-pop and fashion icons. So, in case you haven’t already gotten the gist: a fizzy drink isn’t good for solving anything other than a sugar craving. Standing for equality is standing for equality across race, gender, sexualities, religion and all aspects of an individual’s identity regardless of whether it matches your own. It’s about recognising that some face far more discrimination than others. Part of that is acknowledging when societies normative standards award you a higher level of ‘respect’ than they do for someone else – and challenging that. And apologising when you’re ignorant or get it wrong, *cough* Jenner.
Equal treatment, opportunities and representation for all? Now, that would be refreshing.
If you want to read a sarcastic & funny breakdown of the ad in pictures, read All 23 things wrong with Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner advert
This article collected some of the best twitter responses to the Pepsi ad