How and Why Kendall Jenner and Pepsi WON
First, let me say that I watched the commercial. I, personally, was not offended. I also knew immediately that most socially engaged (read:liberal activists, particularly those who identify as persons of color) would be highly offended. Still, I held my tongue. I did not really want to step into the fire and defend Kendall Jenner who, I believe, is just as innocent as any other 20 something college student I have ever worked with who wanted desperately to impact equitable social change. Yet as guilty as every Pepsi, and 99% of other commercially successful brands who continue to promote out-dated and problematic narratives which trivialize or altogether ignore the experiences of those existing at the so-called margins of society.
No, this was not about defending Kendall nor skewering Pepsi. Though, I did have a brief moment of egomania where I drafted a letter to their PR office offering my services for diverse initiatives, training and outreach. It was halfway through this fictional letter that I realized, Pepsi did not need my help. Through outrage and uproar, I've seen the now defunct advert shared in nearly every group, across all my twitter timelines, on LinkedIn, in emails as well as meme'd and mocked on Tumblr and Instagram. Neither Pepsi nor Kendall could have bought that kind of publicity with an ACTUAL commercial. No, it proved to be much more provocative to be offensive. Are you surprised?
You shouldn't be, because we just watched the exact same phenomenon play out during our national Presidential election campaign. Facts and intent did not spread as far nor as furiously as offense and ridicule. It was like watching Billy Flynn "Razzle and Dazzle" feigning to be so done with problematic politics, after just one more interview, one more retweet, one more shared article, one more reblog. Are we so addicted to controversy and drama that we cannot see with every "share" we throw kerosene on the fire?
Then, I ask myself my own ethical obligation to perpetuating this toxic cycle of sadomasochism. I wonder if I am simply taking advantage of a captive audience, writing about the two most buzzed about topics today "Kendall Jenner" and "Pepsi" just capitalize and bring attention to myself, my site and my writing. Of course I am, should I house shame about seeing an opportunity and seizing an opportunity? Does it make it better or worse if I understand the detriment of the game and still play it? Then, I tell myself that if I were a journalist, responsible for objectivity and truth this would be problematic. However, as an artist my obligation is to my story. And truth is whatever we both agree on at the time. We can choose to believe in the beautiful lie: it was "oversight" or poor judgment of a multimillion-dollar food and beverage machine who can afford to hire, train, and evaluate people to produce culturally sensitive products, programs and propaganda. Or we can look to another story for understanding. One that keeps us up and startles us erect and alert, pumping ice cold water through our veins as it lets us know though we call ourselves the WOKE we are no better. We are no better because we played our parts just like Kendall.