I thought my level of uncomfortability over fake empowerment reached its height with Taylor Swift’s depiction of girl power in THAT Bad Blood music video. It turns out, Kendall Jenner can make something worse.
If you have yet to see the new Pepsi ad, encouraging people to ‘live for now moments’ is cringe inducing as one would expect from a soda company (it’s basically sugar and doesn’t taste all that, so they’ve got to make it shiny and new each time to attract our attention). But it’s problematic, for a number of reasons.
In the advert, Kendall Jenner is taking part in a photoshoot wearing a blonde wig and generally looking gorgeous and looking like a model she arguably is. She notices a protest outside but hangs back, posing some more. Then an attractive male cellist player comes along and they make eyes at each other. This is A Moment. He nods encouraging toward the protest. Suddenly, Jenner realises she too can be a part of this protest now. With the approval and encouragement of a boy, she rips off her blonde wig and smears her lipstick, yet her brown locks are still perfectly undone and the lipstick wipes off flawlessly. The blonde wig? Why it’s thrown into a black woman’s arms as Kendall struts off to take part of The Cause. Yet this cause looks oddly similar to many Black Lives Matter protests, just more bubble gum and cutesy. So like, why is Kendall going and not the unnamed black woman?
Oh and the sign’s all have the same tagline of ‘Join The Conversation’. On blue background signs. Because you can LOOK like you’re doing something hastag iconic, but don’t actually go out on a limb and make a stand over a political issue. That’s taking it too far. Stay #onbrand with marketing colours and keep your likability (read; markets) like both Pepsi and Kendall Jenner have done.
When Kendall waltzes through the crowd in impeccably double denim (also blue, hey Pepsi) it is a simple nod at the attractive cellist and she continues to surge to the front. People notice. They sense that Something Is Happening. Kendall breaks away from the crowd. She confidently and oh so bravely walks towards the line of police officers. A POC woman is looking on in awe, because when really making a difference, it’s only wealthy white women who can do it? Wearing her hijab, she eagerly lines her camera out to take a photo of this Iconic Moment. The cop takes a sip from the can and people cheer enthusiastically. This is it! Peace has been created!
And the moral of the ad? We should all be like Kendall Jenner; white, privileged, wealthy, slim, successful, young and most importantly, brave enough to take a stand. To be an ally to the movement. But wait.
Here’s why this ad is problematic; (if you haven’t picked up on my sarcasm yet, you’re in for a ride).
Firstly, Kendall Jenner is white. Yet she is the one that ‘saves’ the protest as she coolly and peacefully hands a cop a can of Pepsi. Forget peace talks! Share a Pepsi! Donald Trump worrying you because you feel like your very existence will be erased? Don’t sweat it, someone might give him a Pepsi! Brexit talks getting tense? They’ll pass round a six pack of Pepsi!
So to make a change, be white.
Secondly, why be an ally, when you could take over and end a protest conflict-free? As this tweet shows in a rose-tinted-window-smashing way, once you see that you can’t unsee it. Not only does Jenner end the protest, but she also manages to make it all about her. All POC should bow to her, for she is The Saviour. This is not how to be an ally and help POC – it’s undermining their fight by morphing it into a white issue, when it really isn’t a white issue.
Thirdly, the fact that the cop only then nods to his friends as if to say ‘hey, these protesters might be just like us!’ Because an attractive, commercialised white woman has handed them a soda, so like, why not think human beings might be the same? What a startling new discovery! Dare we say… Pepsi and Kendall Jenner… just ended racism in one single swoop?
It’s around here I’m meant to say ‘when will your fav EVER’ am I right?
By commercialising protests this ad, both Pepsi and Kendall Jenner are doing a disservice to all forms of demonstration. Through commercialisation, it loses its very nature of seriousness. The essence of consumerisation is something that takes away the human part of something else. The idea of protest is brought down to a mind-numbingly playful level. The idea of ‘why take part of a protest, when you can buy a can of Pepsi?’ is placed in the minds of the audience. The core fact that this is a reality for millions of people, protesting the right to live their lives they way they should be able to, without fear or intimidation.
Kendall Jenner fake-solving an issue with a can of soda is insulting, demeaning and frankly, far too fucking easy. It makes people think ‘why cause all this fuss?’ if things are so easy to solve. But spoiler; they are not easy to solve. At all. There are years of oppression to work through and understand, to be able to right across the board the state of equal rights. You cannot cutely solve racism. And you cannot make it into a mockery through a feel-good advert.
And you really can’t do it through a white owned soda company.
And as cringe-inducing as this ad is, it was also released at possibly the worst time ever - the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death. And all I can really think is - are you kidding me?
If Pepsi did indeed wish to make an advert to show their solidarity and support in a frightening political time, why pick a white wealthy model? Why not have someone who actually uses their platform to speak up on social issues. Because really...
When has Kendall Jenner ever spoke up about social issues?
Encouraging people to 'go vote' and leaving to speak up about supporting Hillary Clinton until the final days of the election, really isn't cutting it. Especially when you have a platform as big as Jenner does.
Let's not praise someone for doing the very least thing possible, call it groundbreaking and make everyone feel good about an ad that does nothing but sell sugar in a can. Let's not let this pass over, because there's a level of responsibility when you have a platform and do the whole 'show not tell' on important social and political issues. You don't get praised for noticing.
People shouldn't be thankful you got a pay-check mimicking their fight for basic human rights.