In my last blog, I discussed the Coke commercial in the Super Bowl. I received a lot of feedback from colleagues and friends, especially my friends Dr. Justin Tse and Dr. Jonathan Tan, as well as his acquaintance Dr. Anne Joh. My friend and author Audrey Lee who is publishing a book with Simon and Schuster also chimed in. Their input has been helpful. A lot of this blog has been inspired by our discussion. I want to take apart the positive of that commercial and look at it from a negative angle.
The commercial basically shows how “beautiful” America really is by using different languages to praise America. Probably, its intent is to create this myth of the melting pot of equality that is America. While America is beautiful and this myth is perhaps worth pursuing until it become reality, there’s something much more subtle and insidious at work here.
Coke’s utopia can only become reality if you’re an American. Even then, per my last blog, it’s only a very distorted reality. Now, what about those ethnic groups represented in the commercial when they aren’t Americans? I think the commercial does not speak to that ugly reality.
According to some studies, Coke and some of its global production chain subcontractors do not always adhere to basic human rights. In the mid-2000s, Coke even financially tied itself to death squads in Colombia to bust any attempt to form worker’s union to ensure minimal labor rights. What about India where Coke extracted so much ground water that it made living condition dangerous for the locals? What about the sweat shop factories in China where underaged workers worked under dangerous condition? So, it seems that all these people who work under the umbrella of Coke are happy in the commercial. They praise America because America provides jobs for them. Without America, they’d be much worse off. In that way, even if they have to work in subpar conditions with dire wages, they still praise America. In fact, they want to come to America to pursue the American dream, but they can’t because they aren’t citizens. There’s the catch, isn’t it? Coke’s commercial actually shows not inclusivity but exclusivity.
Many who watch the commercial are saying that Coke is just trying to sell more soft drinks. I doubt it. Coke already has brand loyalty all over the globe. Those who drink Coke (instead of drinking Pepsi or drinking nothing) will always be the same group. The effect of this commercial is not to create a bigger market share. Rather, this commercial beautifies Coke’s image as a corporation that creates economic dependency. The Coke commercial is a spin from its gigantic PR machine to coerce other countries into believing that Coke is good business. This is the same company that teaches the world to sing in perfect harmony … of oppression! Since their subcontracting production chains play by a different set of rules, Coke can gain its global competitiveness by also setting its factories overseas. Before Coke can set up the factory, it must beautify its image.
How does this impact the way we look at faith? A lot! The Coke commercial is really a metaphor for the modern Christian faith, especially the fancy consumer-based and market-driven faith. In painting an inclusive picture, Coke is actually using the image in an exclusive way against the very people who sing the praises of America. The commercial is the front for all the dirty secrets in the back. In other words, when appearance of inclusiveness does not automatically result in justice or real inclusiveness. Before we claim to be inclusive on our pulpit or ministry statements, the real questions the church needs to ask are these. When we use the PR machine to show our inclusiveness, how do we actually exclude people? By our claim of “inclusiveness,” what conditions do we set? In hiding our exclusiveness and even prejudices, are we in essence also create a kind of religious exceptionism (and hypocrisy)? Thus, every usage of “inclusive” needs to be reexamined because many such usages have exceptions.
Perhaps, when we claim to be “inclusive” is our most dangerous (and possibly most hypocritical) moment.