Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Coca-Cola quagmire: Wanted and coerced "colonialism"

Unfortunately, I cannot locate the source of the image above. It was one of those forwarded images in the early 00s way before "sharing". A "haha" moment, "funny" in the context it is intended and definitely with racial and derogatory undertones. But here it is, an African tribesman is wearing a tie as a sign of distinction and high position within his society. It is a mark of prestige, even if as an ornament it has little or no purpose. Then again to quote a Dutch friend who wore towels around his neck all day - "yeah, try wiping your sweat with a tie and then tell me about my towel".
If I am writing this today it is following the "offensive" Coca-Cola Mexico advertisement which is has now been withdrawn. The video tells the story of fair skinned youth who are out to build a Christmas tree in the town square of  what is an indigenous village., handing out bottles of the drink in the process.
The article continues: “This type of publicity is an act of discrimination and racism,” Elvira Pablo, an indigenous lawyer, said at a press conference in Mexico City on Wednesday. “It is a comment on our type of life and an attempt to put a culture of consumerism in its place.”
Up till now, the argument is correct. Coca-Cola is trying to bring in their deeply entrenched narrative of Christmas to new zones, but it is a replica of Mark Twain's "To the person sitting in darkness" quote: Is it, perhaps, possible that there are two kinds of Civilization--one for home consumption and one for the heathen market?
Except that the lines between "home consumption" and "heathen market" get blurred. Sarah Palin drinking "Big Gulp" to mock/defy/make fun of Michael Blomberg the mayor of New York city who tried to limit the availability of large soda drinks as a measure to combat obesity.
After all, McMansions, two-car garages, Suburban houses with an extra room and extra fuel for commuting to the city, conspicuous consumption, Black Friday (cyber Monday!), Halloween costumes, donuts, free refills, and all such items, habits, social norms are a bedrock of the "American way of life" which obviously no longer works and is causing serious health epidemics.
Do note that, what is perceived as prestigious also goes both ways culturally, while trying to imitate French wine, Nappa producers in the US ended up beating the original, the champagne battle between the two countries was also legally won by the US.
The source article I am quoting for the Coca-Cola crisis also states:
"To counteract Coca-Cola’s message, the Alliance for Food Health created its own video, including Mixe people speaking about the soda industry’s influence on their community.
“Fifty years ago, cases of diabetes type 2 in our indigenous communities were rare,” says one person, speaking in the Mixe language. “Now they begin to be an epidemic. In order to remain united, we must preserve our dignity, our health, and our culture. In Oaxaca, we drink tejare, tea and clean water.”
This is like saying that the Druze religious adherents only drink Mate, or that Greeks exclusively sip Ouzo, or that the Japanese only have sake. If this seems like cultural appropriation or even stereotyping, it is because I am intending it to be so: "In Oxaca, we drink tejare, tea and clean water". No one drinks coffee? No one drinks Nescafe? Yes, a specific brand of coffee? No one drinks sweet drinks such as - gasp - Coca-Cola?
The American way of life, is often seen as a measuring rod for "success" is replicated, exported, bastardized, throughout the globe. I once read a sentence that went "what America has for breakfast, the world has for lunch". And it is true, just look at the Halloween/Saint Barbara mash in Lebanon.
Actually, Christmas date itself is a mish mash of Pagan/Christian fluxus with theories suggesting it was intended to replace the Saturnalia Roman festivities.
However, in today's world, "making it" is not about the Edsel any longer (a hint to the slogan "they'll know you arrived when you drive an Edsel") even for the United States, or at least some fragments of it. It now includes other more socially and attentive norms (once more, this is not a total generalization of the US, just tendencies going here and there in its society). But this leaves other nations, stuck in a different mindset: a form of wanted "colonialism".
To feel/know/be looked at as if they "arrived" they still need the equivalent of an "Edsel". Something big, flashy, showy, obvious, which translates into viewer's eyes immediately as "success", or money or wealth.
A bottle of Coca-Cola perhaps?