#SpeakAmerican

Over the weekend, some guys played football and commercials aired during the breaks. It happens every year during a ritual called “The Superbowl”. I’m still learning about it, clearly.

One of the commercials aired was from the corporate giant, Coca-cola, which featured a few different people singing part of America the Beautiful in a few of the languages spoken in the country: Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Keres (Indigenous American language), and Senegalese-French.

This was reported as a wide public outrage by sources like NY Daily News, Huffington Post, E! Online, Business Insider, USA Today, LA Times, and a huge number of bloggers and opinion columnists. All of these sources predominantly cite Twitter and some fringe blogs as well as fake news channel, Fox News. In fact, it appears to me that most entries about the ad focus on the conservative outrage as opposed to voicing outrage directly at the ad. There definitely are those voicing outrage for largely incoherent reasons, one of the more predominant ones on Twitter being that the “American Anthem” should be sung in “American” or that hearing other languages was somehow disrespectful. Don’t you wish you could be more upset that a former President doesn’t seem to know what his own country’s National Anthem is?

The media hype has been to tout the commercial as offensive as opposed to a well-placed ad by a company that knows how to sell you stomach-rotting soda pop. There is an argument, although a profoundly weak and vaguely simplified racist argument that “Liberals” should be “outraged” because Coca-Cola is targeting at-risk minority ethnic groups in the US. I would say that no one should be “outraged” by the commercial because it has done exactly nothing new other than making a really cool multi-language audio track. We knew before that Coke was not good for you (but delicious) and that the company wants nothing more than to sell more of its product to you. Coke can afford to make any kind of ad they want – everyone on the planet knows who they are, their product can be bought almost anywhere, and I guess people seem to be fine with exorbitant amounts of sugar as long as it’s Coke-flavored.

There was also some murmur of outrage because some languages and cultures were left out of the commercial. This is also kind of weak because we all know that going through the 337-ish languages that are spoken in the US would take longer than a few minutes. Coke didn’t choose the most commonly used languages because they left out Chinese, Vietnamese, French, Russian, Italian, German, Korean, and Polish, to name a few. Instead, they chose a few that were very different from each other (from different language families), and spoken by people who belong to very different-looking communities.

Many people who watched the ad knew right away that they should expect to hear some outrage over the commercial. Perhaps it’s partially because the smallest, most radical fringe group in the country also has an over-sized megaphone with which they use to blast their toxic and often poorly supported arguments. Fox even set it up so that their readers/viewers could post their “thoughts” on the commercial, as though the commercial were something newsworthy or important. I had suspected for a few moments that this story might partially be so popular because people want to feel good about themselves as a sort of modern-day enlightened person who is fine with being in a room filled with people who look and sound different. Then, I thought back to my own experience from a previous job where a few Latina coworkers were sitting in a conference room during our lunch hour speaking in Spanish.

I was in the room with them, and though I do speak some Spanish, I wasn’t speaking with them. I could understand what they were talking about, but it wasn’t anything interesting. I think it was about a TV show that had aired the night before. Nothing scandalous. Then, another female coworker who had been in the office kitchen on the other side of the floor happened to walk by and heard a language she didn’t understand. She walked in and demanded that everyone speak in English because it was somehow rude to speak in a language not everyone could understand. What was weirder was that, instead of telling her to “go away and mind your own business”, they switched to English. Mind you, we were all on the same level as far as job goes. No one was a supervisor, everyone had at least a Bachelor’s degree, and we were all over the age of 12.

That event struck me as so completely bizarre that it just never left me. I also think to the times when I’ve stepped in to help a new cashier who was struggling with his or her English in the face of a customer who was being overly impatient on purpose. These aren’t daily occurrences, but it is something that is regular enough to happen that probably everyone has had a similar experience to what I just shared. It’s certainly something I’m frustrated by and I can imagine people who have to hear this more frequently are probably even more frustrated than I am. Perhaps, upon hearing the commercial and recognizing it as something that makes you, personally, feel good but will enrage the ever-loving crap out of some people who will interrupt a conversation between working adults to demand that they switch to a language she understands so that she knows you’re not talking about her infinitely boring life, the anger and frustration begins to build up right then and there. When people do start talking about how upset they were, that frustration boils over and out comes the flood of articles talking about people they easily outnumber.

While it is certainly frustrating to hear opinions that seek to minimize the role of certain groups of people in the country, Coca-Cola is not a hero for their ad. They still make a product that is not going to do you any favors, so celebrating them or rewarding their competitor, Pepsi-Cola with your meager business is not going to make any difference. I think people are getting carried away in their positive opinions about the ad and losing sight that it’s just an ad for soda trying to create buzz (which they accomplished with enormous success) so as to sell more soda. That ad wasn’t a charity, it didn’t benefit some social cause; it basically aired during a time when a lot of people would see it and offered imagery that would make a lot of people feel good. I can understand feeling at least a little grateful that someone would be willing to sell their product while giving a nod to your culture, but you don’t need to go overboard with that feeling.

I have my own reason for feeling at least somewhat grateful to the corporate giant; they are helping my husband and I to pay for his night classes. My husband received a Coca-Cola scholarship last semester and all the company requires is that he pass his courses and write a Thank-You letter. Granted, we were already consuming Coca-Cola’s products (sparingly), so the only thing they gained from that particular transaction was our gratitude. We don’t hate Pepsi-Cola anymore than we hate Coca-Cola; I used to prefer Pepsi when I was younger because it’s sweeter and now I tend to prefer Coke because it’s not as sweet. I don’t go out of my way to buy Coke products or to avoid Pepsi products, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I felt at least a twinge of gratitude when I see a Coke machine despite the fact that we still don’t know what high fructose corn syrup actually is.

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