Kendall Jenner, Pepsi & the (Unwitting) Mocking of a Movement

It’s unfortunate when people don’t just “don’t get” serious social issues. It’s even more so when individuals don’t quite grasp them but truly believe in their heart of hearts that they do.

It would seem that such is the issue with the controversial ad by Pepsi which stars Kendall Jenner. In it, Jenner is in the middle of a photo shoot when a protest of sorts occurs. Ms. Jenner then gets the bright idea to approach an angry-looking police officer and hand him a Pepsi. The officer cracks a smile and voila! the problem is solved and Pepsi saves the day.

Um, wrong.

To be fair, when applied correctly, art can imitate life to a very healing effect. But in this case, it just simply seemed to minimize a very ugly, demeaning and polarizing aspect of our nation’s social identity. The commercial, because of it’s closely aligned imagery, seemed to present an alternative reality to photos of Ieshia Evans, a young, African-American female protester taken into custody by police officers while protesting in Baton Rouge in the wake of the murder of Alton Sterling at the hands of police.

Many will say, “jeez, it’s just a commercial.” But we beg to differ. Because of its setting, it’s plot and overall tone, the commercial was an intentional (mis)appropriation of historical and ghastly social occurrences experienced by African-Americans: Unchecked police brutality.

Now, do we contend here that Pepsi and Kendall Jenner sought to intentionally minimize the Black experience in America? No, we absolutely do not. And that’s precisely the point. There is consistently a certain level of “tone deafness” when it comes to these sorts of social issues. Where African-Americans, because of the rash of murders of our own by the police, see a grotesque minimization of our experience, many Americans not touched by such tragedies, just don’t don’t see what all the fuss is about. But I daresay if ever there occurred a rash of murders of their young and unarmed men by police, there would be no shortage of empathy.

And it’s quite apparent, Ms. Jenner, being the young ingenue that she is, is the victim of bad advice and direction. Imagine Kendall, her mother and a host of both their and Pepsi advisers sitting inside a well-appointed conference room around a big shiny desk. The Pepsi people give the pitch for the commercial, probably even show a fancy mock up of it. Once the presentation is over, Kendall huddles with her team and asks them what they think, the team, with all those Pepsi dollar signs dancing in their eyes, unanimously bob their perfectly coiffed heads in approval. Not that Kendall is unintelligent and unable to make her won decisions but on this one, it’s quite apparent that everyone was suffering from a severe case of tone-deafness.

So the debacle that was this ad is merely a case study for a prevailing and most unfortunate mindset in our country: The disease of racism, and particular police brutality, is something to be glossed over and the victims of it are to be patted on the head and expected to accept inanities and condescension for solutions.

Again, we assign no ill or malicious intent to Pepsi or Ms. Jenner for the ad and Pepsi did well to take it down. Now … if we could just get those wunderkinds in corporate America to come up with a real solution for social injustice.

Think Passionately. Disrupt Strategically.
-A. Lawrence Haskins

United States Congress: (202) 225-3121

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