The Ugly Truth Heineken’s New Ad Reveals About Us
The trending topic on the internet over the past few days has been Heineken’s most recent commercial. The 4 and a half minute video titled “World’s Apart” is being hailed across the internet as brand activism done right. Fast Company’s headline said “Heineken just put out the antidote the to the Pepsi ad”. CNN Money exclaimed ‘Heineken just schooled Pepsi on ads that tackle social issues”
I’ll admit, upon first viewing, it tugged on my hearts strings. I concluded watching the video feeling satisfied. The kind of satisfied like I had just watched a really good game of basketball. Like I had been served and provided something that made me feel good. I’ve been engaged in advocacy and social justice long enough to know that such a feeling is never a good sign.
Then I realized what was awfully wrong with the piece. Let me explain.
The entire premise of this commercial functions off a model that assumes that if two parties that are positioned on opposite ends of an ideological/social spectrum attempted to build common ground first, and got to know each other, that they’d eventually get along, coexist and maybe even affirm each other. The commercial presents 3 pairs of people — a far right, anti-feminist white man and a politically left, feminist black woman, a climate change denier and a climate change advocate, and a man opposed to transgender issues and a transgender woman. If we’re to analyze these categories, we expose a reality that often goes unnoticed in much of the conversations around social issues. One party is actively opposed to the burdens, needs and humanity of the other while the other party is simply fighting for their burdens, needs and humanity to be recognized. (The climate change category doesn’t quite fit here as climate change is an external reality that affects all of us so we’ll just ignore it for the rest of this piece). You can insert many of the categories of people at the center of the socio-political flash points of our time and they follow the same pattern. Oppressed groups — people of color, refugees , the LGBTQ community, immigrants, muslims are all actively pitted against a more powerful majority whose views and positions currently hold sway. The truth is we’re not bringing opposite ends of a spectrum together, as this would require some level of equal footing, equal stakes to be at play here. In reality, we’re actually inviting the abuser and the abused into the same room, and somehow asking the abused to make a case to the abuser and vice versa. The oppressed are not responsible for explaining their oppression to the oppressor. This a fool’s errand and an inhumane expectation to have.
The Oppressed are not responsible for explaining their oppression to the oppressor. This a fool’s errand and an inhumane expectation to have.
Even if this weren’t already a problematic premise, here’s the bigger problem — most oppressed groups exist as a minority. Minority in numbers, and most definitely in power. It’s usually why they are oppressed. That means there’s never enough members of an oppressed group to grab beers with all the people opposed to their humanity and flourishing. If this weren’t a stark enough reality, there is also a presumption of unassailable strength on the part of the oppressed in order to get the job done. Oppressed groups are expected to spend most of their waking hours trying to change people’s minds, explain why their experiences and needs are valid, and prove that they too deserve the freedoms and rights afforded others. Oppression has a way of keeping the oppressed busy trying to be seen as human, while the oppressor is busy flourishing, making money, grabbing more land, writing legislation and gentrifying communities.
The commercial is titled “World’s Apart”. With this new lens, this title takes on an ominous meaning. Because the categories presented are indeed world’s apart but only because there is a vast amount of people in between, who are silent, unbothered and disengaged. The most powerful character involved in the issues the commercial highlights is absent. These are ‘The good people” who would vocally affirm support of the oppressed but aren’t actively committed to dismantling their oppression. Ultimately, the problem with this commercial is that it entrenches the notion that “good”, but unaffected people get to sit on the sidelines.
It affirms that as these major socio-political issues of our time play out, it is mostly a spectator sport. That the unaffected get to watch the abused and the abuser go at it and that rooting for the abused from the sidelines somehow qualifies us as being on the right side.
This is the very reason so many oppressive systems and narratives still exist. Because all the unaffected but supposedly “good people” genuinely believe that if it doesn’t directly affect them, it’s not their fight. The truth is, it is indeed all our fight. We’re all collectively responsible for the societies in which we live. I’ll risk being cliche and quote a line from Martin Luther King Jr. — “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. This truth is applicable for just about any social conflict there is
This Heineken commercial presents a narrative that immobilizes the most powerful change agents regarding the social issues of our time — silent, good people. It is not the antidote to Pepsi’s commercial as Mashable put it. It is a step up, for sure. But a step that falls far too short. The only way to tackle these issues is to put the onus of change on silent, good people. We all fall into that category on one issue or another. We are after all , the only real bridge between the “World’s Apart”.