The Pepsi Liberal v The Bulldog Conservative

The recent Pepsi Max advert is receiving criticism for its white savior undertones. Seeing the White Privileged Kendall Jenner give a white, stern looking, bulldog-faced police officer a Pepsi can, and seeing him nod with smiling face to his fellow bulldog policy officer is probably a little hard to bare for all those black families that have lost a member due to police brutality. If they only knew Pepsi was enough to tone down a racist superstructure, people would be on the streets demanding this fizzy delight.

Pepsi may be tone deaf — and satirists are doctoring photos to show Martin Luther King standing in front of the Washington Monument with a Pepsi can in his hand — but the intent, beyond the capitalist drive underpinning advertising, was presumably to show the unity of mankind. A hijabi photographer hugs a beige skinned, tattooed street dancer; a white model smiles at an East Asian celloist; two transgender individuals smile and gesticulate at the camera followed by two black men with a white woman in the middle. The final scene has this multicultural group of individuals walking towards the camera with Pepsi’s slogan emblazoned on the screen “LIVE LOUDER, LIVE BOLDER”.

The best adverts are the ones that strike a chord with the zeitgeist. Currently, the Western world has deep fault-lines on race and culture, and crucial societal debates revolve around the accommodation of different peoples and cultures. The zeitgeist, therefore, is one of perspective. Pepsi could have easily chosen to vouchsafe the isolationist, nativist right wing rather than the accommodating, all-embracing left (although this would have been ill advised for a multinational company seeking to capture a global market).

It is too early to know the effect of the advert on Pepsi sales — the bottom line for the company — at the very least it has managed to trigger a great deal of online debate. People can be offended by the advert, but in discussing the awful “Pepsi” advert they give the company the publicity it desires. Indeed, the advert is not so terrible as to provoke a boycott, and all disgust appears to be targeting the white savior complex. It would have been interesting to see the reaction if it was Viola Davis giving the policeman a Pepsi.

For all the grievances, the advert is hardly devoid of nuance even if it is so dramatically political. Neither is the advert entirely tone deaf as left wing causes are underpinned by the desire for discussion and accommodation across communities, something Pepsi captures with placards stating “Join the Conversation” held up in the crowds.

Yet this desire for discussion and accommodation is not without its own shackles. The Liberal left can pride itself as being supportive for everyone’s rights and entitlements for people to be whatever they choose to be, but not everyone is going to agreeable to a person’s life choice. For the religious conservative it is difficult to justify and encourage behavior that is antithetical to ideas of behaviour that finds providence in their own legal and ethical tradition. Indeed, may religious figures have been derided for holding onto conservative opinions particularly in regards to women and LGBTQ rights. These viewpoints are seen as a nasty remnant of medieval, patriarchal past, and for the modern exponent of these ideas, they are regarded as extreme or radical.

Many liberal leaning Muslims are attempting to counter patriarchal interpretations using the tradition to present an accommodating point of view. Some have even gone further, justifying the permissibility of LGBTQ actions in Islamic law through proposing unique hermeneutical models. While the validity of these models are subject to debate, the problem that arises is how much room is left for those conservative thinkers that decry LGBTQ actions? Can they uphold their opinions without being denigrated as extremes and radicals?

At the same time, how does a conservative accommodate a man who believes God permitted homosexuality? The reaction in the community has generally been one of expulsion, which has created blowback. In a liberal, freedom of speech, Western society, the blowback has been amplified with LGBTQ Muslims finding a voice thereby putting more pressure on conservative Muslims to accommodate. With schools now teaching children that there is nothing wrong with LGBTQ, Muslim conservatives are finding it hard to uphold their own point of view of God’s law.

One could argue this is an evolution of thought, but one of the key differences in issuing Islamic law and secular law is that Islamic law has to be rooted in what God has said or implied. God’s law is ideally not based on human desires, and so if the evidence appears to go one way, it is difficult to state the contrary just because man believes that human rights are paramount. Those who justify LGBTQ on the basis of Islamic source texts cannot sit in good conscience and reject strong evidence that point to the opposite conclusion. Indeed, God rarely appears to be a liberal in the texts!

This is not the space to debate the nuances of Islamic law on the issue. Instead, one has to ask in an increasingly liberal global society, is there space for the conservative without being subject to derision and accusations of being a relic. Pepsi have created an ideal of society, one that may not accord to the beliefs of the conservative. In this society, can the conservative find a place? Will he be considered a pariah, a radical and extremist as he is now? Is he on the side of what is right (the multicultural throng) or on the side of what is wrong (the bulldog faced police)? For liberal left wing, this is not an easy question to answer.