How Giving a Cop a Pepsi Won’t Solve Institutional Racism (and Other Things Which Are Wrong About the Kendall Jenner Ad)

To be perfectly honest, when I first opened Facebook this morning and saw one of my friends share some video with Kendall Jenner with the caption “disgusting,” I dismissed this as one of the many uncreative and shaming “Make The Kardashians Die” statements which people post to prove how #edgy they are. I was so, so wrong. Around half an hour later, I saw an article on i-D which analysed the Pepsi ad. Reluctantly, I decided to watch the video before I read the piece. I froze. It was so ridiculous, from start to finish, that I had too see it again. I read the earlier mentioned article, which analysed the absurdity of the commercial. i-D got a lot of things right, except that the ad is not an example “probably-signed-off-by-a-room-of-old-white-men bullshit,” because Pepsi’s Chief Marketing Officer (Kristin Patrick) is female (but yes — white). I could not decide whether this information was supposed to be reassuring or scary.

There are many things wrong in the commercial, but I narrowed it to a few which bother me the most:

  1. The fact that she throws her stupid blonde wig at a black woman (the only black person in the ad — an evident erasure of the Black Lives Matter movement);
  2. Somehow the way that this protest feels like a music festival. I don’t know whether rich white people think that going out to the streets to fight for equality is an alternative to Coachella, because “that’s what kids do nowadays, right?”;
  3. Kendall (or her character) is lured into the protest by a hot guy. Maybe I’m taking this too personally, but I believe that this is not the main thing that attracts women to such events — last time I was at a protest [for Women’s Rights in Poland], I definitely did not go to flirt with attractive males of Asian decent;
  4. The scene with her handing that fucking can to the policeman. No comment on that.
someone please tell me how to unsee this

The Pepsi ad is a textbook example of using the protest movements for profit, just like Dove monetised the body positivity movement and Budweiser the refugee crisis (in it’s Superbowl commercial). Such brands feel like they have the right to draw in customers (especially the young and the privileged, who are most likely to spend their money) by selling them the idea that they too can be social justice warriors, if they only buy that can of Pepsi. One could argue that they can advertise however they want to, and that there is some benefit in the whole thing because they are actually “starting a conversation on [insert “controversial topic”]. However, it is just plain wrong. It is a slap on the face for the people who sacrifice their life on a daily basis, by standing up to police brutality, nazism, racism. I feel like it is obvious enough that the police will not target a white girl at a “protest,” whether she offers them a can of fucking Pepsi or not. This is what privilege looks like. Thus, I cannot imagine what Pepsi were thinking when they cast a white, rich girl in a commercial which centres around social injustice issues — which I highly doubt that Kendall ever had a chance to experience. Moreover, the commercial uses the concept of a protest without actually mentioning the context — the lack of black people in the ad is startling, especially if you consider that the anti-police brutality (targeting black communities) protests being the most-talked about protests in the past few years. Kendall Jenner is not Baton Rouge protestor Iesha Evans. She has not punched Nazi Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer in the face. She will never be Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks or Malcolm X. And this is coming from me, a white, rather-privileged girl. A protest is not a fad, it is not a fashion statement. It is easy to click “going” on all those Facebook events, just so your friends think that you’re in the know about current social issues. It takes a whole lot more than a can of Pepsi to risk your life fighting for your rights.