This quote is from Chapter 3 of Who We Be, for which Chang describes the first airing (July 8, 1971) of the Coca-Cola commercial, Buy the World. The commercial, if you are not familiar with it, includes the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (on YouTube).
Not familiar with it? Yes, you are.
Of course, this reminded me of Mad Men. Spoiler: “Mad Men” Finale Renews Spotlight on Creator of ’71 Coke Jingle, from a New York Times (NYT) article about Bill Backer, the writer of the jingle. From the NYT article –
“That was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be — a liquid refresher — but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes,” Mr. Backer wrote, according to Coca-Cola’s website.
In the third part of this chapter, Chang walks through Backer’s inspiration and Coke’s creation of this commercial. And Chang’s closing paragraph of this chapter begins with this sentence –
“Here was a plausible capitalist realist narrative of multiculturalism.”
About this post. I share some excerpts from Chang’s work in his Chapter 3 – The Real Thing: Lifestyling and Its Discontents, which is one of five chapters in Part One, A New Culture, 1963-1979 of this book. The subsections of Chapter 3 are titled as follows –
– The Lifestyling of America
– The Real (American) Thing
– Yo, What Happened to Peace?
Recognizing many of the advertising slogans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, it was very interesting to learn about the historical context of several of the slogans. I began to wonder about how, and in response to what, the contemporary slogans have been designed to target audiences.
The Lifestyling of America
Chang provides the landscape of positioning, marketing, branding, and advertising of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, second to Coke, as part of the telling of The Lifestyling of America.
:: In Coca-Cola’s early years, over seven thousand imitation brands tried to cut away slices of its massive market share. There was an Afri-Cola brand marketed to Blacks. And there was also a Klu-Ko Kola brand marketed not just to whites, but the apparently underserved hooded supremacist niche. Advertising helped maintain Coke’s status as “the universal drink,” the market leader for racists, antiracists, and everyone in between.::
:: The history of consumerism in communities of color is surprisingly tied to the history of aggressive second-place competitors. Like other future upstarts – Nike, Apple, Fox TV – Pepsi concentrated on the market leader’s underserved segments. If at their peaks Reebok, Microsoft, and Coke advertised with broad appeals, challengers needed a different kind of approach. They experimented with the content of their ads and the structure of their staffing.::
:: A paradigm shift in the consumer economy had begun. Pepsi had staked its future on youth, women, and African Americans – vanguard buyers who embodied postwar optimism and the largest reserves of unmobilized demand. Meanwhile, Coke was still aiming for the median American – the white, middle-aged suburban professional, the mirror image of the image-makers themselves.::
The Real (American) Thing
In this chapter’s The Real (American) Thing, Chang introduces and discusses social realism and capital realism.
:: Where Social Realism conveyed heroic struggle, capitalist realism traded in sentimental acquiescence. Here was what the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo had called “imperialist nostalgia,” that condition “where the people mourn for the passing of what they themselves have destroyed.” Capitalist realism seemed to say, “Things have always been good. We have always been good.::
:: Walt Disney introduced his last great amusement at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. With funding from Pepsi and using his latest “audio-animatronic” technology, he unveiled an exhibit featuring the children of the nations of the world. … he insisted that each animatronic child be synched to a single jingle – born in America, sung first in English. So the songwriters came up with a melody and line that stood: “Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”::
Yo, What Happened to Peace?
In the chapter’s last section, Yo, What Happened to Peace?, Chang paces through Bill Backer’s inspiration, colleagues, collaborators, creation, and emergence – albeit with interim (and disaster) versions of the filming of the Coca-Cola commercial, Buy the World.
:: The next day [Haskell] Wexler, still angry he had nearly been toppled from the sky to certain death over a stupid Coke commercial, fled the set, never to return. With a different crew and production company, a much smaller cast, and a different Italian location, the spot was finally completed. The “Buy the Word” commercial was released in Europe, mostly to indifference. But in the United States the TV spot found huge success.::
:: Each smiling young person on the Italian hill – marked by their race, nation, and culture – held a market in their hand. It was a primitive picture, to be sure, a couple hundred smiling stereotypes, a stock sheet of misrepresentations. But it was not dishonest. In the eyes of capital, nonwhites and non-Americans represented the last to be brought inside, organized, harmonized. What else did it care for representation?::