Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Commercial Just Another Example of Appropriating the Struggle

The world is a garbage fire, and the resistance continues, coalitions are being built and more people are getting woke. It was only a matter of time until another corporation tried to appropriate this particular moment of struggle in order to sell shit to us. By definition, marketing tries to take our desires and fears and present a product as the ‘solution’ to our problems, so we can feel good and buy their thing.

Enter Pepsi and Kendall Jenner.

Here are some questions I asked myself while watching this too-stupid-to-even-be-offensive commercial:

  1. So all these seemingly well-off millennials are just sitting around making art, unaware of what’s going on in the world, and then they snap out of it and join a protest because it happens to be passing by? Artists use their art to be a part of the movement ALL the time, and not just to give texture to protests and rallies.
  2. What is this pretend rally/protest even about? The posters have no actual messages, just peace signs, neutralized black power fists and nonsense like “Join the Conversation.”
  3. Isn’t the symbolism of Jenner removing a blonde wig before joining the protest a bit on-the-nose? It’s like she literally sheds a layer of whiteness to go be down with Woke POC.

    “Director: ‘You, young urban gentlman with the interesting hair. Please come dap Miss Jenner’s Pepsi can. Make it authentic.’”
  4. Why does she wipe her lipstick off? Are we not allowed to wear lipstick in The Movement???
  5. How come the police look like security guards from the mall? Where is the pepper spray, the beanbag guns, the choppers, the bikes and cars they use to block protestor movement, the tanks, the riot gear, and the toxically masculine aggression?
  6. Is Pepsi gonna get sued for their blatant copying of this photo of Ieshia Evans confronting riot police, or for basically ripping off this classic cringeworthy Coke ad, which similarly appropriated the struggles of the late-60s/early 70s?

    “Taking A Stand In Baton Rouge” by Jonathan Bachman
  7. How many people will watch this commercial and confirm their beliefs that protests, rallies, occupations, etc. are just fleeting and pointless gatherings by millennials who want to FEEL GOOD? Next level trivialization.
  8. Wait, is this commercial actually, unintentionally, saying that police brutality is a problem, if a solution of outcome of this pretend protest is to address cops directly?
  9. Has the solution to oppression, all along, been to give cops ice cold Pepsi??????
Created by Timmy Châu

Ironically, this bad publicity will still be publicity nonetheless for Pepsi (I think to myself as I write this article…) and there will still be people who buy what this awful ad is selling. “Well at least they are TRYING…” For me, it’s another excuse to justify stock my fridge with a 12-pack of RC ColaPepsi claims the ad was about “unity,” but what has the company ever done for anyone, besides steal tap water and sell it? When has Kendall Jenner ever come out in support of or lifted a finger for a movement, any movement? Obviously, Pepsi’s focus groups told them that people want to feel like they are saving the world when they consume things, so why not appropriate the struggle for marketing, amirite?

Resistance and activism that are done out of necessity, love and survival, and this is just another example of how they are whitewashed and appropriated in order to sell things and keep people complacent. This is a particularly dangerous and exhausting moment to be living in the US, and many people are fighting day and night to protect and advocate for one another. Organizers and activists, in particular, are reminded of the necessity of self care, but all too often the means to wellness is twisted into being about what you buy yourself, whether it be a mani-pedi, a diamond-encrusted safety pin, or a whole new wardrobe for attenting protests. Many activist artists create messaging and donate time and work to advocate for and support causes, and sometimes that includes selling things that provide direction donations for activist organizations; in other words, buying stuff can help people only if the money actually gets to those people.

The thing is, there really IS room for everyone in the resistance, even rich models whose family partakes in and makes money off of all sorts of appropriation; call me naive. It takes more than going through the motions; people have be ready to be uncomfortable and give up some of their relative privilege. Celebrities like Colin Kaepernick and Chance the Rapper show us how people can use their fame and money to actually be a part of the struggle and address specific issues, especially by listening to and directly supporting the organizers doing the grassroots work on the daily. Everyone has to start somewhere, but it goes without saying than it takes a LOT more than showing up at one rally to affect any change (looking at you, people who went to the women’s march last month and then called it a day!).

UPDATE (3:30pm CST): After less than a day, Pepsi has pulled this ad, due to the backlash it received, saying, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize…We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”