What the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad tells us about modern ‘radicalism’

A new advert for Pepsi, featuring Instagram celebrity and Keeping Up with the Kardashians star Kendall Jenner, has become the latest inoffensive video to enrage the internet.

The ad shows Jenner posing for a fashion shoot while young, happy and improbably good-looking protesters march, dance and whoop in the background. A protester catches her eye and she ditches her wig, grabs a can of Pepsi and joins the rally. The clip builds up to a finale, where Jenner approaches a police officer and hands him a can of Pepsi. The crowd erupts into cheers.

Jenner’s peace offering of a Pepsi drew unfavourable comparisons with the now-iconic photo of heavily armoured police officers charging towards a calm, still, unarmed Iesha Evans at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Baton Rouge last year. Outraged tweeters claimed that the Pepsi ad was guilty of exploiting, erasing and blaspheming against the BLM movement. On the other side of the angry internet, Piers Morgan argued that Pepsi was engaging in ‘absurd, PC-crazed, virtue-signalling, snowflake claptrap’.

The protest in the Pepsi ad isn’t comparable to BLM protests, where the police are often aggressive. During the clip, protesters hold up signs saying ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘join the conversation’. The Pepsi protest clearly has much more in common with middle-class, child-friendly, protest-themed days-out such as the recent Women’s March in the US and the March for Europe in the UK. These protests contained the same near-lethal doses of anodyne messaging as the protest in the Pepsi advert.

Pepsi’s co-option of these so-called ‘resistance’ movements has angered many. But the fact that Pepsi wants to utilise the internet’s penchant for ‘radical’ action is simply a sign of modern protest movements’ impotence and lack of truly transformative politics. Pepsi’s clip fits in neatly with the trend of ‘fauxminist’ advertising – like Dove’s long-running ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, which uses feminism to sell soap, or Always’ awareness-raising hashtags aimed at flogging sanitary towels. These ideas have become so bland and mainstream that capitalists can easily use them to give themselves a veneer of radicalism.

Big corporations like Pepsi are comfortable appropriating the imagery of today’s safe and banal protest movements because these movements defend rather than disrupt the status quo. Whether it’s Hillary supporters raging in Washington or Remainers stomping around Westminster, protesters today agitate for the establishment, not against it. It’s not Jenner’s fault that it’s so easy to parody the kinds of street protests carried out by young, attractive people today. Nor should we blame Pepsi when the ‘resistance’ falls flat.

Fraser Myers is a producer at WORLDbytes.

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